Yellowknife sets sights on 'Range Street' revamp

Yellowknife city council wants to buy up an infamous section of downtown and tear it down, replacing the old buildings and bars with new housing.
City of Yellowknife wants to buy up old, run-down properties on downtown street and turn them into housing. 1:59

Yellowknife city council wants to buy up an infamous section of downtown and tear it down, replacing the old buildings and bars with new housing.

A proposed bylaw that would allow the city to try to purchase lots on 50th Street — informally known among residents as "Range Street" — passed first and second reading at Monday night's council meeting.

Council will hold the final vote on the proposed bylaw on Aug. 22.

With the help of federal funding, the city wants to create eco-housing developments on some of the purchased lots, which would include the land where longtime bars and businesses are located.

A parking lot across the street would be turned into some park space and storefront mall space that would complement Centre Square Mall.

Home of the Gold Range and the Raven Pub, 50th Street has been known as a place where late-night brawls take place. As well, homeless and intoxicated people are known to loiter on the street at all hours of the day.

Coun. Lydia Bardak said many of the buildings on the street are old and run-down, and the bars could go elsewhere.

"I'm in favour of anything that brings more residential development into the downtown core and does some of the infilling that we identified through Smart Growth planning," Bardak told CBC News on Tuesday.

Residents surprised

"In terms of the social issues, other orders of government need to work together with all of our partners to make sure that we can address some of the needs that people have out on the streets," she added.

News that the city wants to revamp "Range Street" have caught residents by surprise, with some saying the street has historical value and should be kept as is.

Others supported giving 50th Street a facelift, arguing that it is currently an eyesore with a rough reputation.

The bylaw, which has to pass third reading before it takes effect, only allows the city to move ahead with attempting to buy the 50th Street lots.

It will be up to property owners and businesses along the street to decide whether they want to sell their lots to the city.

Some 50th Street business owners who were contacted by CBC News would not say what they plan to do.

But Bang Pham, owner of the Smart Bee convenience store, said she is open to talks with the city, although officials have yet to approach her business.

"This street, it is too old. We don't know how to fix [it] inside, outside, it's too old. I want the city's good idea for that," she said.

Gold Range's future unknown

Mayor Gordon Van Tighem said discussions to buy the properties have been going on for several months, and there have been agreements with some property owners to date.

Van Tighem said it's too early to determine the fate of the Gold Range, an establishment that some argue is historically significant.

"That's a part that's still open to discussion because the Gold Range isn't one of the properties that we've got an agreement [with] yet," Van Tighem said.

"It may be blended in as part of a larger thing, or the whole development might be named Gold Range and have the same sort of outside facade…. The sky is the limit at this point in time. We're at this stage [where] we're strictly involved in a land assembly."

Van Tighem said how the 50th Street project evolves will depend on the partners that get on board, as well as the city's ability to finance the project.

Revamping the downtown street is all about trying to bring downtown Yellowknife back to life, Van Tighem said.