COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
A pedestrian walks past the site of the former Brandon Inn, at Ninth Street and Princess Avenue, on Tuesday afternoon.
Results of an environmental study of the former Brandon Inn site will determine whether the vacant lot can become green space, or if more remediation is needed.
The city expects the results this week on the property at the corner of Ninth Street and Princess Avenue.
"We do want to get that area seeded and landscaped to a level that makes sense for the downtown, so it doesn’t look like a big dirt field," city manager Scott Hildebrand said.
"If we have to go and dig more holes to do another phase of that environmental testing, it wouldn’t make sense to seed it … If they come back satisfactory, then of course we will go ahead and seed it."
After buying the near-derelict Brandon Inn in 2012, the city spent more than $1 million to remove hazardous materials — including asbestos — from inside and to demolish it. That was more than triple the original estimate.
The property previously housed a gas station and possibly a tannery.
The plan is to try to clean up the lot in the short term, Hildebrand said, as the city works on a longer-term solution for the redevelopment of the corner property.
"The sooner, the better on that one," Hildebrand said.
Coun. Corey Roberts (Rosser) said even a short-term green space commitment would be beneficial.
"At least it’ll be a green space and not … a horrible gravel lot," he said.
The former Brandon Inn property is adjacent to another empty lot — the Brown Block property.
In 2011, a section of the decaying building collapsed under the weight of wet snow on its roof. Several months later, what remained of the old block was razed to the ground.
It has remained a empty gravel lot ever since.
A 10-foot wall was built to provide support for the existing Strand Theatre.
Hildebrand said landowners are typically required to have the property landscaped within six months of the demolition. However, in this case the ground was still settling and could not be compacted for fear of it adversely affecting the existing wall.
A demolition permit remains open for 137 10th St. to ensure that the existing wall remains structurally sound.
Hildebrand said the building safety department continues to work with the owner of the property on the future of that facility.
"(The demolition permit is) still open because there still needs to be landscaping done, things like that," Hildebrand said. "There’s still some requirements to kind of remediate and bring that area back to an acceptable level."
Roberts has brought the topic of both the Brown Block and the former Brandon Inn site to council recently in an effort to see some movement on the properties.
"Sometimes when things have been around for a while, they sort of get forgotten about," he said.
"It’s a good time to review potential policies that need to change in order to rectify problems."
Roberts says he realizes the Brown Block is a complicated property due to the settling of the ground, "but there has been no active work that the general public sees on it."
"I just don’t want it to be sat on forever," he said.
The Brandon Sun attempted to contact Curtis Shewchuk, who manages the Brown Block property, but our call was not returned.
Renaissance Brandon has been actively trying to pursue ideas for the former Brandon Inn property, and Roberts says he wishes the "same sort of thing was happening with the Brown Block."
Roberts also thinks more can be done with regards to vacant downtown properties through city bylaws.
"Some of the property owners are very hard to get ahold of being out of province," he said.
Roberts said he wants to see the city "add some teeth" to the bylaws to put pressure on property owners and make sure they have some commitment to local residents.
"That they’re not going to sit on (the properties) forever," Roberts said. "Our goal when we started the process of changing things downtown was … if you were sitting on a vacant piece of property and you weren’t actively trying to market it, or maintain it, then your property taxes would start to go up."
There has been a lot of discussion on the potential for the land at the corner of Ninth Street and Princess Avenue, as well as the Brown Block, such as an entertainment complex, hotel, retail centre or a combination of several components.
"It could be a mixture of all those things that … fits with downtown," Hildebrand said. "There’s a lot of traffic that goes by that corner. I think it’s important that we have the right development there."
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 30, 2014