Breakfast With Champions

It was barely past six am when I dragged myself out of bed, but I was motivated; I’d been invited for breakfast at AREF’s Southern Alberta Commercial Tennant Real Estate Forum. I dressed to impress: if you invite me to an event with a seven word title, AND offer to feed me, I put my best foot forward. 

The venue was the St. Louis hotel, newly renovated and improved along with the rest of the increasingly vibrant East Village. I arrived at 7:35, fashionably late, and immediately searched out the coffee pot. First lesson of the morning: AREF has good taste in coffee. My expectations kicked up a notch. I was excited to see the rehabilitated Cecil Hotel sign’s neon visage behind the breakfast table. All around me and my fellow students, well-dressed Calgarian business owners and property consultants were waking up and beginning to converse. We greeted the important looking people seated around us, feeling slightly out of place: why did we deserve to be in the room with clearly accomplished people?

We were almost immediately set at ease by our table mates, and before long the program started. The Calgary Chamber’s Adam Legge was first up, giving an engaging ‘state of the economy’ talk. He addressed Calgary’s growing downtown vacancy rate, mentioning that ¼ of high-rise buildings in the core are completely empty. This vacancy is part of the reason my fellows and I are here: Vivacity YYC. Vivacity is a collaboration between Aspen Properties, Calgary Economic Development, and most of Calgary’s post-secondary institutions. Our goal is to make Calgary better: keep young talent here, increase economic and social diversity, and put some of that empty space to work.

We listened intently to the rest of the presentations: Fraser Dyer from Altus Group gave an inside look at commercial real estate; Grant Kosowan of Orange Group dispensed advice on navigating the complex world with a tenant’s interest in mind; and H&R block’s Altaf Hirji spoke about the changing relationship between tenant and landlord as a company grows. Later, Robert Fooks gave a legal perspective, and Derek Doke talked about how to learn from one’s mistakes while growing a business.

Finishing my fourth cup of coffee, I made a mental list of who I would talk to as the event drew to a close. There was so much business talent and wisdom in the room, it was hard to make a short list. I learned a lot, and made some great connections that morning, but most important of all was the simple fact that I, a starving student and complete outsider, had been invited in and given a seat.

Thanks AREF. Together, I know we can build a stronger Calgary.

Steven Rutherford, Mount Royal University Student