News Flash: Gordon Block A Goner (Maybe)

Just got off the phone with Harvard senior vice-president, Mo Bunden, and found out that his company has applied to city hall for a demolition permit for the Gordon Block.

And while he can tell me that it is Harvard’s intention to tear down the venerable former home of Novia Café, he can’t tell me what will replace it.

“We don’t have a specific plan but it’s always been our intention — we’re in the business of developing buildings downtown,” says Bunden. “It would be our intention to develop that site with the chance of satisfying the business community in the future. But we do not have a specific plan for that site today.”

The building does fall within the Victoria Park Heritage Conservation District — which gives it pretty much the same protections as a heritage building — but there is a process to allow the demolition of protected properties

“The building has completed its useful life. The costs are absolutely prohibitive to restore the building. We have a reputation of restoring buildings that can be restored,” he said.

“We looked at many, many, many options for that building and none of them made sense.”

When asked if perhaps Harvard had allowed the building to fall into disrepair, Bunden replied, “We’ve been in business for 108 years. We have a reputation for maintaining our buildings to the highest quality. And we’ve maintained all our buildings to the highest quality. At some point in time, some types of buildings with certain types of construction reach the end of their useful life.”

City staff are currently reviewing Harvard’s application and will bring a recommendation to council when that is done.

Before a property within the Victoria Park Heritage Conservation District can be demolished, though, council will have to give its approval. So maybe it’s not time to grieve the place just yet.

We’ll have more on this in Thursday’s print edition of the prairie dog.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

38 thoughts on “News Flash: Gordon Block A Goner (Maybe)”

  1. Harvard has been planning this for some time and would most likely rather see it sit abandoned for years, like the Traveller Building on Broad St which contains one of the few horse hair dance floors in left in Canada, rather than concede that it is a Heritage Building and allow it to be occupied by appropriate businesses and organizations. Instead of fighting the battle to keep the Gordon Block standing as is, and ultimately earning downtown Regina yet another ghost building, I think that we should rally our efforts and make sure that whatever tower is ultimately slated for that spot follow the edict that demands a functional ground level, not a corporate art gallery like they are putting into the third toward in order to placate us. I can think of no better use for that block than the creation of a year round Farmers’ Market that would open onto the newly built plaza.

    *note: I was not suggesting that Harvard owns the Travellers Building, just making the comparison to property owners that would rather see something crumble than recognize the historic value. The Travellers Building is actually owned by Anthony Marquart who sits on the Board of Directors for Regina Downtown and is responsible for the parkade that was illegally erected behind the Broad Street Crossing building on the site of the old Army and Navy. That parkade is in direct violation of the edict that all new downtown developments incorporate an active ground level, however Mr. Marquart is pretty friendly with several City Counsellors and, after they put on an incredibly brief public show of threatening to make him tear it down, they resigned to letting him keep it so long as it was beautified and that is the story of how we got that god awful mural. Sorry for the tangent.

  2. Not to be cynical, but I don’t imagine City Council rejecting this application. The process for them to lift heritage/protected status is not particularly long or drawn out. If the case is made, they can do it quite easily within a month or two.

    I believe the building is of wooden construction and likely has issues. It would be great if they could keep at the very least keep the facade of the building to maintain the street level heritage scale even if they build another huge tower there (it’s pretty common here in Montreal).

  3. “We have a reputation of restoring buildings that can be restored,” he said.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  4. This is lifted from a city pamphlet on regulations governing demolition permits:

    The demolition of any building or structure located in a designated Heritage Conservation District (as Gordon Block is) requires the owner/applicant to apply for a Heritage Conservation Permit approved by City Council. These demolition requests must be accompanied by a specific redevelopment plan for the subject property.

    What constitutes “a specific redevelopment plan”, I wonder?

  5. I was told by the manager of planning that Harvard’s application was incomplete and staff are working with them to sort it out. Perhaps the lack of a development plan is what was incomplete about it.

  6. “We have a reputation for maintaining our buildings to the highest quality. And we’ve maintained all our buildings to the highest quality. At some point in time, some types of buildings with certain types of construction reach the end of their useful life.”

