Edmonton's historic Hangar 11 may be saved from wrecking ball

Edmonton’s World War II-era Hangar 11 is saved from potential demolition, as city councilors agreed Monday in essence for a private company to take over the building and repurpose it. 

Company pitches to repurpose 1942 building into student dorms, food, art space

Hangar 11, on the east side of the Blatchford development project, requires extensive rehabilitation. (Submitted by Architure Inc.)

Edmonton's World War II-era Hangar 11 may be saved from potential demolition, as city councillors took the first step Monday toward having a private company repurpose the building. 

Council's executive committee directed administration to draft a sales agreement with Architure Inc. for three acres of land, including the hangar. 

Coun. Scott McKeen urged the committee to run with the proposed deal to save and repurpose the hangar, which was built in 1942. 

"We've been dealing with this for years and years and I think the time has come to make a decision," McKeen said. "I just think it's a remarkable piece of Edmonton's history, Canadian history, North American history, world history."

The city estimated it would cost between $55 million and $83 million to bring the building to a basic leasable standard and address historic conservation requirements.

Tim Antoniuk with Architure Inc., presented his vision of repurposing the building to the committee. 

'Cohesive, vibrant community'

The company proposes a  "live, work, eat, play development" with 225 units of student housing that would serve students at NAIT, he said.

The complex would have rooftop patios and gardens and solar panels with a goal of net-zero energy that could hook into the Blatchford Energy System.

"We've got an opportunity here to introduce globally a new type of winter city design," Antoniuk said. "We've got this incredible hangar, you know, you don't really build something like this today." 

He looked at the similar structures in Denver, New York, the Forks in Winnipeg and a repurposed hangar in Latvia. 

He said the goal is to weave the hangar, NAIT, Blatchford and the LRT into a "cohesive, vibrant community,"

Antoniuk said he's secured $45 million to start construction this spring.

Mayor Don Iveson said the unsolicited proposal was unconventional for the city but that it made sense to salvage the historic building, noting a private partner can take a different approach to managing the site.

"That to me, is a win-win-win — if the public is not having to bear the cost of turning it into a public standard building for permanency," Iveson said. "It will be an asset to the neighbourhood."

NAIT asks for hold

But not everyone was in support of the plan. Earlier in the meeting, representatives from NAIT asked the committee to put a hold on the proposed sale.

Nancy MacDonald, a planner with Stantec speaking on behalf of NAIT, noted campus surrounds the site and the school would like to develop the plot.

"NAIT is at the heart of this opportunity," MacDonald said. 

She asked the city to put the project on hold as they develop the master plan for the campus. 

"These precincts really are about reimagining the future of the campus for students and staff over time." 

A rendering of a leisure/dining/study area at the envisioned renovated Hangar 11. (Submitted by Architure Inc.)

Chris Hodgson, the city's branch manager of real estate, said staff has connected with NAIT over several years on the land and building. 

"There has been, I would say, an unwavering position that NAIT did not have a desire to move forward with the preservation of the building," Hodgson told the committee. 

Iveson said rehabilitating the hangar honours city's commitment to preserve aviation history on the site, after it closed the city centre airport.

The building was included on the National Trust for Canada's 2017 list of the country's 10 most endangered buildings.