Old Transit Hotel, new city zoning could revive failing Fort Road

A plan to turn part of the historic Transit Hotel on Fort Road into a restaurant-pub is stirring hopes that new businesses and residents will move back to the once vibrant neighbourhood.  

David Egan, a power engineer by trade, plans to renovate the first floor of the 112-year-old building into a smokehouse barbecue restaurant. 

“Our goal is to invest what we can to make it a building that we’re proud of — a business that people will be happy and excited to bring their families to,” Egan told CBC News Monday. 

Egan has been exploring the culinary option for nearly two years, after the building owner, Daryn Ruzycki, closed the hotel in 2017. 

‘It was quite sad seeing this iconic, historic landmark slowly degraded,” Egan said. “It was very disappointing to see that.” 

Egan said he plans to start renovating soon and if things go well, hopes to open by the end of the year. 

Aaron Paquette, councillor for Ward 4, is excited about the hotel getting a new lease on life.

“Now it is sort of the welcoming sign for people who come into the northeast,” Paquette said Tuesday. 

“So to have it refurbished, beautified and be something that’s going to serve the community in a way that actually enhances the neighborhood would be a fantastic addition.” 

TOD troubles

Growth in the area has been stagnant for more than a decade, despite the city’s efforts to spruce up the neighbourhood.

Several acres of land were set aside to develop the city’s first transit-oriented development, or TOD, called Station Pointe. 

Near the Belvedere LRT station, the village was meant to attract families and businesses in the hopes of rejuvenating the area. 

Paquette said the city’s requirements at the time were onerous on developers. The zoning called for expensive commercial and residential towers within an average-income neighbourhood. 

“A lot of builders just didn’t see the return on investment there.” 

A partially-built complex has been sitting on the property for a few years, after BCM Developments went into receivership. A court order last September is allowing construction to resume, the city said Wednesday. 

The city now proposes to rezone the area to low-to-medium rise apartments, allowing for more flexible housing types and commercial development.

Paquette said he’s heard a number of people are interested in building and moving there and in turn, that will attract businesses and amenities. 

Construction on buildings at Station Pointe has started again after it was on hold for several years. (David Bajer/CBC)

“As it develops, I think it will become sort of a little bit of a jewel for that entryway into the northeast,” he said of Station Pointe. “That’s the plan and with this little bit of a course correction we hope to see things happening sooner than later.” 

The city is also revitalizing the Balwin and Belvedere neighbourhoods, which Paquette thinks will attract new residents. 

Throwback in time

Dan Rose, chair of the Edmonton Historical Board, is pleased there’s movement at the Transit Hotel, which was a central structure in the midst of a thriving meatpacking district in the early 1900s.

“It certainly has that lovely boom town feel to it,” Rose said in an interview Monday. 

He’s relieved to hear the owners are keeping the building as is, that it represents a “hallmark and a throwback in time to the Fort Road of old.” 

Fort Road, on the outskirts of the city, was established as a blue collar, working class neighbourhood, Rose noted.

A large community emerged around the meatpacking industry, employing hundreds of workers on the northside and becoming known as Packingtown. 

The Transit Hotel on Fort Road in 1912. (Glenbow Archives/University of Calgary)

Over the past few decades, Rose explained, much of the area has been neglected and it’s developed a reputation for being a rough part of town.

“I think with the reinvestment in LRT and the Station Pointe community, this is a great opportunity to piggyback on some of that redevelopment,” Rose said.  

Egan, who wants to eventually redevelop the hotel rooms in the upper floors, is banking on a restaurant as a good start. 

“Hopefully we can turn this into a bit of spur for additional work and a bit of an anchor for additional investment,” Egan said.