Mon. Oct 14th, 2019

Heritage funding requests for Brighton Block, Strathcona Hotel renewals drastically exceed city budget

4 min read

The Brighton Block building at 9666 Jasper Avenue in Edmonton on October 10, 2019. Larry Wong / POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Two developers working to repurpose prized historic buildings are asking city councillors to make an exception in approving substantial funding requests that will empty the city’s current reserve for heritage resources.

Both the Brighton Block and Strathcona Hotel projects have run into extensive rehabilitation costs associated with the historic nature of the buildings, and the companies behind their revival are seeking heritage funding from the city in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the city’s current program, offering maintenance incentives for up to 33 per cent of eligible costs, caps large-scale buildings to $50,000 every five years.

These requests have highlighted an even larger funding issue: more buildings are being designated historical resources and eligible for grants, and at the same time longtime heritage structures are in need of rehab work to keep afloat.

In its report headed to council’s urban planning committee Tuesday, city officials said they are looking to increase the funding pool beginning in 2022 to better meet the demand. But right now, the reserve is struggling to meet the renewal requirements of the 156 designated buildings. Seven buildings have already been granted the designation so far this year, compared to a total of six throughout 2018.

With these two funding requests facing the city totalling more than $1.6 million, it would exceed the capacity of the current reserve if approved and the city warned “could be precedent-setting” when dealing with future requests.

“While these properties are significant to Edmonton’s built heritage, these requests are not consistent with the current terms … and exceed the current capacity of the Heritage Resources Reserve,” the report to council reads. “At current budget levels, funding ongoing maintenance grant requests at the scale contemplated through these requests would make … [the program] unsustainable.”

Exceeding the current terms, a decision to approve the funding requests will be up to councillors.

But the companies behind the requests are urging for an exception, arguing they have been faced with unexpected costs in their challenging projects.

‘We need to pay more attention’

Ken Cantor’s Primavera Development Group is behind the 35,000-square-foot redesign of the storied 1912 Brighton Block, looking to transform the three-storey brick building along Jasper Avenue into a six-storey commercial and retail space. With the total project amounting to $15 million, the city said it would be eligible for an unprecedented $566,636 under the grant program. The major construction work on the building is expected to be complete in the next few weeks.

After purchasing the building from the Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta in 2017, Cantor said the building was facing significant damage. But he said the group sees the value in going through with the project they started.

“As a city and owners, I think we need to pay more attention to our buildings and our building stock before they’re heritage buildings,” Cantor said. “Right now we ignore them until they’re old, we ignore them until they’re heritage and we allow them to deteriorate with very little consequences … it’s almost as if that’s what we expect.”

A rendering of the proposed Brighton Block currently being redeveloped by Primavera Development Group. (Supplied) Supplied

No matter the decision of councillors on Tuesday, Cantor said the current aging policy needs to be updated or the issue currently being faced will continue to occur.

Up to code

On the other side of the river, Beljan Development is asking for just under $464,000 to repurpose the longstanding Strathcona Hotel into a four-storey commercial building with shops, cafes and office spaces.

The total cost of the project is expected to be $5 million, not including repair costs for a fire that broke out in March of this year which will be handled through insurance claims. But Beljan Development’s Chris Dulaba said they came upon significant costs associated with upgrading to code. The requested funding is crucial to ensuring the longterm future of the structure, Dulaba argued — a building that was constructed in 1891 and is older than the City of Edmonton itself.

“Citizens of Edmonton have been clear we can’t lose any more of these types of heritage buildings,” he said. “This building is very important to the city as a whole. It’s not just a small, little building. It’s an important feature and we want to be able to do what we can to make it last for the next 100 years.”

A rendering of the redeveloped Strathcona Hotel building, currently under construction and anticipated to re-open as a commercial and retail building in the summer of 2020. (Supplied) Supplied

duscook@postmedia.com

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