It remains to be seen what the future holds for the 1903 art deco-style former hotel at the corner of Ross Street and 50th Street, although it might eventually be redeveloped or sold. (Photo by Red Deer Advocate Staff)

HACKETT: Unfortunate goodbye for the Buffalo

Even the historical society didn’t know.

What a travesty, for a mayor and council that touted “transparency” when they first took office, to allow something like this to happen.

Seemingly out of nowhere, it was announced on Monday that the Buffalo Hotel and the Club Café would be demolished in the spring to make way for future development.

“Transparent and accountable decision-making is at the core of what the city does,” reads a line in the city’s strategic plan, under an engaged and connected city.

Choosing to demolish a historic building, (although it is not designated as such) without so much as a phone call to the organization that oversees exactly that, seems like an unacceptable betrayal of public trust.

The Buffalo Hotel has sat at its current location for 120-plus years, while the Club Café has been in its spot for just about 100. That’s a century of history, about to vanish within a few hours next spring.

Councillors discussed purchasing the two buildings in close-door meetings that took place over some months, according to our reporting, yet the Central Alberta Historical Society said earlier this week they had no idea that this plan was in the works.

To this end, the city has some leeway to hide such a decision.

The Municipal Government Act allows for council to go into closed meetings when discussing “economic or other interests” which, obviously involves negotiating land deals. So, because the city was purchasing the land where the Buffalo Hotel sits, they did it under the guise of secrecy, without public consultation, and without any community feedback.

It is the definition of a blindside, hidden under a veil of government bureaucracy.

Before negotiations started on a deal to purchase the Buffalo, why not ask the public what they think should be done? Instead, they entered into a months-long hidden process that surprised and shocked the community.

Members of this council are all intelligent, community-minded individuals. Surely they could have come up with a plan to let citizens know they were considering demolishing a historic landmark, before making the decision to do so behind closed doors.

Heck, why not buy the building, then ask the people what you should do with it, rather than making that decision to demolish it without allowing the public to have their say, which is another core value the city has preached.

Especially when the potential plan for the land so far includes “a skating rink.” We have 90-plus skating rinks in town. I’m not sure who thought that would be the potential anchor downtown needs to be revitalized, but it’s not it. I know that’s just a temporary plan, but still.

The land will eventually be developed – likely turned into condos or some sort of business park – as if we need more of that when there is plenty of vacant property already in this city.

“These properties are in a prominent location and provide great opportunity for redevelopment and new use in the downtown,” the city said.

You have to hope that those prove prosperous or fruitful for the city. Hope is all we have it this point.

Citizens will eventually have a chance to have their say on the redevelopment, but not on the demolition aspect. That’s already been signed, sealed and delivered.

And it’s an easy and convenient excuse that the Buffalo had fallen into a state of disrepair.

The city could have fought to preserve the historic value of these buildings. They could have lobbied the provincial government to designate them as historic sites and procured grants to help with restoration. There were options, there were ideas that should have been debated in the eyes of the public, so people know why the course was chosen. The answers provided so far simply aren’t enough.

“Unfortunately, these properties are in poor state of disrepair and assessments found it would be cost-prohibitive to restore the buildings,” the city said.

Of course, we will never know what cost-prohibitive means, because the financial terms of the purchase won’t be released. All the city said was the purchase and demolition was included in the budget.

Pave paradise, put up a parking lot, as Joni Mitchell famously once said (the city has said the property will not be a vacant gravel parking lot).

The Buffalo was not paradise. But to bulldoze it to make way for “development” when on Ross Street there are already several vacant properties, makes little sense.

Even on the city’s own website, they have a three-page document from 2009, outlining the significance of the Buffalo Hotel, for “statements of significance for the Downtown Red Deer Legacy Year Project.”

“The Buffalo Hotel is significant for its association with the development of Red Deer’s early hotel district, for its association with post-depression commercial development, for its streamlined modern design influences, and for its modern design elements included in the hotel’s 1959 renovation.”

The city’s heritage plan sounds great and all, until you reach a moment like this, when the rubber hits the road and “cost-prohibitive” means another downtown landmark falls by the wayside.

“The management of significant heritage resources is a legitimate and desirable function that is recognized as being increasingly important in the development of a healthy community,” reads a portion of the city’s plan.

Guess not.

Perhaps former Mayor Morris Flewwelling summarized it best, calling the Buffalo 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.

It is sad. It’s sadder though that nobody bothered to even let people know there was a fight to be had for a part of this city’s history.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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