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Banff Rose & Crown building dodges Parks wrecking ball

Parks Canada has flipped on a 1998 decision to demolish the Rose & Crown building, saying the two lots are no longer needed for their environmental education plans for the 200 block of Banff Avenue.

Parks Canada has flipped on a 1998 decision to demolish the Rose & Crown building, saying the two lots are no longer needed for their environmental education plans for the 200 block of Banff Avenue.

The building at the corner of Caribou Street and Banff Avenue, known as Caribou Corner, will now remain in the commercial zone. It’s listed on Banff’s heritage inventory as an A-ranked property.

However, Parks Canada is still in discussions to purchase the lease for the Bow Valley Credit Union building at 216 Banff Ave. to make way for the long-planned environmental education centre.

Banff Caribou Properties and the Town of Banff were informed last year that the two Caribou Corner lots would no longer be needed, although most members of the public are unaware of the change in plans.

Gordon Lozeman, president of Banff Caribou Properties, said he’s pleased the issue for his company’s two lots has been clarified.

“For us, it creates certainty, which is pretty critical when it comes to commercial viability, especially financing,” he said. “It’s also a heritage building. I don’t think Parks was ever going to demolish a heritage building to build a heritage building.”

In 1998, Parks Canada announced it would establish an environmental education centre in downtown Banff, focusing on sustainable communities and protection of ecological integrity within national parks.

That announcement said such a facility would be located on commercial leases on the east side of the 200 block of Banff Avenue. The area would be rezoned to public service at the appropriate time.

Since that time, Parks Canada has acquired the former Esso service station property, which was bulldozed to the ground and is now a public park next to the Caribou Corner building. Parks also acquired the property at 214 Banff Avenue.

Initially, Parks proposed letting the two remaining commercial leases expire – the Rose & Crown and credit union buildings – in order to assemble land for the development of long-planned park visitor facilities.

But, according to a memo from Parks CEO Alan Latourelle to then-Environment Minister Jim Prentice, the Town of Banff and local businesses opposed this move, fearing a dangerous precedent would be set in Banff if leases were allowed to expire.

“This concern has been addressed through a decision to retain one commercial lease in commercial district zoning and initiation of discussions towards purchase of the other affected property,” said Latourelle in the memo obtained through Access to Information (ATIP).

“Affected lessees and the Town of Banff are aware of these decisions. There is no reference in the final management plan to acquiring land through lease expiry.”

The new 2010 management plan says Parks Canada will continue the assembly of lands on the east side of the 200 block of Banff Avenue for “national park purposes.”

“Specifically, the development of facilities that enhance the connection of visitors in downtown Banff to the rest of the national park, and that foster knowledge and understanding of the ecology and human history of Banff National Park and larger regional ecosystem,” the plan says.

“Parks Canada will work with the Town of Banff to ensure that redevelopment enhances the streetscape and sense of place in downtown Banff.”

Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said it is inappropriate to comment on the negotiations, but said she is pleased Parks Canada listened to the Town’s concerns about the implications of letting leases expires.

Rather than simply eliminating the leases at expiration, which could lead to uncertainty with banks, residents and businesses, she said, she is pleased to see Parks negotiating to see if there’s a “win-win.”

“Based on the information I’ve been provided, it is good news that Parks Canada listened to the Town’s concerns and that they have re-looked at other options rather than letting leases expire,” she said.

“As a tourism destination, we support the concept of enhancing visitor experiences through interpretation and education, and I look forward to seeing what those plans look like,” she added.

“On the other side of that, we also support a vibrant downtown with a variety of services. If it means eliminating services to our visitors, then that’s the other side of the coin.”

Pam Veinotte, superintendent of Banff National Park, said the two lots held by Caribou Properties will not be required for the development of the proposed environmental education centre.

“We were feeling that it was important to let that building remain and stay as a heritage resource,” she said.

An exact timeframe for Parks Canada’s plans for the east side of the 200 block of Banff Avenue is not nailed down, but the issue is addressed in the management plan, which has a 15-year horizon.

“The idea of a centre is not in the first five-year set of priority areas, but the whole emphasis on enhanced education can occur throughout the whole 15-year time frame of the management plan,” she said.

“We really want to enhance the connection of visitors coming to downtown Banff and we want to make sure they are getting a strong education and strong understanding of both the ecological and human history of the park.”

As for the credit union, Veinotte said Parks cannot say too much at this point because of the ongoing discussions.

“The Bow Valley Credit Union is certainly a valued member of the community and we’re pleased to continue our discussion with them,” she said.

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