Year in Review: 'Problem' building becomes focal point of downtown crime

By Glenn Hicks
December 28, 2017 - 12:00pm

As 2017 draws to a close, paNOW is taking a look back on the most important and impactful stories of the year, selected by our reporters and editorial staff.

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After several concerns raised by residents, businesses and police about the problems surfacing in Prince Albert’s downtown, things came to a head in the fall of 2017.

On Sept. 29 a woman was taken to hospital after she was assaulted in broad daylight in the 900-block of Central Ave.

Police, firefighters and Parkland Ambulance paramedics responded to the scene where the female victim was lying on the sidewalk over a small pool of blood. The woman was conscious and communicative, and was taken to hospital for treatment.

“Someone tried to rob her for 10 bucks,” a bystander said.

It was this high-profile incident that prompted a chorus of responses from the community. The first one came from city hall and was directed very firmly at the former CB building that is now an apartment block owned by Full Gospel Outreach Centre.

City calls for demolition

With "an end goal of demolishing the building," Mayor Greg Dionne made a motion during a city council meeting the following week to begin dealing with 925 Central Ave.

“This property, as council is aware of, has been a sore point in the downtown for many years,” Dionne said.

Problem property 925 Central Ave. is in the cross-hairs of City Hall. Bryan Eneas/paNOW Staff

 

Dionne called for all police and bylaw files on the property to be sent to the City Solicitor. To date, he said, 205 police and bylaw calls had been made to the building. These numbers, Dionne said, did not include the three or four times a week foot patrol officers go through the building.

"In the last year… it has really got worse," he said. “It is time we take affirmative action....nobody even wants to look at the building.”

One councilor was a lone voice against the idea of bringing in the wrecking balls. Tarra Lennox-Zepp said “demolishing the building does not solve the issues.What the city should be spending its money on is ways to reduce crime, not ways to move it to other parts of our city.”

Owner 'rescuing people'

The owners of the problem residential building admitted there had been issues with gangs and drugs, but insisted they were working to address them.

Vern Temple, the pastor at the Full Gospel Outreach Centre told paNOW,  “I’ve been working on the gang problems, drug-dealing and stealing and issues that go with that. I’ve been doing evictions and each time I do that it improves the situation.”

Temple said the building accommodated about 40 poor and marginalized people in 15 units. He understood the city needed to act on complaints and concerns, but stressed the Gospel Centre had work to do to help those in need.

“From our perspective we have a ministry and we’re trying to rescue people from their lifestyle,” he said. “They come to us from all sorts of crazy backgrounds. We’re trying to help them spiritually, physically and emotionally.” Temple said he had teamed up with Brian LeBlanc who runs a ministry of his own next door to do more street outreach efforts.

Businesses want action 

Regardless of the root causes of the crime and troubles surrounding the building, businesses demanded action.

“I personally don’t see a problem with [Pastor Vern Temple] if he wants to keep running his ministry out of the ground floor,” Stacy Coburn said, the Chair of the P.A. Downtown Business Improvement District. “But I want to see all the apartments shut down and not occupied until they’re all up to code.”

Coburn said she’d witnessed “horrible things” because of the issues associated with the building.

“[I’ve seen] a man urinating out of the window and people constantly fighting,” she said. She figured the apartments are currently a “100 per cent hindrance” to downtown revitalization efforts.”

Like Coburn, fellow business owner Mike Horn was happy to see the city take action, but wondered if demolition was the way to go.

He thought the building could be repurposed in the future, but currently the owner should be taking full responsibility for what is going on.

“Right now it seems like it’s a bit of a free for all,” Horn said. “The owner seems to have lost control of the people who are in there.”

Another local, Gord Vaadeland, said while the problems associated with some of the people who rent or frequent the apartments should not be swept under the carpet, he also pointed a finger at the media.

He thought paNOW did not reflect crime stories unless they’re in the downtown or West Flat, “so there’s always an impression that downtown is less safe than everywhere else.” He thought such media coverage perpetuated these perceptions.

He added the building was “a pain in the neck to the downtown, but I also think he [Vern Temple] is not actually helping the people that he set out to help. The criminal aspect needs to be cleaned up, the drug addiction aspect needs help and the address itself can’t continue to function like it does.” 

Prince Albert city council's move to explore the eventual demolition of a problem downtown building prompted various reaction from the owner and local businesses. paNOW News Director Glenn Hicks sums up the situation and debate.

 

Owner targeted in violent crime

Ironically Temple himself was a victim of a violent crime in the following weeks when the Prince Albert pastor said two women cut his neck with a pocket knife and slashed his truck tire after he refused their demands for cash.

Temple said he first met his attackers earlier in the evening when they approached him at a local convenience store with a “sob story” looking for a ride. Temple said he gave the women a lift to the corner of Ninth St. and Fifth Ave. E. He would normally have refused, but said he felt safe because he had other passengers with him in his truck.

By November Temple, colleague Brian Le Blanc, and some of the tenants were making strides to clean things up. Following the calls to knock the building down, Temple said he was going to be addressing concerns the city raised about the state of 925 Central Ave. Previously, Temple said demolishing the building isn’t an option, and he's recently been putting in the work to avoid that route.

“I don’t think we had to do nearly the amount [of work] that we did,” Temple said.

Temple and Brian Leblanc are working on giving the building a facelift in the weeks since the Mayor decried the building's condition. Walls were painted and patched; portions of the flooring which was deteriorating were reworked and doors which posed safety issues were repaired.

The owner of the Full Gospel Outreach Centre was working with tenants to fix and clean up the 'problem' Central Ave building in light of complaints and calls from city officials to deal with various code issues.

 

By the end of the year it remained to be seen what sort of impact Temple’s efforts to clean up would have on the criminal and anti social elemens frequenting the site and if that would influence the mood on council to see that building demolished.

-- With files from Bryan Eneas 

 

 

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Nadine Wilson reflects on 2017 and the year ahead

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