‘The Music Mile just got shorter,’ says owner of iconic venue

Mixed-use, four-storey development proposed for site of venerable, much-loved Blues music venue

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The owner of Inglewood’s Blues Can says the days are numbered for the iconic 13-year-old music venue after a sign went up yesterday about a proposed redevelopment of the property.

Blues Can owner Greg Smith opened the venue in 2010 at the old site of the Ironwood Stage and Grill, which moved down the street. On Monday, The City of Calgary erected a sign outside the building looking for public feedback for a new development: a mixed-use, four-storey building that will include retail on the ground level and 30 dwelling units. Developer Paul Battistella of Battistella Developments is listed as the applicant contact. Smith, who began leasing the building 13 years ago, said he’s known the site was at risk for redevelopment for nearly two years.

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“We knew he had bought the property and we knew he was a condo developer,” Smith says. “He told us that we can stay until the bulldozers are idling out back. One of the things everybody is concerned about is timing. He doesn’t know and I don’t know and a lot of it is up to the city.”

The development application is in “circulation”, which means it’s being reviewed by the city’s planning department, which typically takes 11 to 12 weeks, according to the city.

While Smith has not been given a date for when he has to vacate the building, he predicts the venue could close as early as the fall. No one was available at Battistella Developments on Wednesday to comment.

“I should get another patio season and then we’re done,” Smith says.

Blues Can
A live jam session plays behind The Blues Can owner Greg Smith at the bar’s outdoor stage area on June 19, 2021. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia

‘There are no more Hail Marys left’

“The Music Mile just got shorter,” he added, referring to the mile-long stretch from the King Eddy to the Blues Can along 9th Avenue S.E. that includes a number of live venues.

Smith says the venue has hosted roughly 8,500 shows since opening its doors and has been averaging 575 a year.

In a message to patrons put up on the Blues Can website Tuesday evening, Smith wrote: “We are in talks with some true fans of The Blues Can that have resources far beyond what we have and have our fingers crossed, so don’t lose hope.”

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But, on Wednesday, he said the venue — at least at the current location — will close.

“There are no Hail Marys left,” he said.

Smith hasn’t ruled out opening the venue somewhere else but said the requirements of a music venue are very specific.

“The requirements of a blues club are not just ‘any strip mall that happens to be vacant,’ ” he says. “There are very, very specific requirements. This was a real unicorn property when I found it and I knew it and so I acted on it. Until such time another as unicorn rears its ugly head, it’s not likely to happen.”

The Blues Can has been a labour of love for Smith. Like many live venues, the nightclub struggled during the pandemic. In May 2021, a telethon-like “Save the Blues!” fundraiser was held.

Smith did put out an appeal to the public, hoping someone would purchase the building who didn’t want to “turn it into condos.”

“There were a couple of people who tried, but they were underfunded and inexperienced and it wasn’t going to happen that way,” he says.

He did say he was in early talks with an unnamed party about building a new venue designed specifically for the Blues Can, which is the “closest to a Hail Mary” The Blues Can has.

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