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Bellanca Building could be demolished, but can it be repurposed instead?

Powerful winds stripped steel siding from the Bellanca Building around 7 a.m., Wednesday morning. Large portions of paneling crashed to the parking lot below. No one was injured, but motorists often park there during the workday. Aug. 22, 2018.

Plans to demolish Yellowknife’s 10-storey Bellanca Building aren’t set in stone. But the prospect of potentially razing the structure, a cost-saving measure being considered by the building’s Toronto-based owner, has prompted calls from community members and politicians to repurpose the vacant space before it faces the wrecking ball.

“I understand it can be torn down, but that would obviously be a very expensive proposition and it may also be very wasteful to tear down an entire building given the needs we have for space in Yellowknife, especially in a prime location like that,” Julie Green, MLA for Yellowknife Centre, told Yellowknifer in an interview earlier this week.

The Bellanca Building, which sits on 50 Street — a busy downtown artery dotted with storefronts including a restaurant and clothing store — was built in 1973. But the one-time government office building has remained empty since 2012, which has made it a money pit for Toronto-based KingSett Capital, according to the building’s property manager.

Taxes and operating costs have spelled annual losses of around $350,000, McCOR property manager Darin Benoit told Yellowknifer.

Green said the vacant building presents a host of repurposing possibilities.

Before those possibilities can be explored, Green wants the territorial government to look into the status of the building to identify any needs for renovations or asbestos abatement.

“What I would like to see done is the same process that the government did with the visitors' centre,” said Green.

In 2017, after taking ownership of the Northern Frontier Visitors Association, the GNWT conducted an assessment of the building’s structural integrity, investing $125,000 to stabilize the sinking building, which remains unoccupied.

“I would ask (the Department of Infrastructure) to sponsor a study of what could be done with the Bellanca Building — what state it’s in — so we can figure out what can be done with it.

Former city councillor, Adrian Bell, a realtor in Yellowknife, said news of the Bellanca Building’s potential demolition is unfortunate — but not surprising, adding it’s expensive to keep a large vacant building like Bellanca going year after year.

“It would really be a shame to see a building (such as the Bellanca) with so much life left in it torn down,” said Bell.

But if an intervention of the potential demolition were to occur, Bell said it can’t happen without the city taking a hard look at parking in the downtown.

“I think the building would be a very appealing target for conversion to residential — except there’s no parking."

Bell said potential buyers can’t be expected to spend millions on renovations without being able to offer parking stalls to potential tenants, a problem only the city is in a position to address, he said.

There is a growing push from modern city planners to encourage high urban density, with the thinking that cities work more efficiently and effectively when people work and live in denser urban areas.

In Yellowknife, Bell calls increased urban density the “silver bullet” in helping with the revitalization of the downtown core. Without adequate parking, density “simply won’t happen,” he said. He points to numerous vacant lots in the city as viable options for parking space, or, if need be, Bell suggests building a parkade structure.

“If we can’t solve this … this is a bit of canary in a coal mine, because if we can’t find a way to make (the Bellanca) attractive for repurposing, there will be no increased density and we need to start looking at that as a solution to our downtown woes,” said Bell.

If the demolition goes ahead, a floor-by-floor process that would cost millions, it would mark the first time a multi-floor tower in the city’s core has been deconstructed in such a way, according to historian Ryan Silke.