Edmonton developers seek cash from city to rehab historic buildings

Two Edmonton developers are asking the city for financial support in renovating two historic buildings.

'It allows people like us to take the risk and to do some interesting things'

Beljan Development purchased the Strathcona Hotel after the building closed in 2018. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Two Edmonton developers are asking the city for financial support in renovating two historic buildings.

Beljan Development is refitting the Strathcona Hotel on Whyte Avenue into commercial retail space while Primavera Development Group is rehabilitating the Brighton Block on Jasper Avenue. 

Beljan spokesperson Chris Dulaba argues that investing in the 127-year-old Strathcona Hotel is in the public's interest. 
"There's not many of these gems around," Dulaba said. "Built in 1891, [it] was one of the first buildings you saw when you got off at the Strathcona station off the Calgary-Edmonton railroad."

It's also considered one of Alberta's last wood-framed hotels from the 19th century.

The Brighton Block at 9666 Jasper Ave. is being redeveloped into retail and office space. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Of the $5 million estimated for the project, the company suggests it merits just over $1.4 million from the heritage resources reserve which helps developers with renovation and maintenance costs.

Because the hotel was designated a municipal historic resource in 2007 — long before Beljan bought it — the company qualifies only for grants to maintain the building, not for renovations. 

In a report, city administration is recommending council consider the funding request as a one-time exception. 

The city's urban planning committee will discuss the funding requests from both parties at a meeting Tuesday.

If council agrees, Beljan could receive close to $464,000 for the Strathcona Hotel project.

Any city funding would be used to update the structure to meet modern building code, not to repair damage from a fire in March, Dulaba told CBC News.

Primavera, likewise, suggests its $15-million Brighton Block project merits $3.4 million from the reserve, but is asking the city for half that amount. 

City administration recommends council grant the project a one-time exception of $567,000. 

Dulaba described the grant program as a tremendous opportunity for developers willing to take a chance on an historic building. 

"It allows people like us to take the risk and to do some interesting things and take on a lot of these types of difficult development," he said.

"It's always easier just to demolish it and start from new versus take on something that's existing and add onto it."

The historic resource management program dates back to 1980.

In 1985, the city designated the Hotel Macdonald a historic resource, the first of 150 buildings. 

Since then the program has distributed $16 million in funding.

There has been more pressure on the reserve in the past couple of years. In 2017 there were 14 designations compared to six buildings a year on average up to then.

Buildings on the roster for 2019-22 include the Richards Block, also on Whyte Avenue, Strathcona Garage and Douglas Manor. In August, the Richards Block was designated a provincial historic resource.

In 2015, city council agreed to increase the annual tax levy to the reserve to $2.3 million beginning in 2018. 



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