Many CPAs play an integral role in building their communities—using their expertise to help businesses and other organizations succeed, and through volunteer and philanthropic efforts. However, for Laurie Anderson CPA, CMA of WAM Development Group and Kondwani Bwanali CPA, CGA of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), building their communities is quite literal. Their professional skills are not only helping the organizations they are a part of thrive, but are re-shaping the cities they live in with their involvement in transformative projects that are revitalizing and shaping downtown Edmonton and Calgary respectively.
ICE DISTRICT: More Than an Arena
In Edmonton, ICE District is a mixed-use development which will be anchored by the new Rogers Place arena, and will also include office towers, retail shops, restaurants, and entertainment, a four-star hotel, and residences. Situated on the north side of the city’s downtown, ICE District should breathe new life into that area of the city.
It’s an incredibly ambitious project, and one that Laurie Anderson is proud to be intricately involved in. “When it is complete, this will be a fully functional city-within-a-city,” Laurie explained of the concept behind ICE District. “All of us that are part of it are sure it will be a game-changer for Edmonton. It will be the most exciting place to be, regardless of whether there is an event at Rogers Place.”
The development is a partnership between Katz Group, which also owns the Oilers Entertainment Group, and WAM Development Group, where Laurie has worked for 14 years. “In all of that time, I’ve never had a boring day. It’s been fun to see the growth of the organization in that time, and ICE District is just the most visible of the exciting projects we are involved in.”
In fact, Laurie has spent the bulk of her professional career in related fields, starting in the construction industry before moving to a property management company, and then to WAM. “The variety of the professional opportunities I have had in this area has been great. I’ve learned so much, particularly in working with all levels and types of business partners and lawyers on some very complex projects. ”
Laurie’s career with WAM has grown just as the company has. She started as Controller, with a strong accounting focus, and then moved to VP Finance before becoming CFO. “While accounting fundamentals are still important, I really enjoy playing a more strategic role,” Laurie said. “Accounting is a great background for the logic and practical thinking that is essential to the work that I do.”
As WAM’s chief financial officer, Laurie has been intimately involved in ICE District, as she is with all of the company’s more than $5 billion in assets under development. “A huge part of my position lately has been sourcing debt for projects. For ICE District in particular, I work intimately with the Katz Group, with a focus on debt and reporting for the project.”
“All of us that are part of it are sure it will be a game-changer for Edmonton. It will be the most exciting place to be, regardless of whether there is an event at Rogers Place.” —Laurie Anderson CPA, CMA
ICE District has certainly moved well beyond its controversial beginnings when the focus was squarely on the arena and its funding model. It now seems clear that the City of Edmonton’s use of a Community Revitalization Levy (essentially, the city borrows funds against anticipated future increases in property taxes recovered as a result of redevelopment in an area) to finance its share of arena funding will prove to be a wise investment. This has allowed the attention to be placed on the whole project and the impact it is sure to have.
And, those impacts are significant. When fully built, ICE District office towers are set to have over 7,000 office employees, and the area will be home to more than 2,000 residents. That critical mass will help fill the retail and hospitality establishments envisioned, including a much-needed grocery store for the downtown core. The project is also set to include a public plaza and community rink, drawing more people to the area.
ICE District, in all of its various components, is definitely taking shape. “I can see the exciting progress that is being made…I see all the bills, so I can track it that way,” Laurie laughed. While tracking the progress is exciting, Laurie is also looking forward to a time when she can see the completed vision for ICE District come together. “I remember thinking ‘wow, this is really happening’ when I drove past the site and saw the huge hole for the underground parking structure and arena. It will be tremendously rewarding to be in ICE District in five years and see the Winter Garden, public plaza, Stantec Tower, Edmonton Civic Tower, four-star hotel, condos, and all the other amenities in place. There will be such a great vibe, and it will truly become an icon for Edmonton.”
And when it does, Laurie will be able to take pride in the part she has played in making ICE District a reality.
EAST VILLAGE: Revitalizing Calgary’s Original Downtown Neighbourhood
Similarly, Calgary’s East Village has already started to rejuvenate Calgary’s original downtown neighbourhood. Situated on the eastern edge of Calgary’s downtown, this master planned urban community is quickly transforming into a vibrant mixed-use neighbourhood with over 11,500 residents.
“East Village is a project that will have a significant impact in changing the landscape of Calgary,” said Kondwani Bwanali, the Director, Finance & Administration for CMLC. “It was that opportunity, to make such a significant change and be part of something transformative that really attracted me to CMLC originally.”
The project started in 2007, when the Calgary City Council decided that change was necessary, and a bold vision was needed if the then-run-down east side of downtown was ever going to become revitalized. To that end, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation was created in 2007 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the City of Calgary, with the express purpose of revitalizing this part of the city. “A big portion of what we did was infrastructure re-development, which included underground utilities like water, sewer, and electricity. Paved road, sidewalks and park spaces were part of the redevelopment. With amenities articulated and in place, we went forward with an ambitious investor attraction plan,” explained Kondwani.
Funding for the project comes largely from a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL). In the case of the East Village, the original infrastructure investment of $357 million is expected to result in a CRL of $725 million and has attracted over $3 Billion of planned investment to the community.
To date, CMLC has completed a number of projects in the area in addition to the infrastructure improvements. These include the first stage of the Riverwalk, which affords Calgarians two kilometres of riverfront experience, stretching to four kilometres when complete. Besides being a commuter and recreational route, the Riverwalk is a destination in itself, with art installations, and even the chance to dip toes into the Bow River. As well, the Simmons Building is the first heritage building to be restored and re-purposed, and is now home to a bakery, coffee shop, and restaurant.
“What we do is so much more than just accounting. There is the opportunity to impact the strategic decisions of the organization.” —Kondwani Bwanali CPA, CGA
Kondwani was particularly proud to note the recent grand re-opening of St. Patrick’s Island, the re-developed centerpiece of the area. It includes hiking and biking trails, a community plaza and play areas, and access to the river. “When I started with CMLC back in 2008, the master plan for the area was still being worked on. To now see some of the major projects completed and residents beginning to move in is incredibly rewarding.”
And, Kondwani and his team, which includes a CPA and CPA candidates, have definitely contributed much to the success of the project. In his director role, Kondwani has responsibility for a number of areas, including finance, information technology, and human resources. He feels that his accounting background and training provided the skills he needed to be successful. “Being able to understand some of the non-accounting functions is a testament to how accounting training prepares you for the business world. It also taught me a lot about how to deal with people, which is probably one of the most important skills I use daily.”
That breadth of responsibility is something that he welcomes. “What we do is so much more than just accounting. There is the opportunity to impact the strategic decisions of the organization,” he said. With that expanded scope comes a greater sense of involvement in the overall East Village project. “We all feel a strong responsibility towards the project, and take pride in the chance to realize the vision Council had back in 2007.”
Kondwani is doing his part to make sure that East Village does become Calgary’s premier community. “When I started, this area was a place not many people visited, today it has become an address of choice. I’m excited to do my part in making this be an area everyone wants to live in.”
This article appeared in the Fall Issue of Dividends, CPA Alberta’s member magazine.