A Yellowknife business owner put his shop and building up for sale when he learned the GNWT plans to build a new wellness and recovery centre on 51 Street.
Klaus Schoenne, owner of Yellowknife True Value Hardware, said he learned about the proposed $6-million project online and through the media, but not directly from the GNWT.
“Because of my business I get procurement emails from the government and I noticed the one (about the wellness centre) came through on July 9 showing the location and the $6-million cost,” Schoenne said.
“As soon as I heard rumours about that centre I put the shop up for sale. You know what happens at the sobering centre (on 50 Street). The people sit everywhere and leave garbage and waste. Someone was killed there. There are constant fights and arguments and the ambulances come. I can’t put my customers through that or my staff through that. I don’t know what benefit it is for any business (or for) the planned new visitors’ centre.”
The tender document on the project states that it’s under the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) and is intended to be a more permanent home for the programs offered out of the Day Shelter and Sobering Centre.
The project will be built at 5019-51 Street, on GNWT-owned land in the empty lot north of the St. John Ambulance site. An environmental cleanup has been undertaken at the site, the document said.
In the timeline, the GNWT aims to have the RFP awarded by Sept. 3, 2021, with construction starting in fall 2022 and being “substantially completed” by late 2023.
“They already put out the tender, so then they’re going to consult with people?” Schoenne asked. “They’ve already got that in their mind that this is where they want to put it. Why waste taxpayers’ money on putting out a tender if they’re going to put it somewhere else? They won’t change without public pressure.”
Schoenne has launched a petition of “concerned citizens who are against the building of the wellness and recovery centre at 5019-51 Street.”
As of Tuesday afternoon the document had garnered 10 signatures.
True Value Hardware wasn’t the only business lacking consultation from the GNWT about the project. Owners and managers of nearby establishments the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre, St. John Ambulance, Signed, Crowe MacKay LLP and Barren Ground Coffee said they received no information from the government about the proposed centre.
However, Barren Ground Coffee owner Eric Binion said he would support the construction of a wellness centre on 51 Street.
“We are pleased that it will be downtown. We view it as positive. This is an important service that is needed,” said Binion, who added that he doesn’t share Schoenne’s concerns about possible disorderly behaviour from wellness centre clients.
Range Lake Developments Ltd., which owns the two empty lots on 51 Street beside the Tree of Peace, was also not consulted by the territorial government, said company president Biswanath Chakrabarty.
His company plans to construct an affordable housing complex of up to 74 units on the 51 Street lots. He hopes to break ground on it next summer.
Chakrabarty called the GNWT’s choice of location for the centre ”very unfortunate.”
“People might think that living there isn’t the best idea. It has the potential to compromise their quality of life,” he contended. “This doesn’t fit into the mandate of the downtown to bring businesses in. It doesn’t fit into making it a thriving downtown. I’m very supportive of a facility, but that’s not the right place.”
Arctic Energy Alliance, Route 51 and Zehabesha — also in the immediate area — did not respond to inquiries by press deadline.
Schoenne suggested that an alternative location for the wellness centre could be the empty lots on the west side of 50 Street, which are owned by John Yaceyko.
The GNWT could buy the five lots from Yaceyko, he said, and constructing the building in that location would fit in better with the surrounding environment.
“The only reason I’ve heard about why they’re building it (on 51 Street) is because the clients want to be downtown. Well, I want to be downtown too but obviously I can’t with that centre across the street from me. What about the post office? It’s moving out. Put (the centre) there. We’re using the argument about downtown so then put it downtown,” Schoenne said.
But Yaceyko said no one from the government contacted him about the lots. He’s looking to sell four lots on 50 Street and one on 51 Street.
“From my end I was looking to sell it to a condo developer. I don’t want to be sitting on it for years,” he said.
As a next step, Schoenne hopes someone from the GNWT contacts him and discusses the centre.
Otherwise, he said all he can do for now is wait and hope that once the project receives a development permit then he can appeal it.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said Yellowknife city council will likely ask about consultation around the project and whether a good neighbour agreement was reached before council approves any development.
“I suspect we are in for a at least a year-long debate on this, followed by the inevitable appeal. Strong chance with COVID-19 construction costs (Health and Social Services) will need to come back to the assembly for more money,” he said.
Health Minister Julie Green did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.