INNISFAIL – It took just an evening to bring down the Globe Coliseum and now it could take years to preserve the town’s threatened historical block, if there is the will to do so.
There is now a huge gaping vacant lot at the southwest corner of 50th Street and 50th Avenue, long known as Bankers Corner.
Today, it’s double the size of the one first created on March 15, 2009 when a fire destroyed the historic Berscht building immediately east of the Globe Coliseum.
Nearly 14 and a half years later on Aug. 2 another fire levelled the 115-year-old Globe Coliseum building, leaving it uninhabitable.
The Globe building was demolished on Nov. 8; an early morning to late evening operation undertaken by W4 Contracting, a demolition company out of Spruce Grove.
The next day, as trucks began hauling asbestos-tainted debris to a special toxic waste facility near Ryley, Alta., questions began about the path forward for Innisfail’s fragile historical block.
“I hope at some point it will be redeveloped. Obviously, there’s a gaping hole in Main Street right now,” said Mayor Jean Barclay the day after the Globe’s demolition. “I would like to see something be developed on that corner that's really special and has some historical aspects to it, if possible.”
However, there are many complexities now facing the town.
The lots of the former Berscht and Globe building are in the hands of the same private owner.
Meghan Jenkins, the Town of Innisfail’s director of community services, said the town can’t do anything without working with that property owner.
In 2021 the town did reach an agreement with the owner to lease space on the former Berscht building site to create a public outdoor plaza and gathering space. The town is currently paying $4,500 a year to lease the property.
Jenkins said there have been no discussions yet with council whether the town should lease the vacant Globe property to expand the public outdoor plaza.
“I'm not sure how quickly the demolition (clean up) will be finished, and the lot put back to a usable state,” said Jenkins. “That'll be a discussion with counsel, in terms of budget, as well as with the property owner as to whether they're interested in a similar arrangement.”
As for future development, Innisfail’s historical block on 50 street between 50 and 51 avenues is governed by a bylaw called the Downtown Innisfail Area Redevelopment Plan, first adopted in 2013 and amended in 2019.
The historical block is zoned for mixed use, a combination of commercial and residential. Some of the buildings, which included the doomed Globe Coliseum, have a mixed use of commercial and residential use.
If a developer or property owner came forward with a plan for the former Berscht and Globe Coliseum sites there are guidelines that have to be followed, including ones for urban design and architectural elements, and heritage preservation.
“We can enforce the downtown area redevelopment plan,” said Jenkins. “If there are requirements within that plan, for certain architectural features or finishing treatments, those would be part of the development permit process if the property owner or developer came forward with a proposal for something to go there.”
In the meantime, many members of town council already have ideas of what they would like to see developed on the former Berscht and Globe Coliseum sites.
Barclay looks at the current situation as an “opportunity” to see “something new and exciting” developed at the now vacant lots; perhaps with historical features in the rooflines or facades.
Coun. Cindy Messaros said she would like to see the mixed use continue for the site, much like what the Globe Coliseum had; residential on the second floor with commercial on the ground level.
“There's room for some kind of property use that will contribute to the alleviation of our housing issues right now,” said Messaros, adding it would also be beneficial to have architectural guidelines that respect the site’s historical character. “I would like to see something that pays homage to the historical nature of the block and of those buildings.”
Coun. Janice Wing is adamant the site should not be left to just sit vacant or as a parking lot and agrees with Messaros on its mixed-use potential.
She also believes the town should pay more attention to the 13 Ways Inc. report from 2020 to create the town’s long-awaited Innisfail Economic Development Plan; a document that underscored downtown revitalization.
“Anything that will enhance and invite people to come back downtown is what we need,” said Wing, adding she would like to see “character” built into any new development for the historical block.
“I would love to be able to engage the builders if it’s possible to replicate things that can be done that might honour the past.”
Historian takes first step
Immediately following last summer’s fire that levelled the Globe Coliseum, local historian Sheri Griffith knew she had to do something to ensure the long-term survival of Innisfail’s dwindling inventory of downtown historical buildings.
Griffith told the Albertan last September there are now only six historical buildings left in the downtown core.
One of them is the old Thorne’s Pool Hall; a building on the south side of the historical block known for many years as the TNT building but more recently the home of the Direct Value Innisfail (DVI) business.
It was originally built in 1903, the same year Innisfail was first incorporated as a town.
Griffith had a chat with DVI owner Casey Sorensen in October. With the imminent destruction of the Globe Coliseum just weeks away they agreed that with every other historical building on the block in danger of being lost the old Thorne’s Pool Hall needed some protection.
“It's just a shame that people don't realize our heritage, or some of the history that came before us in town over the years,” said Sorensen. “It wouldn’t take long if the older buildings were gone and then what would be left? It'd be a shame for the old stuff to just keep going away.”
Griffith then convinced a provincial heritage conservation advisor to come to Innisfail to examine the old Thorne’s Pool Hall. She also called the Town of Innisfail for support.
And now she and Sorensen are in the process of filling out documents to have the pioneer pool hall declared a provincial historical resource. If successful, the building would then have some legal protection against future destruction.
“The next step is to hopefully try and preserve what we have left now because they are very fragile,” said Griffith of the town’s remaining historical buildings. “If we don't start doing something about these buildings, we're not going to have many of them left; not going to have any of them left.
“Eventually they'll all get torn down, right?”