Vincenzo Carnovale is restoring a building and connecting with community
Vincenzo Carnovale has spent the last year investing his money, time, and labour into the vibrancy of Norwood and Alberta Avenue. Inspired by the neighbourhood’s increasing number of cultural events and arts initiatives, Carnovale took on the risk of purchasing and renovating a once troubled apartment building in the Norwood area. His building on 94 Street and 114 Avenue was a hot spot for drug dealing, violence, and other unsavory activity.
Unlike so many corporate developers who move in and demolish older structures, Carnovale saw value in restoring the building and connecting with community members, businesses, and organizations.
“This area has a great history—being Italian—it’s always been a vibrant part of our heritage and I jumped at the chance of being part of it. I kept a focus on the positives: Arts on the Ave, festivals, OTTO restaurant, young families, proximity to downtown, and so many university and college campuses.”
Carnovale says renovating and restoring the building is a gradual and hands-on process. The building was built in 1915, and Carnovale is working to keep any original aspects, particularly the steam radiators, cabinets, and railings that give the place a heritage feel while replacing things like windows and casing to ensure the building is energy efficient. Bicycle lockers and other amenities that encourage sustainability are also future parts of the project.
Sacrificing time with his young family (his wife, three boys, and a dog) as well as his business, Carnovale has spent every bit of his energy making his vision come to life. Through this venture, he forged an understanding and relationship with every tenant and is often at the building working on the structure and resolving problems.
“You know, there are certainly long-term community members here that have been great tenants and really feel like part of the community, and other tenants have had issues that require more support, so they don’t tend to stay that long.”
As the new owner, he is restoring and renovating suites as they come up and screening tenants thoroughly, acknowledging that part of the problem the community and building has faced in the past is landlords who were only interested in collecting the rent. He says taking on the building has been a crash course in social work, community policing, and area networking.
“I have really learned that so many people have been dropped into what is perceived to be slum housing because agencies or social services just don’t know what to do with their complicated mental health or addictions issues, and that has a huge impact on the area. If someone has a severe mental health issue, they need access to be in a place with the proper resources.”
Carnovale also noted that hands-off landlords allow for abuse of welfare and other social services. He has found random people occupying suites paid for by social services or agencies. “Maybe the intended tenant had a mental health or addictions issue and was somehow encouraged to let others stay there in exchange for drugs or other street deals. Once you see this stuff and get involved it’s really shocking.”
Having made progress in improving the building’s safety and restoration, he plans to attract local artists, students, and people who want to live and work close to Alberta Ave or downtown.
There is a potential for a communal artists studio, having a rotation of artists work throughout the building, and organized events. The open space on the top floor of the building could be used as a shared studio. Carnovale says he thinks artists in the building could collaborate to develop a collective model in sharing space and building community.
The building is in continual transition, but he encourages anyone who may be interested in a suite to contact him and help create a great community. “I really believe in the vision the business initiatives and arts community have invested in here and I believe engaging with people here and connecting with neighbours and local businesses is what will make all the difference.”Contact Carnovale at 780.667.8880 or email him at [email protected] for more information.
Featured Image: Vincenzo Carnovale is renovating and restoring a 1915 apartment building in Norwood. | Kiley Fithen