Plans in works for concrete shell

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004

Naoibh O’Connor


Gutted building (centre) has been an eyesore on the downtown skyline for years.
photo Dan Toulgoet

A long-abandoned construction site and eyesore on West Georgia near Thurlow is finally slated for redevelopment.

Work on a mixed use, highrise project could start in late 2005, said Simon Lim, president of the Holborn Group, which owns the property.

Plans for the 1133 West Georgia site are tied to the Woodward’s redevelopment proposal pitched by Lim and Concert Properties. Council will vote to approve one of three competing proposals at a meeting today.

Concert is asking city hall to allow the transfer of 400,000 square feet of density from the Woodward’s site to the West Georgia location. The latter redevelopment would help pay for the Woodward’s redevelopment, including its large public square.

Although last week a city advisory committee studying the three proposals recommended the bid from the Westbank consortium, Concert is lobbying council to back its plan.

But if Concert is turned down by council, the development at 1133 West Georgia will go ahead as planned, Lim said.

A shell of a building, which used to house offices, sits on the site. It’s been vacant for at least eight years. A former owner of the property planned to turn it into a gym and recreation centre, but the plans fell through for unknown reasons. The building was gutted and the exterior facade was removed. Hoarding was erected in more recent years to keep the public out.

Cadillac Fairview bought the land in early 2000.

Carlene Robbins, manager of bylaw administration for the city, said staff were prepared to go to council and ask that the structure be declared a nuisance. Cadillac Fairview, however, promised to either apply for rezoning to build a new structure or use the building shell for a renewed project. “So we held off and after that they ended up selling the property,” Robbins said.

The property was cleaned up, including the removal of a crane, tarps, garbage and other debris for safety reasons. Holborn bought the site last year.

“It’s relatively tidy, but the fact is it’s a concrete shell and it’s not very attractive,” Robbins said.

Dave Jackson, the deputy city building official, agrees. “In our minds it’s getting to the point where there should be some decision,” said Jackson, noting he’s fielded several complaints over the years, most recently in July. That complainant called the property, “at best a horrible blight on the city scene and at worst a dangerous shell warranting a condemned pronouncement.”

Robbins said the building isn’t unsafe. “Basically, we would have to establish it is a nuisance. If it’s unsafe, it’s easier to deal with. The fact is, it’s not unsafe, just unsightly,” she said.

Tearing the shell down would cost millions. The city does, on occasion, demolish nuisance residences and charge the cost back to owners who’ve refused to comply with earlier demolition orders. Few commercial buildings have been dealt with in that manner, although several years ago the owner of a vacant four-storey building on East Hastings tore it down following warnings from city hall. The same fate happened to a restaurant on Franklin Street.

“Sometimes we have to threaten them and it will spur them into action,” Robbins said. “We do [deal with] commercial buildings, it’s just obvious they’re a lot more costly to do and it gets a bit more complicated, especially a building of this size on West Georgia.”

Jackson said he would likely give the Holborn Group until mid-October to confirm its plans for the site.

Lim said he’s been in constant contact with city staff. “It’s not our intent to sit there and let it rot,” he said. “We fully intend to do something about it.”

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