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Range Street properties for sale but who's buying?

City officials had big ideas after council approved the purchased of the 50/50 lot downtown for $1.45 million in 2014. To date it remains as it has been for more than 20 years – a parking lot. City of Yellowknife/NNSL images

News that the Gold Range is up for sale adds to a crowded market on the one block stretch of 50 Street on which it stands.

Much of "Range Street," as the block is often called, is for sale, and a big portion of it is currently owned by the City of Yellowknife after a series of purchases dating back nearly a decade.

The city buying spree began in January 2012 with the purchase of three now vacant lots: the former homes of the Corner Mart, a convenience store and once popular after-bar close snack joint; an Instaloans money lending store; and a small parking lot. The city purchased the three lots for $975,000.

In September 2014, the city bought the 50/50 parking lot at the corner of 50 Street and 50 Avenue for $1.45 million. Also up for sale that year was the Smart Bee Convenience Store property. The original listing price was $459,000. Unsold all these years later, the property is going for a song at $299,000.

Not long after the 50/50 purchase, city officials unveiled conceptual drawings for the lot that included an outdoor skating rink lined by chic storefronts and coffee shops but city council balked at the idea and now it remains what it has been for nearly 30 years -- a parking lot.

After years of inaction, the city finally put the lot up for sale a year ago, seeking the same price it paid for it in 2014 -- $1.45 million -- but it remains unknown whether any potential buyer has shown any interest at all.

It is currently leased to Centre Square Mall business owners for parking and in the last year, the city collected $25,119. All revenue goes into the city's land fund. 

Meanwhile, the three properties purchased in 2012 also remain fallow, lent to Ecology North as a "pop-up park" during summer months. At the time of purchase, city officials floated the idea of potentially installing low-cost "eco-housing" in the area but nothing has come to pass.

The Gold Range Hotel and Bar up the street is listed on the Coldwell Banker site for nearly $2 million.

This map highlights the 50/50 lot currently for sale by the city for $1.45 million.

City councillors say there has been no new information coming from administration over the past year about the future of the Range Street area even as there are now two properties on the same street for sale at more than $1 million.

Niels Konge, who was acting mayor last week, remains a critic of the city purchases and the city's involvement in land development. He said no information has come to council of late, including whether there has been any interest in the city-owned lots.

"I'm not sure an offer would even come to council," said Konge. "We set a price and if someone would come and offer that price, then I would say that administration would sell it.

"So no, it hasn't sold as far as I know."

The 'for sale' signs in the area raise questions about the downtown core's future and the city's long-term plans following years of stagnation.

Konge said he sees "a pretty unique" opportunity for an external investor in the hotel or hospitality business to take advantage of prime real estate.

City councillor Niels Konge, a longtime critic of the city's planning in the downtown area, said he hasn't heard of offers in the past year.
NNSL file photo

"With the Gold Range property up for sale, there is a pretty unique opportunity for a hotel group to come in here and get some pretty prime downtown real estate. And big," he said.

"The city has the three lots and there is one right beside it that has been listed for quite a while (former Smart Bee Convenience Store and Gifts). You could get six or or maybe seven lots and would only be missing three lots on that block."

The city has remained mum on whether there have been any offers to purchase or lease the 50/50 lot since last year and has also refused to state if there have been any discussions between the city and the Gold Range leading up to the sale announcement. The city was provided a series of questions to get an update on the future of the 50/50 and Gold Range Bar and Hotel area recently.

Yellowknifer also asked whether the city is interested in purchasing more land in the area and whether there have been any offers to purchase or lease its three properties further down the street.

"Discussions the City has had with potential purchasers are confidential and as such, we do not disclose this information," stated Alison Harrower, city spokesperson, when asked if there have been any offers to date for the 50/50 lot. 

The three 50 Street lots the city purchased in 2011.

Harrower also stated that issues related to the city-owned downtown lots for sale or the 50/50 lot aren't scheduled to go before council in the near future. 

According to the city website, the three other lots are for sale together for $825,000 for "commercial, commercial and residential mixed use or similar uses approved by the Director of the Department of Planning and Development."

The future of another lot next door to the Gold Range that was once the site of Fat Fox Cafe and is co-owned by Brad Good and his partner Lynn Huang, is unclear.

Yellowknifer reached out to Good recently, but he declined comment and Huang didn't responded to inquiries.


Range Street and the decade of development: A timeline

1958 - Construction of Gold Range Hotel is complete. The establishment was built by Yellowknife businessman Jacob Glick. It replaced the Veterans Hotel, which burned down in 1956.

1977 - Gold Range bought by Sam Yurkiw. He owned the bakery next door, site of the former Diner eatery then the Fat Fox.

1988 - Best year of sales, according to former general manager Harvey Bourgeois. The bar was reported to have sold more alcohol than any other bar in Canada.

Feb, 26, 2007 - Gold Range sold to Jay Park of Edmonton.

2010 - City conducts appraisals on lots on 50 Street.

August 2011 - City of Yellowknife approves the purchase of three lots on 50 Street between Franklin Avenue and 51 Avenue. "It’s the most important thing we’ve done," said Mayor Gord Van Tighem at the time.

January 2012 - City of Yellowknife purchases three lots - a Corner Mart and Instaloans- and a parking lot for $975,000. City spends $52,000 to address a fuel spill on one of the lots shortly after the purchase.

February 2013 - Yellowknifer asks in an editorial: "How long will this parking lot remain there between two bars and facing a boarded up mall across the street?" and adds, "There is a real danger for inertia to set in while city council is playing developer and trying to figure out what to do with these properties once the bulldozers level them."

April 2013 - City council decides against selling the purchased lots with buildings on them and opts to demolish two buildings. City spends $200,000 on demolition of the buildings. "I don't even know where to start," said Coun. Niels Konge at the time. "I think this is a little bit of socialism, communism mixed in with a little bit of capitalism. The socialist and communist part says (the city) wants somebody to do this in a certain way and you take all the risk – and that is the capitalist part."

January 2014 - Smart Bee Convenience Store, owned by Loc Bui and Bang Pham since 2008, at 5014 50 Street goes up for sale. As of this month, the price of the property was $299,000. The original price for that property was $459,000, listed with Century 21 Yk.

June 2014 - The Diner goes up for sale for $575,000.

September 2014 - City purchased 50/50 lot for $1.45 million,

June 2016- Fat Fox Cafe opens in the former The Diner restaurant.

May 2018 - Fat Fox vacates its premises after two years of operations.

September 2018 - Fat Fox building demolished 

Summer 2018 and 2019 - Ecology North and the City of Yellowknife agree to put pop-up park on empty lots.

January 2020 - Gold Range Hotel and Bar for sale.