Wheaton Properties, which owns the land where the Southpark Pontiac Buick GMC dealership used to be, is now looking at developing the site.
Located on the south side of Whyte Avenue, on both sides of 106 Street, the large parcel of land would be broken up into four areas.
The dealership was a fixture on the strip for more than half a century, but it closed its doors around 2008 during the financial crisis as GMC shut down hundreds of dealerships.
“It’s been an empty site, we store cars on it today,” Andrea Wheaton, Wheaton properties director, said.
“But we think there can be so much more vitality generated from this site.”
For years the company sought out another dealership for the site – but now they’re re-imagining the space.
The development, which is in its early stages, would be mixed use – with walkable retail and residential space.
Nancy MacDonald, Stantec’s community development leader, is a consultant on the project.
She said the site could see as many as 1,200 residential units in towers up to five storeys tall on Whyte Avenue and 18 storeys tall on 81 Avenue. Some people are already saying that’s too tall.
“It’s one of the things we’ve heard, absolutely, that height’s an issue. One of the other things we’ve heard is there’s a real need for ground-oriented residential.”
That’s why the design will include street-level townhouses fronting 81 Avenue, according to the developer’s website.
“The auto-oriented, weak urban design of these sites is reminiscent of a different time in the history of Whyte Avenue, when vehicular access was the focus. As the surrounding properties have redeveloped into vibrant, pedestrian-oriented spaces, these sites have become a hole in the urban experience and a barrier to connection between the university area to the west and the iconic historical developments further east on Whyte Avenue.”
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On Saturday afternoon, Southpark on Whyte hosted a community engagement session on site.
“We’re inviting the communities to come out today and have a look at our boards, look at what we’re proposing and give us some feedback,” said MacDonald.
Queen Alexandra Community League member Neil Zinger came to see the plans and how they’ll impact his neighbourhood.
“It’s large. A lot of communities would be very happy to have this kind of development in their nieghbourhood. And we’re cautiously optimistic.”
Despite all the proposed changes, one thing will remain the same. The iconic neon sign.
“We definitely want to retain the sign and incorporate it into the new development,” said Wheaton.
The developer is currently seeking re-zoning of the land, as well as amendments to both the Garneau and Strathcona area redevelopment plans.
Re-zoning is expected to go before council this fall.
Stantec has been hired to do consulting work on the project, including planning and architectural drawings.
Letters were first mailed to neighbourhood property owners on Oct. 14, 2015 – notifying them of the proposal. A community open house was held on Oct. 28, 2015 to give an overview of the process and timelines.
“I think it will change the dynamic of the neighbourhood, the dynamic of the street and I guess we all have to decide if that’s what we want to see for the future,” Zinger said.