    Oh really? Is that what they think they did with the Gordon Block? Maintained it to the highest quality? My understanding is that the Novia’s interior wasn’t kept in good repair because Harvard wouldn’t offer the owners a lease. That’s not what I’d call good custodianship. Apparently the upper floors were in poor repair as well. So if they’ve maintained the Gordon Block to the “highest quality”, how did it end up in such a state of of disrepair that it has reached the end of its “useful life”?

    And when does a building reach the end of its useful life? Have these people been to Europe? Are they aware of how long a building can stand? Does anyone in this province know how to do restoration work or is all about demolition and particle board?

    Exactly how many parking lots and empty spaces do we need downtown? Are we seriously knocking down Heritage buildings for office space when there are perfectly good lots available nary a block or two away?

    By the way, the Legislature Building is turning 100 next year. I guess it must be nearing the end of its useful life as well. Might I suggest they knock it down and replace it with one of those delightful infill builds that have been cropping up around town over the past 10 years? I mean, someone would make money off of that, right? And I’m sure no one would mind.

  7. I really hope they preserve the facade of this building or incorporate it into the new structure. Also, those nasty Corten ‘weathering’ steel light posts and beams in the new plaza are beyond ugly. What a wasted opportunity that whole project was. Tearing down the Gordon Block will just continue Regina’s long history of tearing down its past to put up monolithic and generic glass boxes. The new plaza will be nothing less than a souless and draconian space that no one will spend any time in.

  8. I was going to do a documentary show on CJTR a few years ago, profiling Regina’s historical heritage properties in and out, mostly for my own personal fulfillment, but then I just got demoralized by the “New Saskatchewan” and fact I’d have to defend my fondness for their visceral appeal against the case for redevelopment and jobs, jobs, jobs, so now I just take comfort in little things, like coffee, raindrops, major league baseball and parker house rolls. I’m currently in search of a restaurant that would serve me a nice plate of roast chicken and mashed potatoes.

    Good call on the question about the planned obsolescence of the Gordon Block.

  9. This is great. I look at Pdogg blog as Front page news.
    The gordon Block should stay, and Harvard ( smells like harper ), should be told by the city, to reno the inside of the structure to 2011 building code, but still keep/recycle the old fixtures, doors + frames wainscotting etc. Old old school hand made stuff is gonna cost a fortune to get reproduced these days, and with crappier materials. Bad landlord.

    If anyone here remembers the Capitol Theatre on Scarth,( sorely missed ), before in went into 2 screens, you know what I mean.

    #2 Exactly. That building has looked like that since I moved here in the ’70’s, I wouldn’t knock that 1 down either. Apt’s?

    Knocking down the A+N was so fucking stupid, Tim’s coulda had 60′ of nice seats by a window,in a still viable structure, but no. Another reason not to go to T-HO’s

    #3 Right. At least incorporate the facade into the next project.
    The old Pillars in the Cornwall mall are neat.

    #4 Agree.

    #5 Right. What are the guidelines?

    #7 Nice lakefront condos. The ” gov’t” is all Fecebook these days .

    #8 Agree.

    #11 I will only give you a location.

    N. of the chevy’s and in between the LB on Albert.

    See ya on the mall today.

  10. I’m trying to recall a building that has been preserved by Harvard and I’m drawing a blank. The column facades in the Cornwall maybe, as opposed to the actual buildings themselves?

    The Gordon Block is as good as dead. Regina has done little in the past thirty years for extending the useful life of buildings and preserving any aspect of it’s heritage. We’ve even pulled out trees from Victoria Park for paving stones.

    Maybe we’ll be lucky and get an Applebee’s in place of the Novia.

  11. Old buildings are really difficult to maintain. The plumbing and wiring become a nightmare, and if parts of the frame are made of wood it becomes less structurally sound over time. The facade likely won’t match new building plans, so why keep it?

    That said, I’m only in favor of demolishing it once there’s a new development plan in place. All of these half-done construction projects are disrupting the core. A demolished lot would be more of an eyesore than a vacant heritage building IMO.

  12. While this isn’t a surprise and is consistent with Harvard’s approach to older buildings (i.e. knock em down), I still can’t figure out why Harvard would wait until the new plaza is almost complete before announcing plans that will likely lead to that area still being a construction zone two years from now.

