An 80-year-old airplane hangar could be the most ambitious project in Edmonton’s heritage preservation history if city council agrees to the proposal later this month.
In a new report, city administration is recommending Hangar 11, on the former City Centre Airport lands, be designated a municipal historic resource.
If council approves the designation, the building will be legally protected from being demolished or altered in a way that changes its nature.
The city is ready to contribute $5 million over 10 years to rehabilitate the building, with the building’s owner investing millions more.
David Johnston, principal heritage planner with the city, said the hangar’s rehabilitation is a massive undertaking.
“It would be the largest, probably most complex heritage rehabilitation project that we’ve seen in Edmonton,” Johnston said in an interview Thursday. “The Molson Brewery Building was certainly a big, complex project but this just kind of dwarfs that.”
At 80,000 square feet and dating back to the 1940s, the hangar is unique in character and material, in that it’s all wood — no concrete, brick or steel.
“I would characterize it for sure as most certainly one of the most significant buildings that we have in Edmonton,” Johnston said.
WW II role
Johnston said the hangar had a vital role in helping the Allied forces in the Second World War.
The U.S. military built the hangar in 1942, along with three other hangars and dozens of other workshops and buildings on the current NAIT campus site.
Edmonton was the starting point on the Northwest Staging Route, used by the U.S. to send supplies through Alaska to the Soviet Union to help fight Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front.
“This aid was just absolutely crucial to allow them to resist that,” Johnston explained. “And when the U.S. government started looking north — ‘How do we get this material to Alaska?’ — they discovered that, lo and behold, there’s this large airfield in this city called Edmonton that is ideal for our purposes.”
The hangar went on to be an integral part of one of the first municipal airports in the country, used for decades by bush pilots into the north.
Historic rehabilitation work itself is projected to be about $15 million.
The company proposing to take on the responsibility of repurposing the building is listed on the report as T3 Development LP.
Industrial design expert Tim Antoniuk presented the vision for the building to city council in February 2021.
He plans to convert the hangar into a mixed-use retail and residential space with rooftop patios and gardens with a goal of net-zero energy that could hook into the Blatchford Energy System.
He said the complex would integrate well in the community at Blatchford.
Scott McKeen, a former city councillor who sat on the Edmonton Historical Board during years when the building’s fate was up in the air, was a proponent of saving the hangar, and still is.
“What this investment in Hangar 11 does is cement in place a building from the past with a wonderful history that now will also have an interesting future,” McKeen said
It wasn’t an easy process because NAIT had designs on the land and had asked the city put the sale on hold, he said.
McKeen remembers that when the city shut down the City Centre Airport, he thought more should have been done to recognize the history of the area.
“I always felt like we maybe had not honoured Blatchford Field enough,” McKeen said.
A council committee will discuss the historic designation request at a meeting next week, and will be asked to give final approval later this month.
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