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Event at Rossdale power plant has people buzzing about building’s potential

WATCH ABOVE: The public got a look inside the Rossdale power plant for the first time Tuesday night. The building has long been shut down but a private party opened the doors on what the future could hold. Kent Morrison explains.

Tuesday night, a space that’s been closed to the public for years opened its doors.

The old EPCOR power plant in Edmonton’s river valley was transformed into a celebratory centre for a SingularityU Summit party.

READ MORE: Edmonton SingularityU summit focused on using technology to solve world issues

“I’m glad EPCOR made the generous move of cleaning out the space and piggy backed on this innovation conference that’s in town,” Mayor Don Iveson said.

“It gave people an opportunity to see the space from the inside and that was very exciting.”

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READ MORE: Future of the old Rossdale power plant up in the air

The event seems to have reignited a familiar topic in Edmonton.

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“It’s definitely been one of the long sagas in Edmonton’s architectural heritage,” said Dan Rose, chair of the Edmonton Historical Board. “And, of course, it also requires a delicate response and treatment just given the layers of history and the prominence, it has as bit of contested space in Edmonton’s heritage.

“Given the scale and the size and the history of that space, it’s something you really want to do right,” Rose said.

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READ MORE: Oasis with thermal baths proposed for old Rossdale power plant site

The historic brick building on the north bank of the river was constructed during the middle part of the twentieth century.

The Rossdale Power Plant played host to the SingularityU Canada Summit reception Tuesday, April 23, 2019.
The Rossdale Power Plant played host to the SingularityU Canada Summit reception Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Les Knight, Global News
The Rossdale Power Plant played host to the SingularityU Canada Summit reception Tuesday, April 23, 2019.
The Rossdale Power Plant played host to the SingularityU Canada Summit reception Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Les Knight, Global News
The Rossdale Power Plant played host to the SingularityU Canada Summit reception Tuesday, April 23, 2019.
The Rossdale Power Plant played host to the SingularityU Canada Summit reception Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Les Knight, Global News
The Rossdale Power Plant played host to the SingularityU Canada Summit reception Tuesday, April 23, 2019.
The Rossdale Power Plant played host to the SingularityU Canada Summit reception Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Les Knight, Global News
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Stantec.com
An Edmontonian is attempting raise $50 million in private funds to build a canal district in the Rossdale area, Thursday, July 11, 2013.
An Edmontonian is attempting raise $50 million in private funds to build a canal district in the Rossdale area, Thursday, July 11, 2013. Stantec.com
Rossdale power plant, in Edmonton's river valley, July 8, 2013
Rossdale power plant, in Edmonton's river valley, July 8, 2013 Vinesh Pratap, Global News

In 2013, the estimated price to upgrade the facility and two former pumping stations for commercial tenants, along with other improvements to the 1.8-hectare site, was pegged at $87.3 million.

Since it was closed, there have been several proposals for redevelopment, including thermal baths, an outdoor plaza and a river valley gondola.

READ MORE: Councillor sees Edmonton gondola as potential key to Rossdale development

“Could it be a public market? Could it be artist studios? Converted to condominiums? Could it be retail? There’s countless possibilities,” said Jefferey Di Battista, a principal with DIALOG, which helped transform the power plant for Tuesday night’s gala.

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“There’s countless possibilities and I think we, as a city, need to explore that because it’s a really amazing cultural resource.”

Watch below (Nov. 20, 2015): An Edmonton architect intern is re-imagining what can be done with the old Rossdale power plant and it’s generating plenty of discussion. Shallima Maharaj has the details.

The city has also been hoping to see the west Rossdale redevelopment transform the entire neighbourhood into a vibrant residential-commercial district.

READ MORE: Sierra Club questions lack of accessibility in Edmonton’s river valley plan

“There aren’t easy answers for this building otherwise we’d have done something with it already,” Iveson said.

“There isn’t parking nearby, it’s got a burial ground, a substation, a water treatment plant and a river on all four sides — it’s not like Granville Island or the Forks, where you can walk up to it, there’s lots of parking and water taxis — so getting people in and out is challenging.”

Another consideration? The power plant, which sits on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River, is a historical building. It was included on a national list of the most at-risk historical sites in Canada.

“So much of the history in Edmonton we’ve lost over the years,” EPCOR CEO Stuart Lee said. “We’ve lost so many great buildings. It speaks to the past and our past and history here in Edmonton. It’s so important we try to keep buildings like this.”

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READ MORE: Image makeover! City officials work with Google to upgrade Edmonton’s photo

“Having it lit up and having people in there was just incredible,” Rose agreed.

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“It has a very long, rich and layered history in our city and I think it’s an incredible opportunity to create a space that can really be an inclusive gathering point for citizens.”

Iveson heard praise from a lot of people at the SingularityU party Tuesday night, even a couple offers to buy the building for $1.

“The seal is broken now. People are going to want to have this conversation again. I think if that renews a group of people who can potentially bring some partnerships and some ideas to the table, I think the city can facilitate that conversation,” the mayor said.

“We’re still a long way from squaring the financial circle and the right kind of partners necessary to find a long-term solution, but it’s got people talking which is really, really cool.”

Watch below (Oct. 13, 2013): A group hoping to save the Rossdale Power Plant has invited candidates running for city council to take a tour of it.