Alberta Aviation Museum lobbies to take over historic Hangar 14 at Blatchford

Hangar 14 and the surrounding 5.89 acres of property in Edmonton were up for sale for four months. (Alberta Aviation Museum - image credit)
Hangar 14 and the surrounding 5.89 acres of property in Edmonton were up for sale for four months. (Alberta Aviation Museum - image credit)

UPDATEThe City of Edmonton is now in negotiations with the Alberta Aviation Museum for the museum to take over ownership of Hangar 14, the historic building it occupies.

City council's executive committee made the decision Thursday. At the meeting, museum board members argued against the sale of the property to a third party, as was originally recommended in a report presented to councillors. 

"This decision marks a crucial step in the museum's future, as we now have a clear path forward, without the uncertainty a third-party owner might bring," Ryan Lee, curator of the museum said in a news release Friday.

The Alberta Aviation Museum Association is fighting to stay in its home in Hangar 14 on Edmonton's former City Centre Airport and will ask the city to transfer ownership of the 82-year-old building to the non-profit.

The city put the Second World War-era building up for sale last October after council decided it shouldn't spend an estimated $42 million to rehabilitate the building.

At the end of February, after four months on the market, the city received a "small sample of proposals," a new city report says. Council's executive committee is scheduled to review the proposals, which remain in private, on Thursday.

Jean Lauzon, the museum's executive director, hopes to persuade the committee that the museum should take over the hangar and the property — with some help.

"We would not be asking for the moon but there needs to be some kind of financial input into the rehabilitative work that has to go into that hangar," Lauzon said in an interview Monday. The non-profit has already contacted other levels of government about prospective support, she added.

Anne Stevenson, the councillor for Ward O-day'min, said she's open to hearing options but noted it would be a trade-off with other capital funding priorities.

"Preserving our heritage is a very important part of the city plan," Stevenson said in an interview Wednesday. "I hope to advocate to have some measure of city support to help this be a viable project, but I want to be realistic in terms of the other financial pressures that we're facing."

The sale listing didn't include an asking price but said it was "open to offers." It required bidders to describe how they would keep the museum on-site and continue to invest in the facility.

It will be up to council whether the city negotiates a deal with one of the bidders.

If council doesn't specify the next move, administration will list the building again but without the caveat for retaining the museum.

The museum association is trying to garner support and is encouraging people to speak to city councillors.

"Failure to approve this proposal would mark a significant setback for the museum, potentially spelling the end of its operations as they have stood for the past three decades," the museum said Wednesday in a news release.

Historic designation 

The hangar, at Kingsway and 114th Street on the Blatchford development property, was built in 1942 and is designated a provincial and municipal historic resource. Hangar 14 is the only remaining double-wide, double-long hangar in Canada.

It's legally protected from demolition or inappropriate alteration, which limits what a future owner could do with it.

"It's not like you can tear down lots of big walls and put in big atriums and change the look of the building," Lauzon said.

The structure symbolizes Canada's wartime aviation experiences and played an important role in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) during the Second World War.

The museum has leased the hangar since 1992, featuring a large area with aircraft exhibits, educational programming, a gift shop and a parade square.

Hangar 11 fire

Last month, Hangar 11 was destroyed in a massive fire. That bolsters the need to preserving Hangar 14, Lauzon said.

"It's vastly important. We are one of three pieces left on Blatchford lands that have any heritage significance," she said.

The old terminal building and air traffic control tower are the two other historic structures, she said.

"Unfortunately, you can't just rebuild pieces of history and have that same historic effect," she said. "Once it's gone, it's gone."