Calgary council ponders throwing a lifeline to Barron Building conversion project

·3 min read
City council will consider whether to help fund the conversion of Calgary's iconic Barron Building into residential suites. (Mike Symington/CBC - image credit)
City council will consider whether to help fund the conversion of Calgary's iconic Barron Building into residential suites. (Mike Symington/CBC - image credit)

For the past two years, there's been no sign of any work being done on the historic Barron Building in downtown Calgary.

The city is now proposing to put in public money to help complete the long-running project to convert the 1951 office building to residential units.

City administration is asking city council to consider putting $7.5 million dollars toward the Barron Building.

The owner of the historic 11-storey skyscraper, Calgary-based Strategic Group, halted work on the project a couple of years ago when it found the cost of completing the job would be higher than expected.

The property development company has also run into financial troubles as a result of economic conditions.

There is currently no timeline for completing the Barron conversion.

Earlier this year, city council approved a $45-million program to help subsidize the cost of converting vacant downtown commercial space into residential units.

However, the Barron Building isn't eligible as work on its conversion started before the incentive program came into existence.

For that reason, city administration is proposing a special program be created for the Barron — with the condition that the building on Eighth Avenue S.W. be given a municipal heritage resource designation, which would protect it into the future.

WATCH | The Barron building's history

The executive director of Heritage Calgary, Josh Traptow, said he's heard plenty of concerns about whether the project will ever be completed.

"We oftentimes would get asked: what's happening with the Barron Building? It's been sitting there for a couple of years with all those tarps," said Traptow.

He called the Barron building one of the most historically significant buildings in the downtown core.

Mike Symington/CBC
Mike Symington/CBC

It is on the city's inventory of heritage resources; the building currently doesn't have any heritage designations.

While it's up to city council to decide whether such a grant could go ahead, Traptow said combining the cash with heritage status would ensure future generations could appreciate the Barron Building's style and history.

"I'm hopeful that this proposal will inject some future into the building and that the conversion from commercial office space to residential will be able to move forward and give that building a new lease on life."

Risk of perceived 'preferential treatment'

City administration does acknowledge there are risks with what it is proposing to city council.

In its proposal, administration said there could be a perception that the city is offering "unequal or preferential treatment" for this property.

It suggests that criticism could be offset by creating a broader incentive program for all historically significant properties downtown.

The city said the Barron is currently encumbered by mortgage debt and liens as well as being the subject of active litigation.

Administration is recommending that if council approves a plan to assist with conversion costs that the $7.5 million not be paid until the project is completed and an occupancy permit is issued.

The vacant and currently uninhabitable building is assessed at $14 million in value, but as a completed residential building the city estimates it could be worth $60 million.

City council's priorities and finance committee is set to discuss the proposal during its meeting on Tuesday.

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