In the aftermath of the Enoch Sales House fire, groups in Bridgeland and Crescent Heights are calling on the city to let them reactivate a historic, city-owned building.
The Reliance Block, known by many as the Bud’s Furniture Building, has a history dating back to 1910. It’s listed in the city’s historic resource registry as a good example of Edwardian commercial architecture.
The top two floors are occupied with tenants who pay their rent to Calgary Housing Company, but the retail space at street level has been empty for the better part of a decade.
Ali McMillan, who serves as planning director on the Bridgeland Riverside Community Association (BRCA), said a group of people approached the city three years ago about using the main floor as some sort of artist studio and gallery.
“They were looking for affordable space to have a making space, and potentially partner with some other businesses to activate the main floor of the building,” she said,
Deb Lee, who has the heritage portfolio at the BRCA, noted that since its inception, the building had retail space at street level and tenants up above.
“It’s sort of the concept nowadays that they’re trying to bring back,” she said.
She noted that building had a long and storied history, in what was a working class neighborhood on the edge of the new city. She said it even had a dance hall in the basement which was rumoured to be a speakeasy during prohibition times.
“It was the hub of Riverside,” said Lee. “It was the high street. The streetcar came over the Langevin Bridge and went up. It was a lively place.”
Kathryn Pearce was one of the people involved in lobbying the city to open the space up to artists. She helped start the group Buds of Bud’s, to spread the word about what they’d like to see done in the space.
“The last plans that I heard from the city on the building was that they wanted to leave it in its current condition until the market comes back up – and then put in the renovations to the space and lease it at market value,” said Pearce.
She noted that lights are on in the main level, as is the heat. She worries it’s a waste of money when they could recoup at least some costs in the interim until more permanent plans are made.
Livewire reached out to the city for comment. In an email, a spokesperson said that a building condition assessment, which includes heritage components, is expected in March.
The report will lay out what improvements are needed to make the main floor ready for occupants again.
Ward 7 councillor Druh Farrell said Reliance Block is a different situation than Enoch Sales House because it’s already occupied on the top two floors.
She also said it’s not as easy as just letting people in because it needs some investment first.
Farrell said the city set aside $40 million for heritage restoration, but that money was mostly eaten up by the unexpected need to restore Historic City Hall.
Since the fire at Enoch Sales House, council has again asked administration to find the price-tag to repair and remediate all of the city-owned historic resources.
Farrell said it’s definitely a promising space in a promising location, possibly good for a brewpub.
“What we would like – because it’s not occupiable right now – we would like tenants that generate revenue.”
That’s where McMillan and Pearce disagree. They say for the safety of the neighborhood, it would be better to get anyone into the space for now, and work in the long term to bring a more profitable business into the space.
“It doesn’t have to be an A-class space to just get people creating and making in there for now until the bigger plan is realized,” said McMillan.
Pearce agreed, noting that if the building were privately owned, the landlord likely wouldn’t waste time finding a new tenant if one was available.
“We should demand at least the same – if not more – from our city, which is responsible for looking after our city and the population,” said Peace. “They should be doing a better job than a private individual.”