Saturday, March 10, 2007

Remai Ventures vows to destroy historic Legion Building despite abandoning its spa hotel plans in Saskatoon

In a move that shows a reprehensible indifference for Saskatoon's built history developer Remai Ventures Inc. says it will proceed with demolition of the historic 1929 Royal Canadian Legion, Branch #63 building. This is despite the fact that Remai has no immediate plans for the site and has shelved its River Landing spa hotel development.

In a written statement to the media Remai claims "the building has deteriorated to the point where it can no longer be saved."

Remai provided no evidence to support this conclusion.

The StarPhoenix reported that it would cost approximately $2-million dollars to bring the building up to code. Although The SP has never revealed where this figure comes from it clearly contradicts Remai's assertion that the building cannot be saved.

In contrast is the King George Hotel (1912), which sits vacant and boarded up further north, where Olstar Developments Ltd. sought to purchase the hotel and revitalize it (KG Hotel bought by Olstar, SP Sept. 16, 2006). The structure has sat abandoned for several years slowly deteriorating -- yet there has been hope.

The Legion building, constructed by local veterans of the First World War, on the other hand has been occupied and open for business for every year of its existence. The branch was given until February 28, 2007, to vacate the building. The building has not been deemed unsafe and is not "crumbling" as The StarPhoenix continues to imply.

In City looks for new location for downtown legion branch (SP March 26, 2003) the building is described "as structurally sound".

Mayor Don Atchison says Remai Ventures are "good corporate citizens" (City OKs hotel/spa deal, SP Dec. 9, 2005) so good apparently that it would consider robbing a community of one of its irreplaceable historic landmarks with lame excuses? Remai should be ashamed.

As for the mayor, he says the "legion property has nothing to do with the City of Saskatoon."

Such comments only reinforce public perception that Atchison has little time for the city's heritage.

In April/May 2004 the city and legion representatives discussed the possibility of establishing a Veterans' Museum within the hall. On May 28 the legion delivered a letter to the mayor's office saying it had received approval from its members to continue discussions. The city never responded.

At a closed-door meeting in June 2004 the city's executive committee, which is chaired by the mayor, decided not to pursue the venture. No reasons were given. The decision was made without public debate or input.

It should be noted that Atchison has admitted to meeting with Remai Ventures president Ellen Remai more than once to discuss the spa hotel project (Hotel deal "not dead", SP Nov. 18, 2005).

The Saskatchewan Architectural Heritage Society "sees the demise of the Legion building as another prime example of big development and city politics trumping vision and heritage."

They are absolutely right.

No legion reprieve: Wrecking ball will swing on historic building. Developer has no immediate plans for 19th Street site

Lori Coolican
The StarPhoenix

Friday, March 09, 2007

The demise of Remai Ventures' plan for a luxury hotel and spa at River Landing does not spell a death-row reprieve for the former downtown Royal Canadian Legion building nearby.

The historic hall is still coming down as planned, but no decision has been made about what will be built in its place, company president Ellen Remai said in a written statement issued to local media outlets in response to interview requests Thursday.

"We will wait to see what will happen with the River Landing hotel and spa site," she wrote.

"We will still proceed with the demolition of the legion building because the building has deteriorated to the point where it can no longer be saved. The windows, doors and wood dance floor have been sold with the proceeds going to the legion."

The timing of the company's announcement -- which came in a letter to the city just two days after the Royal Canadian Legion building's contents were sold at a public auction -- perplexed Victoria Neufeldt of the Saskatoon Heritage Society.

"The fact that the floor had just been taken up, that was the first thing I thought of."

The legion hall recently made the Heritage Canada Foundation's list of the Top 10 Most Endangered Places in Canada and was put on a "demolition watch" by the Saskatchewan Architectural Heritage Society earlier this year.

The local heritage society has pressed Remai in the past to adapt the building for reuse rather than tearing it down.

City council has little influence over the company's decisions regarding the former legion hall, said Mayor Don Atchison.

"The legion property has nothing to do with the City of Saskatoon. That was a deal that was made between the Royal Canadian Legion and Ms. Remai, and what they do is their business."

However, the land remains subject to several zoning guidelines, including height and parking restrictions, he said.

"There are only certain projects that would be acceptable in that area. . . . It's not as easy (to develop) as one might think it could be."

After the structure meets the wrecking ball, Remai Ventures could simply hang onto the land indefinitely without building anything.

The company's purchase agreement with the city for the hotel property stipulated construction had to be underway by 2009, but the sale of the legion site was private and out of the city's hands, Atchison said.

"I guess she can do whatever she pleases. It's just like other properties we have in the city that people own on a private basis -- they can do as they see fit."

Remai and the legion have never disclosed the purchase price they negotiated for the historic hall last year, although rumours pegged it at $1 million. Saskatoon real estate values have climbed dramatically since the sale and are expected to keep rising.

"I guess as we continue to build (at River Landing) and things continue to become more exciting along the way, I guess her property value . . . would go up in value, but it's up to Ms. Remai to determine what she wants to do with her land," Atchison said.

When asked if the city might offer to buy the former legion property from Remai, the mayor said it's a possibility for council to consider later.

"Our main priority right now is we have our own piece of property to deal with first of all, and we'll see what comes of that first before we go much further."

┬ęThe StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007


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