Paula Simons: Ukrainian museum to sell heritage Brighton Block to local developer Ken Cantor

Developer Ken Cantor is in talks to buy the Brighton Block. The building and the neighbouring Lodge Hotel are currently wrapped in white plastic. Image taken Wednesday, Dec, 28, 2016. GREG SOUTHAM / POSTMEDIA

Developer Ken Cantor is in talks to buy the Brighton Block. The building and the neighbouring Lodge Hotel are currently wrapped in white plastic. Image taken Wednesday, Dec, 28, 2016. GREG SOUTHAM / POSTMEDIA

As a city, let's resolve to take the future of our past more seriously.

PAULA SIMONS, EDMONTON JOURNAL

The long-derelict Brighton Block — a Jasper Avenue heritage landmark — may soon have a new owner. And a new future.

The building’s current owner, the Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta (UCAMA), has just come to an agreement to sell the 1912 building to Edmonton businessman Ken Cantor and his company, Primavera Development Group. 

The list price for the property at 9666 Jasper Avenue was $2.35 million, but Cantor and UCAMA won’t reveal the final price until the sale closes in April. 

The deal, Cantor says, is still conditional on getting support from the city for his plans. He’s not asking for any grant money, he says. He does want the city to allow him to add a fourth floor to the three-storey building and to create a few more rear parking stalls. 

UCAMA, which also owns the old Lodge Hotel building next door, had originally intended to renovate both buildings, using the Lodge as a museum and using the Brighton as a revenue property to help pay for the museum. But the well-meaning museum volunteers are — to be blunt — in over their heads. While they did get federal, provincial and municipal grants of $9.25 million, in the last 14 years, they’ve only been able to raise $1.9 million from private donors — with more than half of that coming from a British Columbia donor. All renovation work stopped in late 2014. For two years, the buildings sat open and exposed to the elements. Only this month was UCAMA able to put on new roofing and wrap the buildings in protective tarp. 

President Paul Teterenko says UCAMA hired a professional fundraiser last month, and hopes to launch a new $20-million fundraising campaign sometime early in 2017. Teterenko says UCAMA plans to restart construction work within the next two years.

The Brighton Block, left, and the Lodge Hotel, right, shown in June 2016. Both buildings are now under wraps, literally. GREG SOUTHAM / EDMONTON JOURNAL

Meantime, the sale of the Brighton Block will help to pay for the costs of heating and maintaining the museum site next door. 

Cantor has his own plans for the Brighton. There’s been so much water damage to the interior of the building, he says, there’s almost nothing worth saving. 

“The only things now salvageable are the exterior walls and the frontage,” he says. 

He wants to save the striking outside of the building and rebuild the inside, leaving a few grace notes, such as the interior brick walls. He plans retail and commercial space on the main floor, and offices above. The site, a block from the courthouse, he says, would be perfect for a law firm or two. But he’d also like to attract tenants such as architecture or software firms who might be interested in “bespoke” offices in a cool building with a river valley view.  

Certainly, it’s an appealing vision, a classy project that could nudge along the painfully slow evolution of The Quarters. And Cantor, who spent 18 years as vice-president of commercial development for Qualico, certainly knows the downtown real estate market. But there have been so many promising projects for Jasper East over the decades, big dreams that never came true. After so many false starts and dashed promises, it’s hard to break out the champagne and pop the corks just yet.