Redevelopment of Inglewood brewery district threatens historic buildings
- Erika Stark, Calgary Herald - November 26, 2014
The taps have long dried up, the kegs empty, and most of the buildings at Inglewood’s former Calgary Brewing plant sit empty.
Developers hope to resurrect what was once considered both an economic and cultural hub, but also plan to demolish some of the city’s oldest sandstone buildings, including ones from 1892 and 1905.
Led by Matco Developments, the first phase of the brewery’s redevelopment will transform the bottling plant into a mixed-use retail space. While the final plans for the brewery district remain to be seen, developers hope it will be comparable to Granville Island in Vancouver or Toronto’s Distillery District.
According to a site plan, many of the structures to the south of the bottling plant will be demolished, pending the approval of the site’s concurrent land use and development permit application, which is to be submitted by the end of the month.
Most of those buildings pre-date the Second World War, and some of them, such as the original brewhouse and some of the keg and bottle storage facilities, were constructed before the First World War.
“It was a focal point in the community,” says Chris Edwards, the vice-president of the Calgary Heritage Initiative. “There’s definitely a huge historic value.”
It’s the second time in five years that structures at the Brewery plant have faced the prospect of demolition.
Site owner Ron Mathison wanted to demolish some of those buildings in 2009, but it was halted after the province ordered a historic resource impact assessment and the demolition permit expired. At the time, there were no plans for redevelopment of the site, prompting concerns that the entire area could eventually be demolished. The historic resource impact assessment has never been made public.
“There was a roof collapse and that’s what initiated our concern for safety and wanting to take some of these buildings down,” says Eileen Stan, the development program manager for Matco. “Since then, we’ve had further structural failures within that group of buildings so the need for us to address safety for the community has just grown over time.”
The current plan for the site proposes the demolition of the buildings within the provincial impact assessment area, in addition to the structures directly south of the bottling plant.
“I can understand that safety is a concern,” says Edwards. But he’s more concerned about the fate of the other buildings that weren’t included in the initial demolition permit in 2009.
He says the site is the victim of what he calls “demolition by neglect,” which is when buildings don’t receive proper maintenance and eventually, there is no choice but to tear them down. That neglect started before Matco took over the brewery site, he adds.
Edwards says he’s looking forward to seeing the plans for the remaining buildings on the site, but wishes more buildings would be retained.
“I think now we need to have a conversation about what we can do with the site to come up with a resolution that retains the historic value of the site but is also somewhat amenable to the site owners,” he says, pointing to Toronto’s Distillery District as an example. The 5.2-hectare site in downtown Toronto contains more than 40 heritage buildings and has been designated a National Historic Site.
“I’d really like to see the same sort of treatment (at the brewery),” Edwards says.
Matco is working with the province regarding the buildings slated for demolition within the area assessed in 2009, says Stan.
“Our intent is to salvage as much of the existing material that is still in good condition as we can and reuse those on the site,” she says.
In addition to the bottling plant and loading dock, Matco plans to retain the new fermentation tower, the former Horseman’s Hall of Fame, the engine room, the smoke stack and boiler building and the administration building, as well as one of the brewery’s original water wells. Part of the former fish hatchery will also be kept.
Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra says the brewery was once the “heart of Inglewood,” and he’s hopeful Matco’s redevelopment will bring it back to life while also honouring its history.
“It was also a source of amazing culture, with the first salt-water aquarium nowhere near the ocean in North America, the Horseman’s Hall of Fame, the Inglewood Pool and the Brewery Gardens was one of the first public parks.”
“My feeling has always been that in its best future, it’s those things again,” says Carra. “It’s a heart of commerce and a heart of culture and a driver for the community, a driver for the city and a driver for the region.”
He acknowledged the tension the development would likely create in Calgary’s oldest neighbourhood.
“I think there’s going to be some angst,” he conceded. “But I think that the common bond that holds everything together is that no one wants to see this as a building museum.”
“Whether you’re a hardcore heritage advocate, whether you’re a hardcore capitalist, whether you’re a neighbourhood person or a developer, I think there is general agreement that the site must rise again and it must rise again in a powerful way.”
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