History: 1 Bulldozers:0 Developer saves The President
By: Michael Platt
Date: Jan 14, 2013
Link to full story and photos:
http://www.calgarysun.com/2013/01/13/de ... -bulldozed
The landfills are full of Calgary's history -- the bricks and mortar of a city that's never halted development in the name of preservation.
In most cities, the loss of a century-old city block in the name of progress would be front page news -- here in Calgary, tearing down history warrants a been-there, done-that shrug.
People may not like it, but they feel helpless.
Who can blame them, when developers can mow down Penny Lane and the Mount Royal Block, or skyline icons like the Ogden Federal grain elevator.
The old Herald Building downtown is doomed, and Calgary just lost an entire row of landmark Victorian homes in Mission, known as "The Painted Ladies."
In November, one month shy of its 100th birthday, the Beltline's Harvey Block was demolished, erasing yet another entry on city hall's heritage inventory.
Not that the official list ever seems to matter.
For those who love history, it's a sickening tradition. This is Calgary, where the past is in the way.
It would take a real twist to turn a historic-site development permit into a story that doesn't end with bulldozers and a lament for lost character and charm.
A twist, like a developer who changes his mind. A developer like Tim Down.
"It taught me a lot. I was uneducated about these things before. I am very enlightened now," said Down.
The owner of Calgary's Renoir Management once held that same piece of paper obtained by so many before him : An application for a demolition permit, allowing the destruction of one of Calgary's original buildings.
Down wanted to build a modern highrise on the site at 801 12 Ave. S.W., and to do so meant doing away with a old three-storey building known as The President Apartments.
Built in 1927 in Spanish colonial style, the white stucco building was once one of Calgary's most prestigious apartments, but was on the shabby side when Down acquired it.
That was one of the reasons Down didn't think anyone would care if he knocked the old structure down to make way for a 17-storey condo tower -- but he was wrong.
An outcry from the community, along with pres-sure from the city's heritage department, convinced Down to take another look at the old girl. The developer found himself charmed.
"I realized it was a win-win for the city and myself -- it's a great old building," said Down.
"All the people surrounding the building showed me it was their passion, and how important it really is. I didn't get any of that before."
The demolition permit was abandoned, taking The President off death row -- a near miracle in Calgary.
New plans were drawn up, this time featuring a 33-storey building which utilizes the refurbished President at the base, protecting history and incorporating it at the same time.
That was nearly five years ago. This week, with the economy making the development feasible again, the site goes before the Calgary Planning Commission for a land-use hearing.
Down says he hopes to start work this fall, and when finished, The President will be home to a ground-floor restaurant and cafe, plus a rooftop garden deck connecting the old building to the tower.
It won't be an easy job, and the engineering plan calls for the complete removal of The President onto 7 Street, to make way for an underground parking lot.
"We're moving the building off the site, constructing the parkade and then moving it back -- the city agreed to close seventh, so they'll come in and jack the building up and slide it over," said Down.
It takes a lot of work to save history, but Down says he's now convinced preserving Calgary's past is worth the extra effort.
"On first blush, it was "how can we actually do this?" But anything is doable, and at the end of the day, it all worked out," he said