$20M plan turning Bellanca tower into homes never went ahead

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A plan to turn Yellowknife's vacant downtown Bellanca building into residential suites – at an apparent cost of $20 million – did not proceed after being discussed at territorial level last fall.

Mayor Rebecca Alty told Cabin Radio the building's owner, Toronto-based Kingsett Capital, approached the City and the NWT Housing Corporation in November 2018.

"Somebody had a ballpark figure of about $20 million to convert [the vacant 10-storey building] into residential," said Alty.

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"The housing corporation wasn't interested in that figure at the time."

Responding to questions by email, the NWT Housing Corporation acknowledged it had been "approached in the past ... regarding possibly repurposing the Bellanca building."

The corporation, however, said Kingsett Capital did not deliver an expected proposal detailing its plans "and, as such, we do not have any further details to share at this time."

It's not clear where the estimate of $20 million to renovate the office block, turning it into housing, came from.

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The NWT Housing Corporation did not directly respond to a question about the figure, but did say it has a $60-million fund to "support housing projects that will involve partnerships between multiple parties to support the development of affordable housing."

Demolition 'would be unfortunate'

The news comes after the infrastructure minister, Wally Schumann, said there remained significant obstacles preventing the territorial government from using the Bellanca building for any purpose.

Last month, the property manager of the building said its owners were considering tearing down the structure, at a cost of up to $4 million.

The building has been empty since 2012 but occupies a prime patch of downtown Yellowknife real estate.

With the NWT's education minister last week suggesting Yellowknife needs a new campus building ahead of the creation of a polytechnic university, some have questioned why the Bellanca building wouldn't feature in that discussion.

"We do hope, when they're considering a polytechnic, that this could be a location," said Alty.

"There are a lot of vacancies happening in those big towers. To take it down? That would be unfortunate, if there is a need – if, all of a sudden, they're going to build a college campus."

Last Thursday, Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart said in the legislature: "Many residents have been concerned about tearing down what seems to be a viable asset and whether or not there are options to convert it to ... student housing, a university campus, transitional housing, or low-income housing.

"I would like to ask the Minister of Infrastructure if the GNWT has considered the Bellanca building as an asset for any of its projects."

In response, infrastructure minister Schumann said the Bellanca building hasn't really featured in territorial government deliberations – and listed some reasons why.

"We have to make one thing quite clear: it is a privately owned business. They own this asset," said Schumann, referring to the corporation that owns the Bellanca, a range of other Yellowknife buildings, and others across Canada.

The minister suggested the building's owners had made no attempt to find a territorial government client, including through the procurement system used by the territory for goods and services. It's not clear if Schumann knew of the owners' approach to the NWT Housing Corporation.

"They have never made anything aware to us as a government about this building," said Schumann. "They haven't used it to bid on other projects in Yellowknife.

"This is an older building. I suspect there are deferred maintenance issues on this building and hazardous material, depending on what type of renovation a person would have to do on this thing. At this point, we have not clearly had a look at this thing."

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