Times Associate Editor
The erstwhile Co-op building, now left vacant in Strathmore's downtown core, received new ownership last week, after town council dished out over a million dollars upon being presented with an offer they were unable to disregard.
After much negotiation with the Calgary Co-op, council made an offer of $1.5 million on the 1.742 acres of land - which includes the land and property but not the liquor store - with possible intentions of moving the municipal offices to the downtown core in the future.
When the offer was accepted, with two installments paid over two years and no interest accumulating, council voted in favour the recommendation to approve the purchase.
"The financial decision is, I think, a very solid one, the offer is very good, and it's one of those deals ... we couldn't turn down," said Councillor Pat Fule. "I think it's going to be a boon for the downtown and it's going to help in a lot of ways. We're going to see a huge benefit from this many years down the road."
The former Co-op building, which was at the centre of many controversial discussions since the announcement of the conglomerate's move to a new location near the highway, was left unoccupied on July 14.
Raising concerns among the senior and low-income residents living near Strathmore's downtown, who relied on the grocery store as a lifeline, council had approached other grocery stores to occupy the space. Without much interest received to take over the space and aid in the revitalization of the town, council secured the area for the possibility of moving their offices from their current location in the future and support the vitality of the core.
"We're faced with this situation where the Co-op has left and we've tried various avenues to get another grocery retail outlet there and to no avail ... at least we have the opportunity not to lose this property and should we decide that we need to expand our municipal building, then we can do something to really make an effort to add to the downtown core," said Fule. "To have a municipal building possibly, that will be there so that all town businesses and residents who come to do town business actually come right downtown, [then] our municipal building, in a sense, would show that we believe in our downtown core and we support it."
Co-op's corporate decision to relocate to the Ranch to allow for expansion followed the moves of the Royal Bank of Canada, the ATB Financial, and Sobeys (IGA) years earlier.
Through the efforts of local businesses, various organizations, and the Downtown Design Review Committee, small businesses have migrated back to the downtown area – in part due to cheaper rent.
While the issue of the Co-op building remained at the forefront, council's recent decision aims to aid in its revival.
"I've spoken to councillors and members of the council from other municipalities whose town offices are in the downtown area, and I tell ya, it benefits the downtown incredibly," said Councillor Bob Sobol. "It's very well reported and makes a big difference, and we do want to move our downtown forward and support businesses. The specifics, in regards to our town office going down there, are still under review and in discussions. At the end of the day, I still think that this is an investment in our downtown, and I think it's overall a wise one."
Councillor Denise Peterson also voiced her approval when she said it will be a saving grace for the community, and Councillor Brad Walls was pleased a decision is being made to move forward on the project.
The first of two equal payments is due Oct. 1, while the second and final payment will be made on Oct. 1, 2016. Funds for the purchase will come from the Financial Stabilization Reserve.
Councillor Steve Grajczyk was also concerned about a structure attached to the property that he felt could result in additional costs. Administration assured council the structure would be assessed for value and dealt with. However, Grajczyk wanted to assure the public that the decision to purchase the property and land will not result in immediate changes.
"We are not building a town house tomorrow morning or next year," he said. "This is just the first small step towards going in that direction."