The City of Calgary wants to buy the Cecil Hotel, best known as a downtown hot spot for drugs and crime, and possibly turn it into affordable housing units, municipal aldermen say.

City officials confirmed they are in the early stages of negotiations with the owner and that they require the site for municipal purposes.

Ald. Bob Hawkesworth said he can see the city doing something similar to what they did with the York Hotel in the early 1990s.

"We converted that into an affordable housing project and managed it very effectively for many years. That cleaned up a problem at that time. So, the city has familiarity with doing this and has a successful track record doing it," Hawkesworth said.

The city's interest in buying the Cecil Hotel, he said, falls in line with its plan to re-develop the East Village.

In 2005, city council unveiled a plan to fix up the East Village, another crime-ridden neighbourhood in the downtown area, located between City Hall and Fort Calgary. The redevelopment called for a new city police headquarters, a new city library, a downtown campus of the University of Calgary and about 3,000 apartment units.

'Quite unsavoury'

Many councillors would like to see the Cecil Hotel knocked down, Ald. Gord Low said.

"You know, there’s a lot of activity — quite unsavoury — that goes on around there, and it’s just not appropriate given its proximity to the drop-in centre, the East Village and the Riverwalk," he said.

The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, located near the hotel, offers emergency shelter and transitional housing to men and women. The centre made a bid to buy the hotel a few months ago, but it wasn’t accepted.

The Riverwalk will run along the south bank of the Bow River and the west bank of the Elbow River, and  "is one of the significant infrastructure projects that are intended to 'kick-start' the redevelopment of the East Village precinct of the Rivers District," the project’s website says.

Ald. Rick McIver said even though the city is only in the very early stages of negotiations to buy the seedy hotel, it’s a good start.

"I am happy about the potential for cleaning up what I think is a high crime Mecca right there," he said.