Calgary Journal Online

Home In Focus In Focus Out with the old, in with the new on Seventh Avenue
Out with the old, in with the new on Seventh Avenue PDF Print E-mail
Written by GEORGES PERRIN   
Thursday, 05 November 2009 16:21

Company plans on restoring heritage buildings to their former glory

The historic block on Seventh Avenue S.W. is getting a facelift.

Neil Richardson of Heritage Property Corp. recently acquired the six historic buildings on the 100 block of Seventh Avenue S.W., directly facing the reconstructed LRT platform, and is planning to bring them back to their former glory. As president of the Calgary-based company, Richardson was behind the recent restoration of the Lougheed heritage building.

“What we do is really a combination of heritage restoration and sensitive rehabilitation. We buy ‘at risk’ heritage buildings that are neglected or rundown and we try to save enough of the old while bringing them up to current safety code.”

The 100 block of Seventh Avenue S.W. as it appears now.
Photo: Georges Perrin/Calgary Journal
Richardson intends to revitalize and rehabilitate the derelict block in the same fervor as the Lougheed building.

“The goal for us is to balance the historic with the modern, and preserve enough of the fabric to get the feeling of being in a heritage building.”

He suggests that his plans would spruce up the area and revive the sense of energy and splendor that it once possessed. He said his objective is to bring back pedestrian traffic and, as a result, bring in more positive business.

How he plans to attract this traffic is where it gets impressive.

To provide economic feasibility to the $40-million project, Heritage Property Corp. intends to build Canada’s first fully automated parking facility that will have the capacity to park 360 vehicles.

Using 40 per cent less ground space than a traditional parking structure, the Seventh Avenue Autopark will be equivalent to that of a six-storey office building.

Operated by a computerized racking system, the design will allow vehicles to be parked in a stall on street level and then be lifted into the tower without any human intervention. Upon the owner’s return , an access card is swiped for retrival.

The project, Richardson envisions, would enable the creation of a well-lit alleyway called “Stephen Avenue’s Little Sister” behind the heritage buildings that would incorporate vehicle access with pedestrian traffic.

“It generates a critical mass of people…what’s


driving the pedestrian traffic is the coming and going from the parkade.”

Providing a new space for businesses to thrive, Richardson said there is already a strong relationship with the Calgary Arts and Development Authority to find arts and culture users to move in.

More appealing to Richardson is how the parking tower would work in favor of people driving downtown for a cultural event.

“Having the arts user here creates a demand for evenings and weekends. It’s on the edge of the Olympic Plaza Cultural District, so you have Art Central, the Epcor Centre…there’s a lot of venues.”

Though the rejuvenation plan sounds great, some of the blocks’ current tenants are concerned.

Rizwan Haider, 47, is the co-owner of the Hop-In Hop-Out convenience store and has been here for the past seven years.

Weathered by time and neglect, the Rochon Block he is in merely stands as a testimony to the earnest construction of the early 20th century.

Haider said that the condition of the street is most likely the reason why the area attracts the type of people that it does, and is glad that the situation will be improved.

Soon Haider, like all the tenants on the block, will be closing his doors to allow a new page to be written in Calgary’s young history.

Haider is one of six tenants on the block who have until December 2010 to vacate the premises in order for the Heritage Property Corporation to begin renovations on the buildings.

One year ago, Haider said the company came to him with a letter informing him that his business would have to cease operation by the end of 2010.

Right now, Haider said he is financially stable, but is concerned for the future. Above having to pay rent, Haider has a mortgage and a family to feed.

Even though Haider frets over losing his store, he is optimistic and certain that this rejuvenation will help ameliorate the area.

Amin Thawer, owner of Amin Donair & Sub, has had his business inside the historic Klossoski Block on Seventh Avenue for 13 years. After seeing many changes to the downtown core, he said not much has happened to this street.

Thawer is actually anticipating the change, despite the fact that he will have to leave behind
his most valued customers.

“I’m going to retire”, said Thawer, 65. “If they didn’t redo the building, then I could go another five years, easy.”

Art Central is conveniently located across the street from the heritage buildings. Amanda Meador, building manager for the gallery, thinks Richardson’s plan to rejuvenate the strip and incorporate an arts and culture focus is a great idea.

“Not only will it make a more usable area, but I suspect it will also reduce the undesirable population that we [Art Central] have to contend with.”

Meador feels the transformation will not only benefit the patrons of Art Central, as well as the commuters travelling to the downtown core.

An artistic rendering of what the Seventh Avenue heritage block will look like after rejuvenation.
Illustration courtesy of Heritage Property Corp.

Commuters like Tara Farrell.

An employee of Atomic Experience on 623 First Street S.W., Farrell takes the train downtown to get to work, and finds the condition of the heritage buildings appalling.

“Who wants to be riding on the train and ride by that? It’s right along the train route and people want to see nice stuff when they’re riding the train.”

She said the block gives her the jitters during the day, let alone at night.

Even her coworker Maria Jarmillo, a first-year student at the University of Calgary, was bothered by the condition of the street. She considers the block historically important and wonders why it has been overlooked for so long.

“It’s about time that they started to rejuvenate this place. It’ll be safer and more attractive for people to go to. It’ll make the core that much more appealing.”

Noting the retail establishments already there, both Farrell and Jarmillo say they hope to see more upscale retail businesses in their place.

For Vanessa Zral, a geography graduate at the University of Calgary, the area is important for redevelopment. Educated in the field of urban planning and design, Zral said a redevelopment would bring more industry into the area and would make for a friendlier, more pedestrian-safe neighborhood.

“By upgrading the area and facilitating a movement through it, it will become more accessible to people of all backgrounds and higher socioeconomic groups who will have money to spend in those businesses,” Zral said.

Developer Richardson expects the renovations to take an estimated 15 months for completion.