The city’s decision to demolish the historic Buffalo Hotel and neighbouring Club Cafe has some Red Deerians applauding the decision, while leaving others displeased.
The decision caught some residents off guard, including Mark Collings, president of the Central Alberta Historical Society, which tries to preserve local history, including architecture and buildings.
“My concern about the Buffalo Hotel is I don’t think there’s been any real discussion about it. It surprised me when I heard today that it’s going to be demolished,” said Collings on Tuesday.
He said the Buffalo has his attention now.
“I’m sure my board is going to be on top of it as well.”
On Monday, the city announced it had purchased the properties at 5021 and 5023 Ross (50) Street. The hotel and cafe, which the city has determined to be in “poor state of disrepair” and cost-prohibitive to restore or repurpose, will be demolished next spring.
The site can be combined with existing adjacent, city-owned land at 5022 49 Street, the former location of the historic Arlington Hotel, to offer a prime downtown space for redevelopment.
Collings said the historical society fought to preserve the Parsons House next to the new justice centre. While he didn’t know about the Buffalo’s structural issues, he expects that it could be restored to some degree to help maintain the city’s character.
“It’s a keystone property, right in the main area of downtown. I believe these old buildings are assets to a city,” Collings said.
Former mayor Morris Flewwelling said there should be some public discussion about the fate of the Buffalo. When people travelled to Red Deer by train they got off at the nearby CPR station and stayed at the Buffalo, Waskasoo, Arlington and Valley hotels.
“The CPR Station and the hotels together make an element in the story of the history of our community as they do in every town,” Flewwelling said.
He said other historic downtown buildings have been preserved and repurposed, like the CPR Station, the old Court House, and the old Armoury that became the children’s department of the public library. But he wasn’t sure how the Buffalo could be put to use since there is already a lot of developable land in the downtown and Capstone.
The hotel is also decrepit and tattered, he added.
“Judging from the outside of it and the abuse it has taken inside, I’m not sure that the building can be rehabilitated. Right now it looks like kind of a dowdy, old matron.
“I suppose it’s a sad part of our lives that we don’t figure out a way to successfully adaptively reuse a building like that,” Flewwelling said.
Brandon Bouchard, Red Deer Downtown Business Association chair, said demolishing the buildings is a step in the right direction and commended the mayor and city council for making the tough decision.
“It’s unfortunate a building of that age and historical value needs to come down. From what I understand it’s more of a safety issue now,” said Bouchard, who is also the manager of Tribe restaurant and bar.
“It just makes perfect sense, in my opinion, that it gets removed and somebody else has the opportunity to put something there that will be a benefit to our downtown and a gateway to Capstone.”
Bouchard said ideally another great hotel would be a wonderful fit for the location or a commercial space with residential units on top. But it’s important not to rush the decision because it is such an important spot that will impact the surrounding area.
On the other hand, Sunworks co-owner Paul Harris doesn’t want the community to lose another historic building.
“It’s always repairable. If you’ve ever been to Europe, some of those buildings are hundreds of years old, and they repair them just fine,” said Harris, a former city councillor, who restored the Metropolitan Block in downtown Red Deer.
He said the Metropolitan was deteriorating, with pigeons flying through the second floor. It took a lot of effort but it was fixed up and improved. Ripping up three layers of flooring on the main level revealed the original walnut hardwood floors. After some refinishing, the hardwood floor became a feature many customers admire.
He said the city could attract a buyer by offering a grant to help fix up the Buffalo and make it into apartments or a boutique hotel to preserve the building.
“We’d save part of our heritage and improve the downtown,” said Harris, who recalled a movement to knock down the historic former Central Intermediate School which was saved and turned into a community arts and culture hub.