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Raymond Block wins fans on historic Whyte Avenue

CBC

Six storeys high and overshadowing the historic Post Office steeple across the street, the soon-to-open Raymond Block building on Whyte Avenue and 105th Street is getting nods of approval from residents and people working in the area.

John Wanchulak works on the north side of Whyte Avenue and thinks the mixed-use space will add a positive vibe to the area.

"It's a very stylish building," Wanchulak told CBC News. "I think it fits with the motif that goes on down here and we're happy to see it."

Thursday morning, Wexford Developments took investors, retailers and media on a tour of the building, which is still under construction.

The mixed-use structure is named after the Raymond Hotel, which occupied the site in the early 1900s.

Kendal Harazny, a principal with the Calgary-based developer, said a lot of effort went into speaking with community members before the company came up with the design. 

"We held 22 community hearings during our rezoning process and everyone wanted to see something different," Harazny said. "Some people wanted to see 20 storeys, some people wanted to see one."

He admitted it wasn't easy designing a building to fit in with the historic feel of Old Strathcona but said Wexford "respected the heights" by "setting back" the residential component.

The two-storey podium, which will feature retail shops, is finished in brick and granite. People will only notice the height of the building when they step further away, or look at it from across the street or avenue.

Sheena Stefura, who works in a funeral home on 81st Avenue, said she's relieved the building isn't any higher.

"We were pretty nervous about what it was going to bring to the community, Old Strathcona being an older community, a heritage community," she said.

Passersby and patrons seemed pleased with the project.

"There does need to be more housing in this area and I think people would appreciate the more modern and trendy housing as well," Stefura said. 

"The new tenants are going to create some new activity,"  Wanchulak added.

Haley Shandro said it's nice to see something go up on a lot that had been vacant for so many years. The site was once home to an Esso station.

"Looks like they're trying to keep it in the same architectural style," Shandro noted.

Paul Selsky said he's also OK with the height and feel of the building. 

"I'm going to cross my fingers that they don't put a bar in there," he told CBC News. "The fewer taps, I think the better off the block will be."

Wexford announced the first five retail tenants moving in the building. Remedy Café, 7-Eleven, Blaze Pizza, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and Japanese gift shop Miniso.

Deals for two other tenants in a seven-bay retail space on the second floor are pending.

Harazny said the developers are speaking with potential clients for the office spaces. Launching the residential component will start this summer. 

Emmett Hartfield with real-estate consulting company Intelligence House will help look for tenants for the building's 95 residential units, including studios, one- and two-bedroom units ranging from $1,000 to more than $2,000 a month.

Hartfield called it a "long overdue rental property in the heart of Whyte Ave." with most apartment buildings in the area dating back to the early 2000s.

Raymond Block is set to open this fall.

@natashariebe

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