    Harvard should understand that the business community is not the only community in Regina that deserves to be satisfied.

  13. Harvard WILL build there and it will be dense and tie in nice with the new plaza. The downtown plan won’t allow a surface parking lot if that is what people are worried about.Think of the potential of this block as opposed to what it is now. I hope for a new tallest tower for the spot and restaurant/retail. I hope the city allows it to go ahead.Think of the possibilities.

  14. It’s my understanding that Harvard doesn’t own the Credit Foncier Building directly west of Gordon Block, so the idea of a fourth tower being built in that location seems premature. As for the Downtown Plan, while it was passed by City Council in April 2010 or so, it’s yet to be turned into an actual bylaw so enforcement of provisions that it contains is largely a matter of political will. Does this City Council have the political will?

  15. The president of the Sask Construction Assoc and other real estate interests on city council are there for a reason–to get real estate developed. They have ZERO interest in passing or upholding anything to do with heritage conservation or the like. That may sound knee-jerk or cynical but I’ve seen it for the past 12 years. They have a record.

  16. What I fear is a repeat of the 1990s, when there was a tremendous boom in downtown construction in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, followed a glut of unoccupied office space for almost a decade following (one developer told me that by 1997, Regina had the highest amount of available Class A office space in the country). Although Harvard has never hidden their long-term plans for a McCallum Hill 4 tower, I get a feeling of déjà vu when word of it possibly going ahead leaks out before MH 3 is completed and the ink is barely dry on the 18 Rose application.

    I’m assuming that Mo Bunden is referring to Harvard’s Century Plaza, located in the former Bay department store. Although this development and reuse should be applauded, I’m not sure if The Bay’s former building qualified as essential heritage architecture. I see that there is renovation work going on at the former Harvard Broadcasting building on Halifax Street; I’m not sure if Harvard still technically owns the building. Perhaps documentation of Harvard’s restoration history exists somewhere; I would be curious to see this.

    BT: The problem is that what I think of as a range of possibilities seems to extend much further than those of the current owners of the property. As history has repeatedly shown in Regina downtown development, the functionality of the replacements is narrower than what came before. The original McCallum Hill and Traders Buildings had a diverse mix of business space, retail, professional services and restaurants. The current McCallum Hill Centre has offices, a specialty chocolate store and a coffee shop.

    At the very least, the demolition of the Gordon Block should not proceed if all we’re going to get out of it in the midterm is a vacant lot.

    Oh, and on a different note entirely, Bonanza’s closed.

  17. Yes Brett the original McCallum Hill tower was iconic and a shame to lose it.The cost to renovate was probably extreme and the building itself was I would think extremely energy inefficient. Harvard did replace it with the twins which are iconic in my opinion and my guess would be it brings more people downtown to work than the original Mac Hill.
    The Gordon block is about as prime real estate as downtown Regina has and now spills out onto a new plaza.That land won’t sit vacant long after demo.It would be nice to know the story of the Gordon Block.Other than the Novia Cafe which I know was there nearly a century I have no personal attachment to these buildings other than to say they are old and that for me is not enough reason to maintain status quo. Instead bring thousands of new workers(potential shoppers) into downtown in a tower 4 or 5 lets say.

  18. BT: You reinforce my original point, that being the focus of downtown redevelopment for the past several decades is to increase office space footprint at the expense of a diverse range of retail, service and other options. The past three decades illustrates exactly what happens when you disproportionately focus efforts on office towers and not on ancillary services. The newer buildings, often built at the expense of existing business, service, or even residential, have not drawn as many people to the downtown as did the broader range of services offered in the past. Granted, I’m glossing over the development of suburban malls and how they drew many away from the downtown, but in the past 20 years I’ve not seen how additional downtown office space has translated into an increase in purchases of goods and services, adding to a more dynamic core. (I’m certainly no expert in this field mind you, so if anyone happens to have a study that either confirms or blows my casual observations out of the water, I’d be happy to read it.)

