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Regina council denies demolition request of site that once housed Louis Riel’s body

The site was the former location of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, constructed in 1883. Louis Riel’s body was briefly interred at this location after his execution. Global News File

Regina city council denied a demolition application for a heritage building on Cornwall Street during Wednesday’s council meeting.

City council will refer the issue to provincial Heritage Review Board to get their recommendations about what can and should be done to the site.

The Burns Hanley Building, located at 1863 Cornwall St., holds historical significance as one of the oldest buildings in the Victoria Park Heritage Conservation District.

The site was the former location of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, constructed in 1883. Louis Riel’s body was briefly interred at this location after his execution in November 1885.

Read more: National coalition calls for exoneration of Manitoba Métis leader Louis Riel

The Burns Hanley Building was constructed on the site in 1912.

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The building is considered a designated heritage property and in accordance with The Heritage Property Act, the owner, Harvard Developments Corporation, may apply to council for approval to demolish or destroy the property or building.

The City received an application in July 2021 to demolish the building. The property owner claimed that remediation was not economically viable as well as wishing to eliminate the risk of uncontrolled structure failure and potential injury to property and people, the building needs to be removed preferably before winter.

According to the city’s bylaws, an applicant must submit a redevelopment plan if they wish to demolish a heritage building. A city report states the owner has not done so, stating instead interim measures “are to infill the existing basement prior to installing a chain-link or other fencing along the existing building frontage.”

During her presentation to council, Rosanne Hill Blaisdell from Harvard Development said if demolition was approved, the company would include a pedestal using original brick holding a plaque. The proposed design also includes seating and greenery which would celebrate the history of the site.

A 2021 JCK Engineering report of the building found that the condition of the structure had significantly deteriorated due to water infiltration.

The estimated cost to rehabilitate the building is approximately $4.7 million.

The report concluded that the building was structurally unsound due to water infiltration that caused the roof and floors within the building to deteriorate.

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“The building is unsafe and should not be occupied for any reason. There is a risk that failure of the roof or floor structures could cause the exterior brick masonry walls to partially collapse, which poses a safety risk to people and property outside of the building,” the report stated.

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JCK Engineering recommended that the building either be stabilized or removed as soon as possible for safety reasons.

A city report recommended council deny the application and direct the property owner to undertake necessary repairs and other measures to stabilize the building and preserve the façade at a minimum.

Several delegates spoke at the council meeting on Wednesday.

Jackie Schmidt from Heritage Regina said she would be satisfied with demolition if there was efforts on the city and developer’s part to keep the original façade of the building.

“I’m opposed in principle of the demolition of the building, but I have seen the inside of the building and there’s really nothing left there. The façade of the building is what is protected and so that we should put steel supports on that façade until such time as they come up with a plan as to what that looks like,” Schmidt clarified.

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Hill Blaisdell said it was unlikely the entire façade could be maintained in its current state with a park built behind it. She added the façade is not structurally sound due to its current condition.

“Our preference, and what might make more sense, is to retain portions of the façade and display them in a way that the rest of the building could come down and the park could be accommodated,” she explained.

Harvard is also open to discussing retaining portions of the façade and storing them in a way that they could be reused in a redevelopment at a future time.

Hill Blaisdell said the demolition application was the result of engineering reports finding the building structurally unsound.

She explained Harvard decided to stop all capital projects due to COVID-19 economic concerns.

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Hill Blaisdell was questioned by Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens about why the company was unable to financially maintain the building.

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Hill Blaisdell stated Harvard experienced significant hardship in the last couple years due to COVID-19 that required them to “tighten our belts.”

“We put our efforts into saving the businesses tenants when they were not able to pay rent, and put our money into saving jobs, and therefore we did not have access to funds to invest in capital projects in any of our buildings,” she explained.

“We are not in a position to spend that kind of money on a building that is unusable and secondly, at this point in time, the asset is not economically viable,” Hill Blaisdell added.

Ward 2 Coun. Bob Hawkins argued that Harvard was aware of maintenance issues prior to COVID-19 coming to North America and therefore had the opportunity to fix them.

He called the issue “demolition by neglect”.

“The owners of this property had ample opportunity to do modest repairs, which, in the opinion of its engineers, would preserve this property,” Hawkins said.

A 2019 report from JCK Engineering found the building has undergone years of sustained water damage caused by deterioration of the roofing system and broken pipes. To stop further deterioration, it was recommended a new roof be installed, cleaning of the wet and damaged finishes, and heating and ventilation installed at a cost of $200,000.

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City administration stated the provincial Heritage Review Board usually comes back with a hearing date within 90 days.

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