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City aims to buy Gold Range strip
Mayor says planned acquisition part of strategy to redevelop and revitalize city centre

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 8, 2011

The City of Yellowknife is getting ready to go on a major shopping spree - and has its heart set on the Gold Range strip.

NNSL photo/graphic

City council meets today to discuss plans to purchase the entire length of the infamous Gold Range strip between Franklin and 51 Avenue in an attempt to revitalize the downtown core. - Ian Vaydik/NNSL photo

City council is considering today, "a memorandum regarding whether to acquire properties along 50th Street for the purpose of the 50th Street Redevelopment Initiative" and proposed bylaws to acquire all the lots after CIBC towards 51 Avenue - the Diner, the Gold Range, Smart Bee Convenience and the Raven Pub - as well as the prominently vacant lot across the street at the corner of 50 Street and Franklin Avenue.

The news - when it appeared in the city's Capital Update newsletter Thursday - took many people by surprise.

"I've heard nothing about this," said Jason Tan, who took over the Gold Range Bistro three years ago and said he still has two years on his lease.

"I know a lot of businesses have been going (uptown) and things are slowing down around here, but this is the first time I've heard about this."

Lynn Huang has owned and operated the Diner restaurant for the past 10 years, and also owns the Diner building, which was constructed in the 1940s. But apart from being visited by a Toronto consultant last year, said no one from the city has approached her about buying the property. Still, she took the news in stride.

"I don't mind moving to another place, but the city has got to give a good price so we can do it," she said.

Mayor Gord Van Tighem explained it's early days in the negotiations - though some talks are at more advanced stages. He said the city is required to go public now because acquiring property means passing a bylaw. But he confirmed the move does come from the Smart Growth Plan and the city's strategic plan as well as the Eco-housing committee.

"A lot of things can happen - this isn't the beginning, but it's the early stages - so what does develop will be both interesting and exciting," he said.

Van Tighem said it's too early to know the fate of the legendary Gold Range bar. But he said the strip will likely be the site for a new, planned 24-unit eco-housing project - which might be expanded over time. The city was favouring a lot for this project at the corner of 50 Street and 52 Avenue until recently.

As for financing, the mayor said the numbers in the city's land development fund have been thoroughly assessed and that - through possible public-private (P3) partnerships, the revitalization project can be realized "with existing resources." The land fund currently has a balance of $2 million, but is expecting another $1.3 million to $4 million in revenue this year through the sale of other lands.

Van Tighem also referred to a possible land transaction with owner Jack Walker to acquire and turn the prominent vacant lot at 50 Street and 50 Avenue - which has had an asking price of $1.6 million - into a city centre marketplace.

Reached by phone in Alberta, Walker also said he hadn't been contacted by anyone from the city recently and warned, "these things take a long, long, long time to come to fruition."

"But it certainly sounds like a good idea for the city," he said. "I certainly want to see it move ahead with downtown revitalization."

Meanwhile, Coun. David Wind said he hopes the proposal generates sufficient public input and debate. He questioned the need to address the items at tonight's special council meeting, and in the middle of summer, rather than at the regular council meeting on Aug. 22.

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