Old meets new: Tower in historic warehouse on Edmonton's 104th Street gets nod from city council

A piece of Edmonton’s warehouse history will be preserved as developers get ready to build a 40- to 45-storey tower in the middle of the 111-year-old building, city council heard Wednesday.

Developers pledge to preserve two sides of 111-year-old brick building

The Horne Pitfield warehouse on 103rd Avenue and 104th Street, pictured as part of the podium in this rendering, was built in 1911. (Stantec)

A piece of Edmonton's history will be preserved as developers get ready to build a 40 to 45-storey tower in the middle of the 111-year-old brick warehouse building, city council heard during a public hearing Wednesday.

Stantec and Limak Investments Inc. plan to build the tower on the site at 103rd Avenue and 104th Street, where the Horne & Pitfield warehouse sits.

The developers pledge to preserve the south and west-facing brick facades and designate them a municipal historic resource, meaning that they're responsible for maintaining the historic nature of the facades into the future.

City council unanimously approved the application Wednesday to rezone the site, allowing the mixed-use tower to be built on the lot. 

David Johnston, principal heritage planner with the City of Edmonton, said the city supports the proposal as a balanced approach to development and preservation. 

"The risk of losing the building was very high," Johnston said. "I think in this case, we've landed on a decent compromise to retain the two key facades of the building that have the most prominence and profile to the surrounding streets."

Johnston said there is high demand to develop the area and pressure on the city to approve new developments.

The city aims to balance redevelopment, density, affordable housing and economic development while preserving heritage value, he said.

"Meeting these objectives of a growing city, you know, sometimes we have to make these types of flexible arrangements," Johnston said. 

Damir Blazeka with Stantec told council that they worked with city planners to make sure the materials and design match neighbouring architecture. 

"Above the podium, there's a slim tower with exterior finishes that would complement and blend in with the surrounding environment of the Ice District and other new developments in the area," Blazeka said. 

The mixed-use tower will have commercial space on the bottom level, a hotel above that and apartments higher up. 

New meets old

Coun. Jo-Anne Wright approves of the city's approach. 

"I do think it's a really nice blend of the old and the new. I like the way that they've put it together," Wright told CBC News Wednesday.

During the meeting, Wright looked for assurances from administration that the city will continue to preserve its history. 

"I think I'm feeling a little nostalgic because it's been 50 years since our provincial courthouse was demolished," she said. "I regret the city ever having made that decision, it was just such a beautiful piece of architecture." 

Token recognition

City archivist Kathryn Ivany believes some have an issue with the city's compromise to preserve only the two facades and not the entire building.

"I think most heritage people would say this is a loss of a heritage building, although there is a token recognition that this is part of the warehouse district," Ivany said.

"There will be a remnant of it but it's not the same as having an historic building there."

The warehouse, built in 1911, was operated by a grocery wholesaler specializing in imported goods. 

The building was slated for demolition in 1988 after the province had stopped using it as a public works and utility building. 

It was saved from the wrecking ball as public pressure grew to preserve historic buildings, Ivany said, and it was later run as a grocery store again in the 1990s. 

Today, it's a mini storage facility. 

Most warehouses in the area are a mix of residential and commercial spaces, Ivany noted, built along the railway line at the turn of the 20th century. 

Stantec and Limak will need a development permit from the city before construction can begin.


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