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Irwin Block to be demolished

The Irving Block in downtown Chilliwack is slated for demolition Feb. 24. - Black Press Photo
The Irving Block in downtown Chilliwack is slated for demolition Feb. 24.
— image credit: Black Press Photo

A building that has stood for more than a century at Five Corners in downtown Chilliwack will start to come down Monday.

Chilliwack city council agreed unanimously Tuesday to demolish the Irwin Block, which has sat vacant for more than a decade.

It and two adjacent buildings will be replaced by a courtyard while developers are sought to build on the city-owned property.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz noted a tinge of sadness about the decision, remembering times she spent at the lunch counter at Hipwell Drugs while working at the nearby Fields store.

But she said it was an important step forward in the revitalization of the city’s downtown.

“While it feels strange to entertain a motion to ‘deconstruct’ a building, it also feels so good to think about a preferable future.”

Other councillors agreed. Ken Huttema, who shepherded Chilliwack’s Downtown Plan, called the decision “another bold step forward.”

“It may appear as a step backward, but it is part of the progress that is necessary,” he said.

The city has made no secret of its plan for the area. In 2012, it announced its intention to expropriate the building, saying redevelopment of the downtown was occurring too slowly.

Citing the recent downtown planning process, it said the public had grown impatient with the progress of revitalization.

Tuesday’s decision is aimed at speeding up that process.

The city has set out an aggressive vision for the property, and the other 10 it owns on the block. Two years ago it unveiled a plan that would eventually see a mix of commercial and residential uses developed on a single 1.5 hectare property, with three “mid-rise buildings” built around an urban park.

“This is an important step forward in the redevelopment of our downtown,” said Gaetz on Tuesday. “Some patience is required while we pursue this long term vision, but by assembling this land we are accelerating the process towards positive change.”

The Irwin Block’s history goes back more than 100 years. Built by Burrowes Alex Irwin , it originally housed the B.A. Irwin General Merchant store, a real estate office, and a dental office.

Subsequently, the building also housed the C.H. Cowen Drug Company, the B.C. Katalla Oil Company and Hipwell Drugs. There were plans eight years ago to renovate the building and convert it into a retail and residential development.

But it has sat vacant ever since.

Said councillor Jason Lum: “I really think this building was long ago demolished by neglect.”

The demolition carries a $141,000 price tag. Making it suitable for occupation would cost $800,000, staff said.

Tuesday’s announcement was just one initiative unveiled by the city for Chilliwack’s downtown. It also introduced a new bylaw aimed at discouraging building owners from keeping their properties vacant and untended.

The city also outlined plans to ‘green’ Main Street from the Wellington to the museum. “Hanging baskets, sidewalk bulges with low growing foliage and more will enhance the entire downtown area,” the city said.

All these steps are designed to breathe new life in to Chilliwack’s historic core.

“We envision a vibrant bustling neighbourhood where people live just steps away from unique shops, restaurants, and entertainment,” said Gaetz, noting a similarity between the vision for downtown and the highly successful Garrison Crossing neighbourhood.

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