Investment needed to preserve Lacombe’s historic downtown: business owner

Hannah Downton is completely renovating historic 1913 Denike Block

Some of Lacombe’s treasured historical buildings are at risk unless more money is invested to save them, says a business owner.

Hannah Downton has begun a $400,000 renovation of the 1913 Denike building and what she found concerns her. Paving in the back alley has raised its level and water now flows towards the foundations of the historic block of buildings along Lacombe’s picturesque main street.

Downton fears if the problems are not fixed, the lifespan of nearby buildings will be cut short because of crumbling foundations.

“Personally, I think it’s a huge concern,” said Downton, who wrote a letter to city council urging it to act to ensure the downtown’s iconic buildings are protected.

She recently had to excavate the back of her building and replace the foundation because asphalt layers laid down over decades in a nearby alley had changed runoff patterns.

“(The need for foundation replacement) was not because the foundation was failing. It was that all of the water was running into my foundation and physically washing it away,” she said.

The owner of Downton and Co., an interior design and renovation business, has always loved old buildings and was seeking a central location for her business when the Denike Block, which had been owned by a travel business, came up for sale.

An extensive amount of work was required to restore the building and other downtown buildings are in the same shape, she said.

“There’s a lot of money being taken out of them and not a lot being put back in,” she said. If Lacombe wants to maintain its special downtown historic character people will have to invest in maintaining the old buildings.

“(Lacombe) needs to have people caring about the buildings and restoring and refurbishing them.

“My building would have had five years left on the brick if we didn’t do what we did,” she said.

Downton praised the city for how easy it has been to work with. City representatives have been to see her building and understand her concerns, she added.

“I think that it is something they’re going to work on in the next few years.”

While her extensive foundation work should protect it from future damage, she is not sure other historic building owners can afford or are willing to do the same work.

Downton hopes to buy and renovate other historic buildings nearby to ensure they do not fall into such disrepair they cannot be saved.

City council discussed a report on proposed improvements to the historic downtown at its Monday committee meeting.

A report from staff said a request for council to approve $90,000 to$100,000 to rebuild the laneway behind the Denike building is expected to be part of the next budget.

Council is also expected to look at other options to beautify the downtown, including directing $170,000 per year over 10 years from a reserve fund, which was the recommendation of staff. Another option would be to undertake a major 50th Street streetscaping project, estimated to cost 4800,000 to $1.1 million.

Downton hopes to have her building’s renovation completed by November.

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