Future uncertain for popular downtown diner as 104th Street tower plan takes shape

The future of a go-to dining spot in downtown Edmonton is up in the air as the group behind a 34-storey development readies its proposal for the city.

Blue Plate Diner must move to make room for proposed 34-storey building currently houses

Preliminary renderings of a proposed tower on 104th Street, featuring a brick-clad three-storey podium, were presented at an information session hosted by the developers Wednesday night.

The future of a popular dining spot in downtown Edmonton is up in the air as the group behind a 34-storey development readies its proposal for the city.

The Blue Plate Diner sits on the site of the proposed Mackenzie Tower, a mix of nearly 300 hotel and condo units that would tower 112 metres above 104th street, just north of Jasper Avenue.

The developers hosted a public information session on Wednesday to outline the preliminary design plans.

John Williams, co-owner of the diner, said he was of two minds about the proposal.

As a downtown resident for more than three decades, he said the building would make for an exciting addition to the neighbourhood.

"This is the downtown we've always wanted — high-density, fine-grained infill and hotels and business and people walking around," Williams said while sitting in the restaurant awaiting the dinner rush.

John Williams, co-owner of the Blue Plate Diner, said the proposed tower would be an exciting addition to the neighbourhood, but would also mean the end of his popular restaurant. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

If the proposed building goes ahead, it will do so without Blue Plate.

Williams has watched the business and neighbourhood grow together over the past 14 years and is still cautiously optimistic.

"As any good business person would tell you, you could use this as a good opportunity to try something new, get a new space — something," he said.

"This may be our chance to do that."

Groupe Germain Hotels plans to manage 156 hotel units under its Alt+ banner. Urban Capital, a Toronto-based developer, would deliver the 136 residential units of the building.

The proposed tower includes 13 floors of hotel space and 17 floors of residences.

The companies are acquiring the building from Limak Investments, the property owner and local developer.

The design calls for a double-height restaurant space and a three-storey podium at ground level, made up of lobbies and commercial spaces facing 104th Street. The podium would be clad in black brick and sit above four levels of parking.    

"We think we've presented something that's very respectful to the neighbouring community," said Taya Cook, director of development at Urban Capital.

"I think it's the podium, it's the sizing, it's the scale when you're at level."

The group wants to rezone the plot in the warehouse district from a heritage zone to a site-specific development. The building that houses the Blue Plate Diner has no legal protection as a designated historic resource, but heritage zones are meant to ensure new builds reflect the character of historic buildings.

The developers are proposing a floor area bigger than is currently permitted under a heritage zone. The height, on the other hand, is still within the existing zoning limits.

The developers expect to submit the land use amendment application in the next few weeks, launching the city's review process.

Construction on the proposed building could also limit the space for vendors at City Market Downtown, the popular outdoor market that operates on 104th Street during the summer, said market spokesperson Dan Young.  

The market has withstood other developments on the street, including Icon Towers and Fox Towers, and, with the cooperation of the city and the developer, it will endure, he said.

"We just kind of zig and zag and do the best we can," Young said.

Spokesperson Dan Young says City Market Downtown will find ways to adapt in face of potential construction on 104th Street. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

The development could produce foot traffic for the market eventually, with new residents and hotel guests frequenting the stalls.

"It is a great opportunity for the hotel and for the street and we will do our best to carry on," Young said.