Vacant Jasper Avenue building could become The Wedge

It's been boarded up for decades. The last business licence issued for it was in the late 1990s. But now the small three-storey commercial building at 10344 Jasper Ave. — just east of the historic Birks Building — is getting ready for a transformation.

Building at 10344 Jasper could see 10 storeys of residential units plus commercial space

A sign of life on the building at 10344 Jasper Ave. (Nola Keeler/CBC)

It's been boarded up for more than a decade. The last business licence issued for it was in the late 1990s.

But now the small commercial building at 10344 Jasper Ave. — just east of the historic Birks Building — is getting ready for a transformation.

About two weeks ago, a sign for Clark Builders went up outside the space Edmonton realtor Oliver O'Connor purchased in 1997 for $170,000.

Now O'Connor plans to build a 10-storey, 34-unit residential building with the main floor and basement reserved for restaurants or other commercial development.

Clark Builders has been hired as construction manager and local architectural design firm Holo-Blok will design the project.

The small building in the middle could be turned into 10 storeys of residential space. (Google Earth)

O'Connor said it will be the first building of its kind in the city.

"We're bringing in something that would be in Vancouver or New York … or Paris," he said, "a smaller building that's being developed into something larger."

The Wedge

Holo-Blok architect Roddy Handa is short on details about what the space will look like but said there's a hint in what they've named the project: The Wedge.

"We're almost trying to wedge in a new kind of architectural vernacular that's unique to the city, respectful of the climate that we're in but also is cognisant of the historical area that we're in," Handa said.

The residential units could be apartments, condominiums or executive short-term leases, he said.

"We'll probably test the market once we see what the city allows us to do to determine what the most suitable development will be," he added.

One possibility is to expand into the alley north of the building, beside the public art initiative called the Alley of Light.

"This would be a café, a restaurant, who knows?" Handa said.
The building's interior is dusty and dilapidated. (Nola Keeler/CBC)

He isn't sure yet whether or not the existing building would have to come down to make way for the new development.

"If you look at the building, it's not in the greatest of shape," he said. "We're currently at the point where we're leaning toward a brand-new structure."

New development on Jasper welcomed

Ian O'Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association said any development in the space is exciting.

"We want to return Jasper Avenue to our main street and in doing so, we need to have active frontages and new businesses and new people," O'Donnell said.

The combination of residential and commercial is "checking the boxes that we want to have," he said.

The building formerly housed a fur retailer, back when people still wore fur coats and put them in storage over the summer.

But when O'Connor bought it, the building had been taken over by "kind-of-transient tenants," he said.

Part of the basement floor was dug up at some point. (Nola Keeler/CBC)

O'Connor said the project has been a long time coming because he was waiting for the downtown to come alive.

"Now is the time to do it. You look around, I mean, you see cranes in the sky, you see people on the sidewalks. Before that, there were no lights on."

​History between owner and the city

He hopes to have a development permit in front of the city by mid- to late June.

He's had a rocky relationship with the city in the past. In 2010, the city demolished another building it had sold to O'Connor — the Gem Theatre on Jasper Avenue and 96th Street — over safety concerns about the integrity of the structure.

The city sued O'Connor, claiming he reneged on his agreement to restore the structure.

O'Connor filed a counterclaim, alleging the city had failed to provide him with reports it had about the true state of the building.

Handa said he doesn't think that history will affect what happens with The Wedge.

"It's a new application," he said. "We expect the city to be completely fair in reviewing applications and there should be no personal ill will. Whatever's happened in the past … happened in the past."
The Wedge owner Oliver O'Connor [left] with architect Roddy Handa [middle] and architectural designer Brendan Lawlor outside the building. (Nola Keeler/CBC )

Handa said The Wedge will complement a section of Jasper Avenue now known for its high-end restaurants.

"It's an ideal spot to kind of add to that fabric and that rich culture of culinary excellence in Edmonton."

He said construction could start as early as the spring of 2019.

About the Author

Nola Keeler

Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.