Harry Satdeo – the owner of the fire-damaged Mackenzie Place highrise – returned to Hay River last week to oversee a cleanup and eventual repairs and renovations to the 16-storey apartment building.
Satdeo is saying that the building, which has been devoid of tenants since the March 15 fire, will “absolutely” be back in operation soon.
“We’re planning to reopen by the end of the month,” he told The Hub on Aug. 2.
When asked how it would be possible to reopen the building in such a short time period, Satdeo responded, “There’s not that much work to do.”
The building owner explained a cleanup has begun of every apartment, including removing any belongings left behind by former tenants, and there will eventually be repairs to the apartments damaged by fire and water.
“We are in the process of coming up with plans to do some major renovations and alterations of some spaces,” he added, noting that will happen after the building reopens.
The March 15 fire occurred in an 11th-floor apartment, and there was smoke and water damage to parts of the building. In particular, water damage occurred in apartments below the 11th floor on the north side of the structure.
An estimated 125 people were displaced by the fire.
The building remains closed to the public and only workers are allowed inside.
Satdeo noted that, before the building is reopened to tenants, an engineer will do a second report on its structural integrity, particularly for the 11th floor apartment, and air quality testing will take place.
The building owner, who does not live in Hay River, said he has met with some of the displaced tenants since he returned to town last week for the first time since the fire.
“I expect about 80 per cent of the tenants to be back,” he said.
However, Satdeo said the apartments are now considered vacant.
“There is no lease in existence for residential tenants,” he said. “The lease is ceased.”
Satdeo said the former tenants will have to apply to live in the highrise like everyone else.
“They just have to fill in an application and we’ll do the screening, and if they qualify they would be admitted back,” he said.
However, Satdeo said some former tenants would “absolutely” not be allowed back into the building.
During the cleanup, drugs and drug paraphernalia were found in some apartments.
“We’re finding a lot of drugs,” Satdeo said, adding that he is not sure what the drugs are, but there is definitely some marijuana.
“I was totally disappointed. It was a drug place,” he said. “So my first apology is to the community for having the place turn into a drug den. So I take full responsibility for that. I wasn’t here for two years, but I’m responsible, and I hope the community would understand that we’re taking steps now to make changes.”
Drugs were found in about 10 apartments, he said. “They were drug dealers. Definitely they were people selling drugs in the building.”
As for how he can prevent that from happening in the future, Satdeo said a new manager will be put in place.
Plus, Satdeo said he will be in Hay River until Christmas, and he even plans to return to the community and live in the highrise.
There has recently been concern from some former tenants about their belongings remaining in the building being removed and disposed of by Satdeo Inc., the company through which Satdeo is the sole owner of the building.
Satdeo believes the tenants had a fair chance to remove their belongings.
After the fire, the territorial government had control of the building for a month or two, he noted. “So they made arrangements for the tenants to come in and retrieve their property, and we gave them another month to come and get what they have. So to date as far as we are concerned they already took what they have.”
Satdeo considers anything remaining to have been abandoned.
When it was pointed out that some former tenants are not happy about their remaining belongings being removed, he responded, “Well, we’re not in the business of making people happy.”
In the aftermath of the fire, Satdeo had suggested he would seek government funding to help repair the building, which was not covered by insurance. However, no government assistance was offered.
Satdeo said he is not disappointed government did not help.
As for where the funding is coming from to clean, inspect, and eventually repair and renovate the highrise, Satdeo declined to say.
And he said he doesn’t have an estimate of how much all that work will cost.
“I’m happy to have the opportunity to fix it again and make some changes,” he said.
Satdeo noted there was insurance on the building up to about three years ago.
“The insurance company cancelled the insurance because of the state of some balconies,” he explained.
Satdeo said there will “probably not” be insurance on the building until the balconies are fixed, a project that is expected to start next year.
The building owner still doesn’t know what caused the March 15 fire.
“We requested a report from the RCMP,” he said. “To date, we haven’t heard a word.”
When Satdeo bought Mackenzie Place 18 years ago, he had big plans to make it an exclusive building and a nice place to live both for professionals and ordinary people.
“I still have that dream,” he said.
His company plans to set up a website to keep the community updated on the progress of renovations.
Mackenzie Place has 122 apartments. At the time of the fire, 83 were occupied.