EDMONTON — Plans to build a new Jewish community centre in the Alberta capital have been postponed after collapsing real estate values derailed the local federation’s intention to sell the current JCC to finance the initiative.
Clyde Hurtig, president of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton
The community of about 5,200 had hoped to build the new JCC on land available next to Edmonton’s Talmud Torah elementary school, and the project also received a personal $11-million guarantee from Edmonton philanthropist Irv Kipnes, as well as his commitment to volunteer to work on the project.
The decision to sell the old JCC and use the proceeds to build the new one in another location passed by a 163-69 vote in August 2007.
“We’re quite lucky that we didn’t spend a lot of money to this point,” said Clyde Hurtig, president of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton. But he added that a lot of volunteer hours and energy have already gone into the project, and the community invested considerable resources on a rezoning application with the city to get ready to sell the current JCC’s land. That process took eight months, as there was a large backlog of development applications at the time due to the city’s then-building boom.
Rezoned lots on the old JCCsite were put up for sale last summer, and the advertising was ready to be printed when suddenly, Hurtig said, “The market had gone soft, and then practically overnight in September the market fell apart. In the meantime the cost of construction soared, and we’re unable to raise the money.”
Edmonton currently has many construction projects that are in the process of being built, so labour and material costs are still high, while on the flip side, the housing market has collapsed.
Hurtig said that his executive decided not to do a capital fundraising campaign because “we felt the community wouldn’t support a general campaign for a building.”
Fortunately, the JCC had not been demolished, except for a few old tennis courts that were no longer being used, and no sale agreements had been reached, Hurtig said.
The community also ran into other problems. The JCC property, which overlooks the Edmonton River Valley, lost about one-third of its value during the rezoning process when some of the land was identified as being at risk of falling into the river.
“The rezoning of the land resulted in a reduced number of saleable lots on the site, as city planners required a significant ‘set back’ from the ravine…This reduced the original projected revenue,” Hurtig said in a letter to the community posted on the federation’s website.
“However, acting in good faith I believed, and still believe that the project could have been a success if the housing market had not collapsed,” Hurtig added
A further difficulty came when the architectural plans for the new 35,000-square-foot facility –which was to contain a daycare, a kosher restaurant, fitness facilities, a seniors residence and community offices – came in and the budget figures were almost double of what was originally anticipated.
“All of this is very frustrating and very disappointing. I’ve spent hundreds of hours working on this,” Hurtig said. “We’ve got the painting hanging at the JCC of what the development would look like. The problem is no one is coming forward to make an offer on the land.”
In the meantime, the community isn’t giving up.
“We’re still looking at doing something,” Hurtig said. “Depending on how things go, maybe we’ll be able to renovate the current facility, or build a new facility.”
He added: “All of this is still being worked on. Unfortunately, it can’t be done overnight. All of this is done by volunteers and the JCC staff.”
Hurtig said he’s hopeful that “maybe things will turn around.”