Edmonton

Demolished theatre subject of 2 lawsuits

A 97-year-old Jasper Avenue theatre that was demolished on the weekend was the focus of a decade-long dispute between the city of Edmonton and the owner of the building over the state of the structure at the time it was sold.
The Gem Theatre, shown here at centre, was constructed on Jasper Avenue in 1913. ((CBC))
A 97-year-old Jasper Avenue theatre that was demolished on the weekend was the focus of a decade-long dispute between the City of Edmonton and the owner of the building over the state of the structure at the time it was sold.

The city demolished the Gem Theatre on Jasper Avenue and 96th Street on the weekend because it considered the structure a safety hazard.

"There was every indication that the next heavy snowfall, it would collapse," said Coun. Ben Henderson.  

The dispute between the city and building owner Oliver O'Connor goes back nearly ten years.  In 1999, O'Connor, an Edmonton real estate agent, bought the building from the city for $77,500.

The city filed a statement of claim in September 2001 alleging that when O'Connor bought the building he agreed to make a number of repairs and restorations to the structure by mid-2002, including fixing the roof and preserving the building facade. 

The Gem Theatre was torn down on the weekend. (CBC) ((CBC))
O'Connor was to give the city a $75,000 letter of credit to secure the work and have an engineer assess the condition of the theatre's roof, the document says.

The city alleges O'Connor didn't provide the letter or the engineer's report and also failed to make any repairs or renovations.

"The plaintff is concerned that unless the rehabilitation work and additional rehabilitation work is done, the Gem Theatre may be lost as a municipal historic resource," the document says. The lawsuit asks for O'Connor to do the work or pay the city damages of $300,000.

City failed to disclose true state of building owner alleges

O'Connor denied these allegations. In his statement of defence and counterclaim from November 2001, he alleges the city failed to provide him with reports it had in its possession about the true state of the building.

If the existence of those reports were disclosed at the time of sale, it would have had a "material effect" on O'Connor's decision to buy the building, the document says.

"Upon further inspection of the premises, the defendant discovered that the plaintiff had, in fact, failed to disclose that the premises was in such a poor state of repair that several hundred thousand dollars would be required to repair the premises, if it was even repairable at all," the statement says, adding that the poor state of the building made the "contractual obligations impossible to perform."

O'Connor sued the city for $520,000, stating it misrepresented the amount of repairs that needed to be made, concealed the defects in the building and misrepresented the market value and the number of offers made for the property — allegations the city has denied.

None of the statements contained in the court documents has been proven in court.

Now that the building has been torn down, Henderson says the case shows the need for the city to do a better job at protecting heritage buildings.

"When we do these deals we need far more protection then we have right now," he said, "because the courts clearly don't move fast enough in order for us to achieve what we need them to do. At the end of it it's about saving the building."

 

now