Edmonton

Ortona Armoury arts hub sits empty as $10M project expected to start in 2020

The project is currently in the detailed design phase. A construction manager has been hired, according to city reports.

Rehabilitation of 105-year-old Rossdale building will include asbestos removal

A proposed design rendering, which is subject to change, gives a look at what some of the outdoor space could look like. (Supplied City of Edmonton )

Rehabilitating the historic Ortona Armoury Arts Building in Rossdale is expected take close to two years to complete at a cost of more than $10 million, a City of Edmonton project planner says.

Work on the 105-year-old brick and sandstone building is slated to begin next year, said Terri Johnson, a project manager with the City of Edmonton's facility, planning and design unit.

Artists who leased space in the building moved out in June to make way for the project.

In 2015, the city estimated the renovation would cost $3.2 million. In 2016, the estimate was revised to $5.2 million.

Johnson said the new estimate — which she put at "upwards of $10 million" — will include the cost of asbestos removal.

"We're looking at a design that really looks at supporting arts production, being really flexible, having several rooms, whether it be multi-purpose spaces, individual spaces or group arts production," Johnson said.

"So I think the biggest thing is just to make sure that we are preparing a design that really meets the needs of now and future artists."

A photo of the Ortona Armoury taken in 1914, the year it was built. The brick and sandstone building facade still carries the crest of the Hudson's Bay Company. (City of Edmonton Archives)

Johnson said the project will preserve a rich piece of Edmonton's history, and that continuing to use it as a hub for arts production will create a "pretty cool blend of opportunities."

The project is currently in the detailed design phase. A construction manager has been hired, according to city reports.

But artists and historians have reservations about the project.

Marlena Wyman, Edmonton's historian laureate, was a tenant in the Armoury as a visual artist for nearly 20 years before moving out in 2011.

She toured the building with a construction crew over the summer, pointing out heritage aspects of the building she felt were important to preserve.

"One of the great things about the Ortona Armoury is that it is a heritage building and for artists heritage buildings have all kinds of character and inspiration. They have nooks and crannies," Wyman said.

"They have interesting stories that you can feel behind the walls. You can almost feel the history of everyone who's been in that building and also part of it is because it's a character building."

Terri Johnson, a project manager with the City of Edmonton, said renovation of the Ortona Armoury building is expected to start in 2020. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Wyman is in favour getting the building up to code, but is concerned the renovations may compromise the heritage character of the building or make it too expensive for artists.

"We don't want it to become something that looks boutique or fancy, or something that takes away that character and the heritage of the building," she said.

"The concern is upon moving back, will the lease rates have increased to the point where they are not affordable?" asked Wyman.

There will be a process to move artists back into the space, but the details of that plan haven't yet been finalized, Johnson said.

The Armoury, built in 1914, was designated a municipal historic resource in 2004. It was built by the Hudson's Bay Company, which needed a warehouse and a stable for its delivery horses.

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

@Travismcewancbc

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