Yellowknife presses ahead with controversial 50-50 land purchase

Yellowknife presses ahead with controversial 50-50 land purchase
Mayor Mark Heyck broke a deadlock on Yellowknife City Council last week and backed a motion to buy the problem property known as the 50-50 lot for $1.45 million.Jack Danylchuk.

A day after casting the deciding vote to spend $1.45 million on a problem property in the heart of downtown Yellowknife, Mayor Mark Heyck showed no sign of buyer’s remorse.

“I was glad that I had a chance to speak to it and cast a vote,” said Heyck, whose usual role at council is as an impartial referee who is rarely called on to break a deadlock.

Known as the 50-50 lot for its location at the corner of 50th St. and 50th (Franklin) Ave., the odd-shaped property has been vacant for more than a decade, hemmed in by a thicket of caveats and the troubled Centre Square Mall.

“It’s a complicated beast,” Heyck said of the mall’s ownership structure. It includes the city, a condominium corporation and real estate investment trusts (REITs) Huntingdon Capital Corp. and Royal Hope, all of which could influence how the 50-50 lot is developed.

Heyck thinks the city is better positioned than a private buyer to cut through the legal tangle, but made it clear that the sale will not proceed unless the city can persuade Northland Utilities to relocate a 2.5-metre easement that cuts through the property.

“The caveats are not insurmountable, and we have a good working relationship with Northland,” Heyck said. “The REITs have a strong financial interest. They are eager to see whatever goes there succeed.”

The property would be paid for with $300,000 from the city’s downtown reserve fund, the land development fund and profits from the growing forest of downtown parking meters.

And while the city is reaching for the 50-50 corner, it is selling land it bought on the west side of 50th St. three years ago as part of a redevelopment plan that stalled when key property owners, including the iconic Gold Range Hotel, refused to sell.

“Things don’t happen overnight,” said Heyck, who views the properties as “catalytic to downtown redevelopment.” They will be sold as a parcel, preferably to a developer who might tie them in with land on 51st St. now held by the territorial government, he said.

Heyck expects to see development concepts for the 50-50 site “sometime next year. Council will have the final say on what goes there, but that won’t happen until 2016.” His personal vision is for a mixed commercial-residential project that “contributes to the vibrancy of downtown.”

“I’m optimistic that once the city takes a leadership role in revitalizing that part of downtown we will quickly see private sector entities and government come to the table saying they want to be a part of it,” Heyck said.

Among the councillors who opposed the purchase, Phil Moon Son, Niels Konge and Rebecca Alty objected to the absence of a development plan. Adrian Bell, Dan Wong, Cory Vanthuyne and Bob Brooks cast the purchase as a necessary first step in revitalizing downtown.

Commentary on Heyck’s Facebook page was mostly negative, and he acknowledged that “there are members of the community who did not want to see the city acquire this land, but there are many others strongly in favour, including businesses with a direct stake in the downtown core.”

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