John Day is one of my local heroes.

You’ve never heard of him — he shuns the limelight.

But you’ve seen his influence.

The phoenix that rose out of the ashes of the Uncle Albert’s restaurant fire on the corner of historic Old Strathcona’s Whyte Avenue and Calgary Trail? That was John’s development.

Small-scale beauty

The developer who finally tore down that Jasper Avenue blight known as the Cecil Hotel, replacing it with a beautiful, unusual, small-scale building in which is housed the downtown Sobey’s? That was John.

Who did the delicate, painstaking surgery on the Garneau Theatre by the High Level Bridge, overhauling the historic theatre, keeping it as a theatre, replacing its tired street frontage with sparkling new retail space occupied by shops revitalizing the Bridge District? Of course. It was John Day.

When the successful bidder for the burned-out shell of the historic Kelly Ramsey buildings in Rice-Howard Way was announced, a mighty cheer went up among concerned Edmontonians.

Why? Because it was John Day.

This coming week the wrecking balls will descend on the Kelly Ramsey block and the adjacent former Sony and Swedish Jewellers shops, making way for the city’s second new office tower in 23 years.

If anybody has earned the respect of this city for quality, long-term, compatible re-development, it’s Day.

If anybody has demonstrated enlightened development is possible, that society goals and the profit motive need not be exclusive, it’s this life-long, second-generation Edmontonian and former lawyer. As a part-owner and managing director of Mountain Park Lodges, Marmot Basin ski resort and the Jasper Tramway, Day is also one of Jasper’s most influential business people.

The Kelly Ramsey tower (my name … wishful thinking, as building names are sold to the highest bidder) will be an all-glass, 525,000 square foot office building, approximately 23 stories tall in the heart of the downtown on Rice-Howard Way.

While some delightful and unusual conceptual designs are posted on the Internet, Day cautions that leading Edmonton architects Donna Clare and Darrell Halliwell of DIALOGUE have yet to finalize the design.

Before you get freaked out with the thought of another cold, boring downtown high-rise tower with a corporate storefront, remember this is a John Day development.

Four-storey pedestal

The tower, like the new condo towers on 104 Street north of Jasper, will sit on top, and within, a four-storey pedestal.

Most importantly, the walls of that pedestal, where the Kelly Ramsey block fronted Rice-Howard Way, will be the rebuilt walls of the original, fused-together buildings.

This is not a replica or a re-creation. Day actually asked the city for historic designation of the original Kelly Ramsey corner exterior walls. Those walls cannot be changed or altered except for historic purposes.

Day’s contractors will carefully dismantle those walls, number the bricks, and then, during latter construction stages, return to re-build them per the original Kelly and Ramsey buildings

The additional costs must add several percentage points to what will conservatively be a $200 million project. (No numbers have been released, but a new office tower in Edmonton today would cost $350 to $450 a square foot. This tower will come in at 525,000 square feet.)

But this is what Day does. He’s a developer who looks at the long-term return on the investment, who believes that quality and architectural beauty will carry the day. Because he lives here, he takes quiet pride in the lasting value of his work.

No matter what, the Kelly Ramsey tower is a quantum leap for him. “It’s about eight times bigger than anything I’ve done before,” he says.

Do you enjoy the challenge?

“Some days,” he smiles.

He has an as-yet-unnamed major institutional financial partner, like an insurance company or pension plan.

No developer would proceed with a building of this scale without signing an anchor tenant or a critical mass of smaller tenants. No announcements yet, but major companies in town such as Enbridge, Stantec and ATCO have been rapidly growing and are interested in consolidating under one roof. Then there’s the City of Edmonton and the provincial government — the two biggest tenants in town.

While the design of the glass tower is not finalized, we can breathe easy.

With a developer like Day and architects like Clare and Halliwell, the Kelly Ramsey tower will be a downtown jewel.

For more on Day’s development philosophy, and his stories about his past and current developments, visit the Hicks Biz blog at www.hicksbiz.com.