An area of Edmonton that has been the site of homeless encampments in recent years is being redeveloped into an arts and community hub using components of six historic homes bought from the University of Alberta last year.
The designs incorporate four U of A Ring Houses and two East Campus Village houses.
“The plans are to relocate them to a site in McCauley,” said Ken Cantor, president of Primavera Development Group.
“We’ll be incorporating the Ring Houses into a single, brand-new structure that will respect where they came from and what they were used for and the sense of community that they’ve had.”
There may be space for things like a coffee shop and day care, Cantor said, and the building will be the permanent home for the Edmonton Sculpture Project, “which is a very, very interesting project and background all on its own… Some very interesting international ties and some long relationships there that we’ll be looking to capitalize on.”
The building will provide short-term space for about 10 to 14 artists in residence, Cantor said.
In October 2021, the university said the four historic Ring Houses — the 100-year-old brick Edwardian-style homes — were saved from demolition when the local real estate developer purchased them.
The new development will be located on the northeast corner of 95 Street and 106 Avenue in central Edmonton and near the LRT track, where, for the past several summers, houseless Edmontonians have been setting up tent encampments.
“I’m happy to hear they’re doing something with it,” said Rob Skolarchuk, who manages an auto service business in the immediate area.
He said currently, “the homeless are tenting there, which has been bringing a lot of problems to the community. This community has always had its struggles, no question, but it certainly doesn’t help.
“I’d like to see (the redevelopment) bring a fresh take to McCauley, something different,” Skolarchuk said, “bring in some new members of the community.
“This stretch between the railroad tracks and 107 Avenue has kind of been dead. Little Italy has been developed, south there, I think it’s called The Quarters, has been developed, but this stretch… not much has happened here for a long time. So it’ll be nice to see something new happen.”
Primavera hopes to pay homage to the Ring Houses’ first 100 years while giving the buildings a fresh start, Cantor said.
“A lot of the activities that took place in the homes is something we’ll be able to continue in a new location.
“The arts, the sense of community, the creation of an environment, a sense of belonging,” Cantor said.
“Acknowledging that in some respects (the buildings) are remnants of a colonial institution which is moving past its past and its history, that there’s an opportunity to embrace some reconciliation, to be part of a new community and a new neighbourhood.”
The Ring House Coalition, a group that’s been trying to find a way to keep the buildings where they are, isn’t pleased with Monday’s news.
“We’re not calling it a heritage win,” said Marianne Fedori. “Right now, nobody really knows what the future of the buildings are. There’s a creative idea which Mr. Cantor has put forward which may help with some kind of redevelopment on the east side of Edmonton. He’s very much interested in his community of artisans and a sculpture gallery, but there’s no solid plan.
“At this point in time, he’ll keep components of a building… that gets me a little bit scared. That’s not even a façade, that could be four bricks. I’m not sure that’s where he’s intended to go, but it’s where it could end up in the future.”
Fedori said the coalition is worried about the preservation of the university’s, city’s and province’s history.
“Every time we set back like this, we are saddened when something goes, or we say, ‘We’re going to use part of it’ — we’re eroding our built form. And we’re coming down to the very last of the very last.”
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The developer says the Ring Houses were acquired in good faith.
“We were honest about what it is that we’re acquiring and what it is we’re hoping to accomplish with them,” Cantor said. “This is the beginning of the second story for the Ring Houses, and it’s our hope that we’ll tell a good story that will make everyone proud for the next hundred years.”
He also said the plans complement the city’s mandate to strengthen neighbourhoods through social and economic development.
The McCauley Community League issued a statement in support of the project.
“Our mission is to build a vibrant, inclusive neighbourhood. We do this by creating opportunities for people to enrich their lives through civic engagement, community programs, and celebrations,” Alice Kos said. “We support projects that promise to bring innovative, vibrant and community-centered development to our neighborhood.
“As part of their announcement, Primavera Development Group has expressed their intention to support the mandate from the City of Edmonton to strengthen neighborhoods through social and economic development. Arts-focused development and services like a daycare and coffee shop are likely to add further vibrancy to the colorful corner of our community that is home to The Works. And it’s great to see the beautiful Ring Houses preserved and brought to the streetscape of our historic neighbourhood.”