When it comes to notorious properties in Edmonton, the remand centre is high on the list. The downtown facility was well-known for its overcrowding and other issues, but it has now been almost completely empty since the new remand centre opened in 2013. Since that time, the building has sat, and the city has been at a loss when it comes to the building. At 12 storeys and nearly 200,000 sq. ft., the building has a lot of potential, but also a lot to overcome.
Speaking to the press, Mayor Don Iveson wants to be careful in how to approach the future of the building. “Generally, I don’t like replacing buildings if they have useful life left in them, and structurally it’s got lots of life,” he said last Friday, “But it’s really hard to imagine a good use for that building that doesn’t come with a ton of cost to repurpose and a lot of issues of trauma for people who’ve been in that building previously.”
Essentially, there are three options for the former correctional institution: demolition, conversion for residential space, or conversion for retail space. All three of these options have their own obstacles that need to be overcome.
Demolition, while seemingly the simplest solution, and certainly one of the most popular, could come with a price tag of millions of dollars. According to Iveson, demolition could carry a price tag of over seven million dollars. “I understand the demolition costs would be many, many millions of dollars,” he said, “…And I don’t have several million dollars at the city to demolish provincial assets.”
Residential conversion comes with many different challenges as well, since the building was designed to house inmates, not condo loft dwellers. Executive director of the Downtown Business Association, Jim Taylor, has said that developers don’t believe the building can be converted, citing issues like the windows and structural issues. Of course, the idea of living in a former prison doesn’t help when one is trying to sell loft apartments either.
Finally, retail, or a combination retail and residential space, is also a problem, since the space once again isn’t convertible like other buildings. If it was going to be turned into this kind of property, the hurdles would be almost as expensive as the demolition process.
As it stands, the site itself is not only valuable, but well-positioned for any number of uses, which means the building itself is the problem. And if the city wants developers to consider it, they may have to sweeten the deal. Jim Taylor believes a decent price is necessary. “I think governments have a duty and a right to fire sale a building so it can be developed,” he said, “As long as there’s an agreement with whoever gets it at a very minimal price, that it will be developed in quick succession.”