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Youth centre to remain in mall

The St. Albert Youth Community Centre has a place to call home for another seven years, but it isn't the former RCMP building.

The St. Albert Youth Community Centre has a place to call home for another seven years, but it isn't the former RCMP building.

On Monday night, council gave the youth centre $24,821 toward a long-term lease agreement that allows the organization to remain in Grandin Park Plaza. The money will pay the rest of the youth centre's 2009 lease payments, and is a major relief for the youth centre's executive director, Brenda O'Neill.

"I think it's all positive from here," O'Neill said. "It has been five years we've been looking for a long-term solution, and the reason that the long-term solution is so critical is because you can't apply for funding … without a lengthy lease."

The youth centre has subsisted on a month-to-month lease arrangement since mall owner, Amacon, announced last year it would demolish Grandin Park Plaza for its high-rise, multi-use development called St. Albert Village.

But the subsequent recession and faltering housing market has forced Amacon to put the project on hold, allowing the youth centre to remain in its current home.

"It really allows us to look at some of the other things that we're doing and move forward on those," O'Neill said.

On top of the $24,821 the city has provided for the lease, it will also lose the $5,300 in rent it expected to earn from the youth centre if it moved into the former RCMP building across the street on Sir Winston Churchill Avenue.

The building, which has sat empty for eight years, underwent $140,000 in renovations last year so not-for-profit groups could utilize the space. The youth centre won the right to move into the space after the city held a competitive process.

O'Neill at the time said she was excited about moving into the former RCMP building, but now concedes that it's too small and more costly.

"It's still less expensive for us to stay where we are than move into the RCMP building, because moving costs money," she said.

Still vacant

Monday night's decision means the former RCMP headquarters, designed by renowned architect Peter Hemingway, will remain mostly empty. Special Olympics Alberta is the only group currently using the space, and even that comes to an end at the conclusion of the summer games at the end of June.

The vacancy doesn't sit well with Mayor Nolan Crouse.

"It's been unacceptable that a city building has been empty for this long when non-profits and city employees have been crying for space," said Crouse. "However, we've got a solution now and it's the good and the bad."

The solution, council agreed, is to approach the Alberta 55-Plus Winter Games and 150th anniversary celebration committees about moving into the RCMP building.

Crouse said the building shouldn't remain empty much longer, but that council needs to take a tougher stance on utilizing city assets in the future.

"In the future council's got to step up and be stronger and not allow this to happen."