  19. I believe the towers of the past are not what we are seeing on the drawing board nowadays. The Rose St tower has 1500 to 2000 new workers coming to downtown and an active streetscape,better than the parking lot that is currently there. The Capital Pointe project is the same concept.The Gardens on Rose is another one. All these towers are allowing for retail/restaurant,gyms,etc.Active frontages.I applaud the current downtown plan that was created.

  20. Harvard was also invloved with Nicor in the restoration of the Leader Building. I understand Harvard has an option on Credit Foncier Building

  21. I concede that the newer proposed developments feature more amenities that the office buildings of the past. I do like what I’ve seen proposed for 18 Rose and agree that it is better than empty lots. However, the strategy for that block of Rose Street seems to have been for the developer to buy out parcels over long-term periods and gradually tear down existing businesses and services year after year, leaving a larger and larger expanse (I guess the once-rumoured convention centre for the 17 and 18 blocks Rose and Broad has long fallen by the wayside). How long has it been since the Medical-Dental Building was demolished? More than 10 years? At the very least, would it not be better to let businesses continue to operate until such time that the developer has secured an entire area, rather than encourage even the perception of downtown hallmarks as declining services and the spread of empty lots? On a smaller scale, I assume this is what will happen to the corner of 12th and Cornwall.

    I’ll have to resign at this point, but I’ll close by writing that Regina really needs a more thorough, transparent and binding heritage strategy. If a developer can adequately demonstrate that it’s made a major effort to breathe new life into a heritage property, cannot find an appropriate tenant or tenants, or make rejuvenation financially viable WITHOUT letting the structure fall into disrepair in the first place, then I would at least see that as reasonable effort.

  22. Well said Brett and I agree with your comments. I love the old architecture and hate to see it slowly disappear if the effort to save the buildings isn’t genuine but I also love the glass and steel LEED projects of today as well and at least Regina has a nice mix of both.

  23. I dont get that city tax for a lot with a torn down bldg is far far cheaper than a lot with an existing bldg (poss heritage). That just encorages owners to bulldoze and put up a parking lot. Double taxes for every owner every yr of empty lots until somethings done.

  24. BT – not to be purely argumentative but glass and steel buildings are not always LEED buildings (and, to go one step further, LEED buildings are not always the most efficient when compared to buildings that are just really innovative)…. just food for thought.

  25. Some of you people sound like Conservatives.

    Fear of Change.

    I really don’t understand the hub-bub. The building isn’t particularly attractive. It’s history is based on a small portion of space used by a restaurant. I couldn’t even find the building in “Regina: The First Hundred Years”

    Just because a building is old doesn’t mean we have to keep it.

    This is an old building that comes no where near meeting today’s environmental standards for buildings. It really is too small to make the investments needed to install modern windows, insulation, heating and cooling systems.

    About the only use left is integrating the facade into a new building.

  26. Nathan, I suspect that because so many of the “attractive” older properties in downtown are now gone, there is a built-up level of frustration part and parcel with defending what is still left.

  27. quoting from Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities, ch. 10 (1961).

    Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them…. for really new ideas of any kind—no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be—there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction.

    Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.

    (will we never EVER learn??!!!!!! sigh…..)

  28. WHAT HARVARD WANTS HARVARD GETS!!!

    they want to own our public Library so we will sell it to them(we will pay them to take it)…they want to destroy retail downtown until they have completely built out suburbia why not…they have wanted to tear these building down for a number of years and will simply wait until they get the ok from sympathetic council.
    WE should be camping in the towers…luckily one day they will tear them down too. Quality vs value to the Harvard ledger book…Nice Job MO you are a good company man.

  29. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just burn downtown to ashes and put everything out east or at Harbour Landing? Clearly the current plan to revitalize downtown has something along those lines as it’s goal. That’s the only explanation I can think of for Harvard destroying EVERY LAST GODDAMN SCRAP OF CHARACTER DOWNTOWN REGINA HAD. They’re going to tear down the Novia, for God’s sake! Replace the library with another office tower that will stay vacant until the end of time! They’ve already put in that stupid pedestrian mall where you can walk to all the shops that aren’t there. Regina used to be nice, and seeing it like it is now is like going to visit your old best friend and finding out he needs a face transplant. Good luck with whatever it is you’re trying to do there, you’ll need it.

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