City of Edmonton considers selling historic wartime hangar to save it

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Hangar 11 played a key role in Edmonton's contribution to the Second World War, as a staging site for the Allies' planes. But for years it has been boarded up, falling into disrepair. As Sarah Ryan explains, the city thinks to save it — it may need to sell it – Feb 1, 2021

In a tough position financially, the City of Edmonton’s executive committee voted to have staff write up a potential sale agreement for a major piece of history from the Second World War, Hangar 11 in Blatchford.

The hanger was built in the 1940’s by the American Air Force as a staging base for the Allies’ planes.

“The US, Britain, the Soviet Union needed to get war materials, and in this case, airplanes, to the European theatres and also the Eastern front,” explained the executive director of Edmonton’s Heritage Council, David Ridley.

He said it was in Edmonton that insignia would be added to the planes, along with other things, to prepare them to cross the ocean.

READ MORE: First show home opens in Edmonton’s Blatchford neighbourhood

While development at Blatchford has been ongoing, the hangar has sat boarded up since 2013.

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Hangar 11 at the former site of the Edmonton City Centre Airport. Global News

In that time, water has started coming through and the building has fallen into disrepair.

The city was told the cost of repairs would be anywhere between $18 to $83 million dollars, depending on how far restoration goes.

But with the current state of the economy, it’s an expense the city said it can’t take on right now.

“I do hope we find a way to preserve this important building and breathe new life into it in a way that’s economically viable and not burdensome for the property taxpayer,” Mayor Don Iveson said.

READ MORE: Council buys time on Hangar 11 as opportunity cost goes up

As an alternative, administration recommended the executive committee consider an unsolicited offer from a developer to buy the hangar and grant it a historic designation.

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A rendering of what the historic Hangar 11 from the Second World War might look like if the city sells the building to a developer. Credit: Tim Antoniuk / Architecture Inc.

Tim Antoniuk with Architure Inc. showed off his plans to the committee, saying he’d like to see construction begin this spring, so as to prevent further damage to the hangar.

“It is a live, eat, work, play development focused on affordable student housing — 225 units,” Antoniuk said. “Those would replace the ancillary offices on the east and west side that are rotted out completely.”

In addition, the larger hangar portion would be converted into a space for restaurants and events.

“Local coffee, local food, etc. We’re looking at over 2,000 patrons a day coming through there. Over 200 full and part-time people employed,” he said.

Antoniuk is proposing to buy the hangar for less than market value — but restore and maintain key character elements of the existing structure. That won him support from heritage groups.

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“I think it’s a really thoughtful and exciting proposal,” Ridley said.

A rendering of what the historic Hangar 11 from the Second World War might look like if the city of Edmonton sells the building to a developer. Credit: Tim Antoniuk / Architecture Inc.

Not everyone was as keen on the project moving ahead. NAIT spokesperson Kevin Geu said the project doesn’t give him “the warm fuzzies.”

The technical college is located near Hangar 11, and has purchased lands all around it for its main campus expansion. Geu admitted the post-secondary institution knew the hangar’s future was uncertain — but was frustrated that NAIT wasn’t consulted on the development.

“It doesn’t mean that the heart of NAIT campus should be planned in isolation and separate from the overall master plan for the main campus,” Gue said.

He asked the executive committee to delay moving forward with the potential sale of the land, so NAIT could work with Antoniuk on his plans.

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Antoniuk said a delay could result in more serous damage to the wood that he wants to reuse in the development.

In a statement sent to Global News after the committee meeting ended, a spokesperson for NAIT wrote: “NAIT is looking forward  to engaging in the process as a good neighbour, and excited about what the future may hold for Hangar 11.”

City administration has been tasked with preparing an agreement for the potential sale.

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