Two of Red Deer’s oldest buildings have been purchased by the City of Red Deer and are slated to be demolished next spring.
The historic Buffalo Hotel, from 1903, as well as the next-door Club Cafe, from the 1920s, were bought by the city for a yet-undisclosed sum.
The goal is to have these two structures wrecked and their land purchased by a developer for the creation of a new downtown attraction and gathering place, said Mayor Ken Johnston.
“It is a tremendous day in our city,” added Johnston, who’s excited about the redevelopment potential at this gateway to the downtown.
City council discussed purchasing the two buildings in close-door meetings that took place over some months. On Monday, councillors resolved to buy the properties at 5021 and 5023 Ross (50) Street and later have these buildings demolished as part of plans to address derelict properties and to support downtown revitalization.
There was no dissenting viewpoint expressed on council about the purchase or pending demolition. Council was told no one was living in the empty hotel, and the few residents of the former cafe have been rehoused.
Neither the Buffalo Hotel nor the Club Cafe buildings have protected heritage status even though both have a long history in Red Deer’s downtown.
Red Deer doesn’t have many — or even any — other art deco buildings, with the round-cornered look as the Buffalo Hotel.
The building that was formerly the Alberta Hotel “is an iconic building in many ways,” said the mayor, “but we had to look at the functionality and the cost” and the plastered brick structure was deemed too far gone for rehabilitation.
City manager Tara Lodewyk said the art deco look wasn’t original to the building, but was part of the 1939 addition.
She noted the city gives out grants to downtown property owners to help restore old buildings, and has also helped to preserve other heritage sites, such as the former Intermediate School (now Culture Services Centre). But the former hotel and cafe are considered too dilapidated. Before being demolished, she noted they will be evaluated and historic aspects, such as their signage, will be saved.
Local historian Coun. Michael Dawe said he would normally be for preservation, but the former Buffalo Hotel has been vandalized after it had shutdown as a space for transitional housing. ‘“It’s in such poor shape, it’s derelict. The building is beyond salvageable,” he added.
It isn’t uncommon for cities to buy land with a future vision in mind, said Coun. Cindy Jefferies, who added this “sizable” property on the southeast side of Ross Street and Gaetz Avenue South, would be a great place for restaurants or other developments.
“Sometimes it can be bad to see buildings we’ve known for years come down, but it’s the evolution of a city and makes way for redevelopment,” Jefferies added.
The 40-suite former Buffalo Hotel and Club Cafe restaurant, which take up about half of one city block, will not be turned into a gravel lot as they await development, said Johnston, as happened to the after Arlington Hotel was wrecked by the city in 2009.
Council heard that once the Buffalo and Club Cafe buildings are demolished, their sites can be combined with existing city-owned Arlington Hotel land at 5022 49 Street to offer a prime downtown space for redevelopment.
Meanwhile, some interesting temporary uses for all three empty lots were suggested, including creating a downtown skating rink, park or place for vendor stalls.
Wade Martens, land co-ordinator for the city said, “We know we will be able to do more for our downtown, and our community, by repurposing this prime area of our downtown.
He added, “We will share more details soon about how residents will be able to participate as we say goodbye to these iconic spaces …to preserve their memory.”
A request for proposals will be shared in early 2023 as the city seeks a contractor to complete demolition and site repairs in the spring. The cost of the purchase and demolition is expected to be made public once the tender has been awarded.