City buys Cecil Hotel, plans demolition

The City of Calgary has purchased the notorious Cecil Hotel for $10.9 million.

The City of Calgary has purchased the notorious Cecil Hotel for $10.9 million.

City council approved buying the 96-year-old building and about half a square block of surrounding land on Monday afternoon.

The building will be converted to a mixed-use parking structure, likely with a parkade, retail space, and possibly some housing, said Ald. Druh Farrell, who has fielded many complaints about the establishment from residents in her ward, which includes the Cecil.

The Cecil Hotel was built in 1912 to cater to labourers, but the rundown building has become notorious in recent years, with regular arrests at the bar for illegal drugs, prostitution and other crime.

The city pulled the business licence for the hotel's tavern last week after police argued the establishment posed a public safety risk.

Calgary police said they responded to about 1,700 calls to the hotel last year.

Farrell said the building has no heritage value and the wrecking ball could start swinging in a couple of months.

"I feel comfortable with this building coming down. In fact, I'd like to be the first to deliver a blow," she said.

She said the site is an important key to revitalizing the East Village.

"It's a very strategic site that has been underutilized and, frankly, a blight and it has a more important  role to play and a more positive role to play in that community," Farrell said, adding that the price tag was a few million fewer than original negotiations.

Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart called the purchase "absolutely outrageous."

"In my view, what we've done is spend $10.9 million of taxpayer money to get rid of a social problem. And had we enforced bylaws all along the way, it's my view that we wouldn't be in this mess today," she said.

"This is prime real estate and during these economic times, we do not need to be spending taxpayers' dollars in this manner."

Ald. Ric McIver, who voted against the proposal, said the city should have left the fate of the Cecil up to the private sector, pointing out the Calgary Drop-In Centre was interested in bidding on the property.