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Another Corner coming down

More buildings will be levelled in downtown Chilliwack as part of the next step in the city's plan to revitalize the core of the city.

In what Coun. Ken Huttema called "a bold step forward," city council unanimously voted Tuesday for a plan to "deconstruct" the Irwin Block and the two city-owned Yale Road buildings to the east.

"Council might be voting to deconstruct," Coun. Jason Lum said, "I really think this building was long ago demolished by neglect."

Demolition is slated to begin on Feb. 24 with a temporary park or an "interim courtyard" to replace the site by April.

As part of city hall's plan to assemble a 1.5-acre chunk of land bounded by Young Road, Yale Road and Princess Avenue, the city initiated expropriation of the Irwin Block at Five Corners in late 2012. The city took ownership of the property on Dec. 27, 2012 from previous owner Xing Chen.

By then, the city owned 10 properties in the block in question. In 2013, the city negotiated purchases of five more properties in the block, meaning the municipality now owns 15 properties needed for the plan.

Two of those properties, 46110 and 46116 Yale Rd. will be demolished with the Irwin Block at 9282 Young Rd.

The negotiated purchase of 46110 Yale Rd. comes as a surprise, as the previous owner told the Times in February 2013 there was no way he would sell his building to the city.

"I am not going to sell it to them, period," Krzysztof Grosicki said. "I love my building. .. I won't let them do to my building what they did to the Paramount."

Deputy chief administrative officer Chris Crosman said it took a while, but the city did indeed negotiate a purchase with Grosicki.

The plan for the block came out of a consultant's report and recommendations from the Downtown Task Force Report to "acquire and assemble land in a key block of properties within the Downtown Core and demolish buildings and remediate property as necessary to become 'development ready.'" "You do have the opportunity here to do something really exciting," said Michele Cloghesy of HB Lanarc, the consultant hired by city hall back in 2012.

Longtime residents may remember Hipwell Drugs, which closed 40 years ago, was located in the now dilapidated Irwin building built in the early 1900s.

At council on Tuesday, Mayor Sharon Gaetz recalled fondly eating lunch on a stool at Hipwell Drugs as a youth. But she was quick to point out that nostalgia for buildings lost can be replaced by hope for the future with good urban planning.

"Driving into the Garrison Crossing and I don't think one has that sadness anymore," she said, referring to emotions elicited when CFB Chilliwack closed, which turned to optimism at the award-winning neighbourhood that replaced the homes on the base.

The bill to demolish the downtown buildings is $141,400, considerably lower than the estimated $800,000, Crosman told city council it would cost to get the Irwin Block back to occupancy level.

The move to demolish buildings at Five Corners to further the downtown plan, comes as

construction is underway on improvements to Mill Street that will see the west sidewalk widened by 40 per cent. The same amount of on-street parking will remain and the street will become one-way northbound.

Prior to the discussion about the demolition, council received an update on the Mill Street project. That work is slated to be completed by April, in time for the summer season, which includes the popular Party in the Park.

Council also heard about year four of the city's "greening and beautification program," which will see hanging baskets and curb bulges planted with trees and flowers along Main Street from Wellington Avenue to Spadina Avenue.

"This is very exciting for the City of Chilliwack, one of the first revitalization projects in our downtown for a long time," Gaetz said.

In 2011, council approved a 10-year program to identify key pedestrian and commercial zones downtown to aesthetically improve. The first year of the program saw greening works along Wellington from College to Five Corners, 2012 saw greening of Yale from Five Corners to Nowell Street, and Victoria Avenue saw work done in 2013, which will tie in with the Mill Street improvements this year.

Another element of downtown improvements approved at Tuesday's meeting was the first step towards a new vacant premises bylaw, which will see owners of buildings such as the old courthouse or the old Safeway be required to purchase a $4,000 permit to be allowed to leave the building empty for two years.

. For more on the full plans for downtown, visit www.chilliwackdowntownplan.ca.

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