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Edmonton’s The Quarters sees first steps toward revitalization

The Quarters neighbourhood, 18 blocks on the eastern end of Edmonton’s booming downtown core, is...

IMAGE: Hat @ Five Corners is being developed in The Quarters district in Edmonton by Cidex. (Rendering courtesy Cidex)

Hat at Five Corners is being developed in The Quarters district in Edmonton by Cidex. (Rendering courtesy Cidex)

The Quarters neighbourhood, 18 blocks on the eastern end of Edmonton’s booming downtown core, is gradually shedding its gritty image of decaying vacant buildings and empty surface parking lots.

“It is still a long-term vision,” says Ian O’Donnell, CEO of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association. “Any neighbourhood that has a new plan drawn over it certainly is not a three- or five-year vision; it’s a generational vision.”

The city’s plan is to transform the area into a thriving eclectic neighbourhood. The 40-hectare site now houses around 2,400 residents. By the time city plans are fully realized in 20 years, there should be 18,000 to 20,000 people living in The Quarters, according to the area’s revitalization plan.

Private and public investment is starting to bear fruit in the area.

Calgary-based residential developer Cidex is building the Hat at Five Corners, a 25-floor 199-unit multi-family apartment tower on Jasper Avenue at 96th Street. The firm has also recently demolished an eyesore vacant building across the street from the Hat. The developer hasn’t announced what it plans to build on that site.

Sarah Itani, business development manager for Cidex, says the firm has just passed the halfway mark on the Hat.

“We’re on about Level 16 of 25. We are looking probably at the summer of 2020 occupancy,” she says. The building includes one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and will have retail on the main floor.

The Quarters: “We love . . . its potential”

Itani is bullish on The Quarters.

“What we love about the area is its potential — just the way it’s located with all the beautiful views and all the access to other parts of the city,” she says.

She says the other big attraction of the area is the people who already live and work there – young business people, artists, health-care providers who have a pride in the community. She says the area needs strategic and thoughtful development that respects the mix of the neighbourhood.

“Gentrified areas are kind of what kill dynamic urban cores,” says Itani.

The need to avoid gentrification in The Quarters is echoed by many of the players in the area.

Kenneth Cantor, president of Primavera Development Group, says ownership is a bit fragmented in The Quarters which should help protect its varied character.

The city’s involvement in repurposing buildings and building parks will also be a plus, he adds.

Diverse, historical district

The Quarters has deep historical roots and a diverse population, including First Nations and Chinese-Canadian residents and businesses. Brand new developments include The Hat and the Quarter Note Hotel, a stunning mirrored glass building on Jasper Avenue which opened in 2017. Alldritt Group has also proposed a massive 80-storey tower for the area but details on timing are scant.

There is also the refurbishment of the historical building inventory underway.

Cantor’s Primavera is working on the Brighton Block, an Edwardian red brick building on Jasper. Due to long-term neglect, the firm had to essentially build an all new office building behind the original facade and is adding an addition on top.

“We’re adding three 5,800-square-foot jewel-box floors on the top of the original building, which has about a 7,300-square-foot floor plate,” says Cantor.

“We’ll be looking at substantial completion sometime the second quarter of this year,” he says. Tenants would be able to move in during Q3.

The location of the building, within blocks of the city law courts and Canada Place, will be ideal for law firms or companies doing business with the federal government, he says. And, the character of the building should attract architects, engineers and co-work tenants.

Respect existing businesses, residents

O’Donnell says he hopes redevelopment respects the businesses and residents already in The Quarters area. He doesn’t want to see something like Calgary’s East Village.

“Calgary East Village is very much a gentrification project. . . . The Quarters, I’m hoping, is going to be more organic. We’ve got lots of areas in central Edmonton that are really high-density. The Quarters could be something different. It could provide something of a more unique experience.”

The city is also working to retain that uniqueness with its redevelopment plan. It has constructed a pedestrian-oriented central street called the Armature to act as a backbone for the area’s development.

Mary Anne Debrinski, director of urban renewal, says the city is in the process of rehabilitating  two buildings that were vacant.

“We have tenants for them and so those buildings will be activated as a result of that rehabilitation work,” she says. “We’ve also acquired the Canadian Consolidated Scrapyard and all the adjacent properties.

“We’ve gone through the process of doing the environmental (assessment) on the buildings and site and we’ve just had (the) hazardous material abatement part completed in December so we can go into the building.”

Iron Works Building is distinct

The site between 105th and 104th Avenues and 95th and 96th Streets includes the historic Iron Works Building, built in 1909, one of the oldest commercial buildings in the city. Debrinski says it houses the oldest overhead crane in Edmonton.

“It’s a very interesting cluster of buildings we think will have an exciting adaptive re-use. We just have to figure out what it is,” she says. ”We may put it on the market to see what developer interest there might be for it.

“Quite often developers bring a different perspective. They have more ideas than the city might have.”

The city took a similar route with the Stovel Block, a 1912 building on 97th Street which it put up for sale last year. Debrinski says the pending sale will close in August. She won’t reveal what the new owner’s plans are for the building.

“It’s quite interesting what an appeal The Quarters has,” says Debrinski. “It’s still a little gritty. We have some really interesting historic building(s) in the area and I think people are attracted to the human scale of that.”

Along with the historic red-brick buildings dotted here and there across The Quarters, the neighbourhood also hosts a disproportionate number of gravel parking lots.

Debrinski says the city assembled a large parcel just north of the Quarter Note Hotel and now also has a deal pending for development of that site.

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