‘One step closer’

The City of Chilliwack's move to expropriate a downtown property spells the end of another historic building.

Expropriation is not a word you hear often in the free enterprise heartland of B.C.

And yet that is what the City of Chilliwack said last week it was prepared to do with the Irwin Block on Five Corners in the city’s downtown.

Not that the move comes as any big surprise, given the aggressive tack the city has taken lately on the redevelopment of the downtown.

It has already purchased and demolished the Empress Hotel next door. And the demolition of the Paramount Theatre and its neighbour to the south is also in the works.

The city has made no secret of its plan for the property bordered by Yale and Young Roads and Princess Avenue. It agreed to a plan in September that will see the eventual transformation of the property into a 1.5-hectare mixed use development that will include retail, residential and commercial.

In concept plans drawn up by urban consultant HB Lanarc for the City of Chilliwack, the Irwin Block property is pictured as a multi-storey office building. The Empress property next door is a residential condominium complex overtop of a restaurant.

Chilliwack already owns other properties in the block. The long-term goal is to consolidate these properties, making the entire block more attractive to investors.

The city’s intent to expropriate the property, said Mayor Sharon Gaetz, “is an important step forward in assembling the land required to create an attractive development opportunity in our downtown.”

The property has been dormant for years. After an initial effort to renovate the building six years ago, it has sat empty. Construction material from that aborted attempt still scatter the floor and plywood covers several windows.

Nonetheless, the fate of the building will likely be keenly watched by those concerned with Chilliwack’s architectural heritage. The building may be in disrepair, but it remains an iconic facade in the downtown. Its history is long and its location on one of the spokes of Five Corners prominent.

Yet years of neglect are hard to overcome. If its structure is unsound, it’s unlikely the Irwin Block will avoid the fate of the Empress and Paramount.

Expropriation and demolition of the building may take us “one step closer to realizing our vision for a vibrant downtown,” as the mayor says.

But not without another casualty.