Edmonton

Historic McDougall United Church seeks development proposals for downtown Edmonton land

McDougall United Church is requesting proposals for developing the land around its 111-year-old building in an agreement that would see the church and community outreach activities continue to run.

111-year-old building could be included in a residential or commercial project

An architectural sketch imagines a future development incorporating McDougall United Church in downtown Edmonton. (Next Architecture)

One of Edmonton's oldest churches could be incorporated into a multi-use downtown development.

McDougall United Church is requesting proposals for developing the land around its 111-year-old building in an agreement that would see the church and community outreach activities continue to run.

Proposals could also incorporate the church itself, which occupies about one third of the 3,277-square-metre property.

Built in 1910, the church is both a provincial and municipal historic resource.

Since the land is zoned for high-density development, a successful proposal could include buildings with a maximum height of between 150 and 200 metres.

Financial need is driving the decision as the church's steady but small congregation cannot afford to maintain the building.

"One of the realities is that if the building doesn't get developed in some meaningful way, it will just disappear by neglect, and of course, that's not going to benefit anybody in the long run," said Larry Derkach, chair of the church council.

McDougall United Church in 2014. (CBC )

Perched on top of Bellamy Hill, at the corner of MacDonald Drive and 101st Street, the church has been a local landmark for more than a century. Its earliest Methodist predecessor, which was built there in 1873 but later moved to Fort Edmonton Park, was the first major building that went up outside the Fort.

In 1925, the Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian denominations merged, forming the United Church of Canada.

Over the years, the church has hosted the Salvation Army, the Edmonton Opera, convocation ceremonies, suffragette rallies and countless concerts.

In 2016, the building underwent significant repairs, paid for by donors and grants from the province and the city.

More recently, the church has received funding from the federal government and the Edmonton Community Foundation's Social Enterprise Fund. It is also partnering with the Trinity Centres Foundation, a Montreal-based charitable organization that works to transform church properties.

Plans to re-imagine the site have been in the works for years, but the RFP marks the church's first formal outreach to the development community.

The RFP went up this spring and the deadline for submissions is July 31. 

An architectural sketch shows how a future development beside McDougall United Church might appear from Edmonton's 101st Street. (Next Architecture)

RE/MAX agent Steven Pearson said several interested parties are working on proposals.

"They like the idea, they like the location and it's the kind of thing that they do," he said.

The land is held in trust via the United Church of Canada, so the congregation has the biggest stake in the site's future.

"The congregation is fully on board," said Paul Conway, a member of the congregation and part of the committee examining the building's future.

The historic designation places limits on what changes could be made to the building, but indoor alterations are on the table, including levelling the tapered floor and removing the pews.

Conway said the church has enough revenue and savings to wait for the right proposal — one that aligns with the congregation's vision of a community hub.

"It's not about the most dollars. It's about the best community use of the facility," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Madeleine Cummings is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She covers local news and files for CBC Edmonton's web, radio and TV platforms. You can reach her at madeleine.cummings@cbc.ca.

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