|Old City Hall reflects on the windows of new city hall in downtown Calgary. (STUART DRYDEN/QMI Agency)
Business owners are devastated after being abruptly shut down by city officials after illegal renovation work in their downtown building sparked fears of structural collapse.
On Wednesday afternoon, owners of at least eight small businesses were told to almost immediately close their doors, a week after city inspectors received a 311 call expressing fears that portions of Rocky Mountain Court could crumble.
Temporary metal support poles visible throughout the retail level to prop up a potentially shaky structure had been installed in May, 2011, when resurfacing work in the parkade above caused damage, business owners said.
Shop owners had suspected problems at that time but had been assured of their safety by those operating the building, said Irshi Khosla, co-owner of Mezza Mediterranean Grill.
"Water was leaking through ... they ended up cutting too deeply into the concrete," said Khosla, who added that his livelihood's now been shattered.
"It's upsetting -- we worked really hard to build such a successful business."
It's likely dozens of jobs have been lost or put on hold due to the emergency, he said.
Khosla said he was told by city officials they could be out of their location for as long as a year.
The resurfacing work was being done without a permit or official knowledge, said Cliff de Jung, the city's manager of building regulations.
There was no thought of delaying the evacuation of the businesses and the parkade, he said.
"The level of safety has been reduced to a factor that's unacceptable to us," he said.
Because of the lack of a permit, city officials aren't even certain when the work was done or precisely who's responsible for it.
Shoring up the building, said de Jung, could mean an evacuation lasting weeks or months.
"A remedial plan is being developed -- it could require interior demolition to repair the structure," he said.
De Jung said tenants in Rocky Mountain Court's 27-floor apartment building weren't evacuated because their structure is set back from the damaged parkade.
But he said those residents have been given temporary parking space at the Telus Convention Centre until more permanent alternatives can be found.
That's cold comfort to Younie Kim, owner of The Well Cafe, who was turning lunchtime customers away.
"Safety's more important but they could have at least given us more notice -- we'd prepared food for today," she said, adding four of her staffers have lost their jobs.