Jul 25, 2014

Integrating Preservation in the Modern Calgary

There is no doubt that the Barron Building is an important part of Calgary. Constructed in 1949, the building has been a fixture in the east downtown. While it has declined in prominence over the past few decades, everyone wants to see it return to its original vibrancy.  However, options for seeing the building again jump to prominence in the day to day business of the downtown has been challenging.

Last week the Province agreed with The City’s approach to preserving the character defining elements of the Barron Building in the east part of the downtown. The Province had considered designating the Barron Building as a “Historical Resource” against the wishes of the owners (which, to our knowledge, has never happened in Alberta). The owners of the building expressed the view that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain financing to renovate the building if it received a “Historical Resource” designation.  They approached The City and the Province to see if we could work collaboratively to find another way to protect the historical facade of the building that would be satisfactory to the Minister of Culture but not impair the owner’s ability to obtain financing.

If we can work together to protect and enhance the Barron Building for Calgarians, why not? To do this, The City adopted an innovative approach: future development of the building must be clearly identified in detailed architectural plans that will then be expressly referred to in a Land Use By-law, known as a direct control by-law.

Using the direct control by-law will allow The city staff to work with the property owner (who has agreed to this approach) to achieve a plan focused on preserving the prominent architectural presence of this building.  Retaining much of the exterior, despite the floor to ceiling heights challenging modern day office needs, is a real feat not often seen when dealing with mid century office buildings.

This is a great outcome-based solution to meld the goals of The City, the Province, and those of the owners, to again welcome the public and the business of the city through the doors of the Barron Building.  The direct control bylaw approach will ensure the integration of the preserved facade into the new structure while the resulting increase in costs to retain the facade are justified through the marketability of the renewed building.

Older office buildings are one of the toughest candidates for modern day uses.  South of the border, the tax deduction incentive to restore a historic structure can amount to about 37 percent of the costs. Without that tool here, we have to be creative to find ways to incentivize and provide the flexibility needed for owners to develop marketable alternatives to demolition of our historic structures.  

The direct control bylaw approach is a great way for The City, the Province, and owner to work together to make sure we can all enjoy seeing that beautiful centre tower illuminated at night, with office workers and shoppers passing through the doors of the new retail stores. And, in the end, we will have retained an important part of our history while making it a vibrant space for all.

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