Fate of historic Edmonton hangar up in the air as council contemplates selling

Hangar 14 also houses the Alberta Aviation Museum, whose future is also uncertain while the city decides what to do with the building.  (Adrienne Lamb/CBC - image credit)
Hangar 14 also houses the Alberta Aviation Museum, whose future is also uncertain while the city decides what to do with the building. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC - image credit)

The City of Edmonton says it's prepared to sell a historic hangar because rehabilitating the 80-year-old building could cost up to $41 million.

The fate of Hangar 14 — on the former City Centre Airport lands at Kingsway Avenue at 114th Street  — now hangs in the balance, as council's executive committee discussed the option of a sale Wednesday, which was outlined in a facility rehabilitation and investment study.

"Hangar 14 requires major rehabilitation work, which should not be deferred beyond five years, at which time critical asset failures are anticipated," the report says.

Ward O-day'min Coun. Anne Stevenson said a private group or company could repair it for less money and floated the idea of grants for the group or company to do so.

"In an ideal world, I'd love to see the City retain ownership but I think there are a number of other capital pressures and priorities that would make that an unlikely scenario," she said.

The report said the sale of the hangar has the potential to generate property tax, as it would no longer be a city asset.

Built in 1942, Hangar 14 is legally protected as both a provincial and municipal historic resource, so demolishing it is not an option.

It's the only remaining double wide, double long hangar in Canada, according to the report. It was a pivotal stop for British Commonwealth air training during World War II.

Alberta Aviation Museum hopes to stay

The hangar has also been home to the Alberta Aviation Museum for more than 30 years.

Ryan Lee, the museum curator, said if a new owner asked them to move, it would be an enormous task.

"There's more than 30 aircraft, we have a lot of large equipment," he told CBC News. "And some of our aircraft don't come apart easily so they're quite difficult to transport and there's no good option for us to go to."   

Lee said he thinks the city should invest money in the hanger and allow the museum to stay.

The not-for-profit organization is careful with money, Lee said, and relies on fundraising, donations and modest entry fees to operate. The museum gets about 22,000 visitors a year, he said.

"We are not going to be able to operate without a big partnership like with the city," Lee told the committee. "If we don't have a home, it's going to be really bad."

Brent Abbott, president of the Alberta Aviation Museum Association, said the museum contains not only history but also cultural displays and lessons for residents and visitors.

"Does Edmonton want an aviation museum?" Abbott asked. "We thought this was a settled question. If the response is 'no', disposal of Hangar 14 makes some sense."

Stevenson said she'll advocate for the city to work with the museum on a strategy that lets the museum stay while the building gets an upgrade.

"The Aviation Museum is a true asset in our community — it's a hub of history, education, and connection," Stevenson said.

David Johnston, principal heritage planner with the city of Edmonton, said he hopes a new owner would keep the tenant for historical associations.

"In a perfect world, having an aviation museum in a historic hangar, makes so much sense. It's just a great way to tell that story," he said.

Johnston said the city is also open to having a company or group to repurpose the building for public use.

"Some sort of community based use that could go in the space to serve Blatchford, whether it's public type stuff or maybe it's commercial retail or something like that that could serve the community," he said.

Heritage planners' main concern is keeping the building alive, he noted.

"When historic buildings are abandoned and they sit empty, big problems occur very quickly," Johnston said. "They're attractive for vandalism and all sorts of things like that. But also, when there's no heat and there's no services to these buildings, they deteriorate very rapidly after that."

The fate of Hangar 14 is up for discussion and questions at a city council meeting July 4.