Edmonton

Historic Jasper Avenue buildings ready for new life

A pair of Edmonton developers are planning to breathe new life into an historic stretch of Jasper Avenue.

Modernization of Brighton Block and Pendennis Hotel nearly done after failed museum plan

The historic Brighton Block, a photography studio and workshop a century ago, is set to become retail and office space. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

A pair of Edmonton developers are hoping to breathe new life into a historic stretch of Jasper Avenue. 

The Brighton Block and Pendennis Hotel are two of the last vestiges of Boyle Street as it looked in the early 20th century, with their red-pressed brick facades and billboards above the parapet. 

Vacant for years after plans for a museum fell apart, LEDR and Primavera developments are almost ready to reopen the historic buildings as retail and office spaces at 97th Street. 

"We're hoping that the building will sort of reestablish its status as part of downtown's main street. An active, vibrant contributor to what goes on here," said Ken Cantor, president of Primavera. 

Primavera bought the Brighton Block in October 2017 for $1.875 million, Cantor said. He hoped to salvage some of the original timber-framed concrete interior, but the building had deteriorated beyond repair. 

"What wasn't full of dry rot was full of mold," Cantor said.

The building will grow to six storeys, with three storeys of floor-to-ceiling glass being built above, and setback from, the original three-storey facade.

"I'm hoping it'll engender a renewed sense of pride in the city and in our history and in our environment," Cantor said. 

Ken Cantor, president of Primavera Development, shows off the brick walls inside the Brighton Block with views overlooking the river valley. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The main floor will be a retail space — likely a restaurant — with the other floors acting as office space, Cantor said. He expects the base building to be finished in September. Primavera will then work with tenants to work out the specifics of the interior.  

The Brighton Block was built in the early 1910s as the studio and workshop of renowned local photographer Ernest Brown. His photographs of Edmonton's buildings and streetscapes are a snapshot of the fledgling commercial life of the city. The Pendennis Hotel opened directly next door around the same time. 

An undated photo of the historic Brighton Block and Pendennis Hotel. (Primavera Development)

In 2003, the buildings were purchased by Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta (UCAMA) with plans to turn the hotel site into the museum and the Brighton Block into accompanying office spaces. 

But cost overruns eventually prompted UCAMA to sell the properties. 

Lorraine Bodnarek, president of LEDR, says she wants to resurrect UCAMA's award-winning redesign of the Pendennis Hotel after she and her partners purchased the site in January. 

In June, she told CBC News that six groups in the Ukrainian community were trying to develop a business case to lease the space and keep plans for the museum alive.

But Bodnarek also sees other potential futures for the building. She says the building could be a perfect location for a restaurant — maybe a brewery — as well as open-concept co-working spaces. 

"I'd hate to demise it into small little offices because we would waste a lot of amazing space," she said. "We just want to revitalize the entire area." 

Lorraine Bodnarek, president of LEDR Developments, tours construction inside the Pendennis Hotel. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

If they don't have a commitment from a tenant by mid to late-October, Bodnarek might have to halt work on the interior. But, in that case, she would open up marketing and sales to the wider community. 

Ian O'Donnell, executive director of the downtown business association, sees the modernization of the buildings as a way of extending the core of Jasper Avenue to the east.

"This kind of space, which is found quite regularly in a Toronto or Vancouver, in the gastowns and distillery districts, provides something different, provides some character," he said. 

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