The first phase of downtown Edmonton’s Ice District is nearly complete — with the luxury J.W. Marriot Hotel slated to open in August and nearly 700 condo units ready by the fall while an empty building sits out of place on the corner of 101st Street and 104th Avenue. 

The hotel, private residences, a public plaza and new grocery store will round out Phase 1 of the district, owned by the Katz Group.

Yet on the corner of the same block as the futuristic Rogers Place arena remains a vacant, fenced-up Baccarat Casino.

It was closed in 2016 when Gateway Casinos opened a modern $32 million Grand Villa casino next door in Rogers Place arena. 

Pavlo Malynin works in a nearby office tower and said the empty building is an eyesore. 

“I’m not sure why it’s still here,” Malynin said Thursday. “If we’re modernizing this area it doesn’t really make sense to have something this old here.”

Coun. Scott McKeen, councillor for downtown Ward 6, said the site may be suitable for an office tower in the future but for now, something should be done with the lot. 

McKeen suggests a park and possibly temporary, prefabricated housing — something useful to the community and something that can generate revenue for the developer. 

Fouad Barazi lives downtown and says the Baccarat is a strange building in the middle of modern high rises. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

“They’re getting nothing off this,” he said. “And it’s sitting here and it’s sad and lonely.”

McKeen hopes the company will consult the community before deciding what to put in. 

“I think the park would have to be open, accessible and welcoming to some of the vulnerable people that live in these communities,” McKeen said.

The city approved a demolition permit in April 2016, which has since expired. 

The companies continue to assess the potential of the site, said Tim Shipton, spokesperson for the Katz Group and Ice District developments.

“Certainly, the Baccarat site is one of the most talked about sites in the city,” Shipton told CBC News. “You can rest assured that we want to develop it and we will develop on that site.” 

In partnership with One Properties, the Katz Group is still in the design and planning stages for Phase 2 of the Ice District. 

“I would say the excitement for Phase 1 is palpable as we get towards the goal line for that,” Shipton said. “We’re also looking ahead to say you know we can create something equally as spectacular for phase two.” 

Shipton confirmed that some of the 10 acres of land would be used for residential units. 

A demolition permit approved in April, 2016, has expired, leaving the future of the lot still up in the air. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

He said the Ice District should be ready to announce later this year what the plan is but people who pass by on a regular basis want to see action.

Fouad Barazi lives downtown and agrees the casino looks out of place. 

“It’s a bit strange,” he said. “It’s like [an] old building in the middle of those modern high-rise buildings.”

Barazi said he’d like to see a park go in there — much needed green space in the middle of a concrete jungle. 

@natashariebe





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