Nearly two years after it was shut down for safety reasons, crews began working on tearing down a near century-old hotel – leaving room for new development in the up-and-coming area.

"It's kind of sad, I'm starting to cry," Aleda Church said as she watched workers tore down the aging building, where she once celebrated her 18th birthday 30 years ago. "But it is an eyesore, and it needed to go."

Demolition crews moved in Saturday morning, to begin the task of tearing down the old York Hotel.

The York Hotel, located at 104 Avenue and 96 Street, was built in 1913 as the St. Petersburg Hotel.

Over many years of serving rail travelers and industrial workers, due to its location near the CN Rail tracks and the nearby industrial area – the hotel continued to grow, and was also known as the Petrogrand and National hotel before becoming the York.

However, it fell on hard times in recent years; its location became synonymous with drugs and violence.

"Before you could go in there, go dancing and stuff," Church said. "Towards the end you couldn't go in there without fear of getting knifed."

"It was one of the few bars that I ever walked by that had a big sign on it that said no knives allowed," Gary Garrison, who lives in the area, said.

In 2007 and 2008 emergency crews and liquor inspectors visited the hotel more than 1200 times.

It was permanently closed down in March 2010 for safety reasons.

When it closed, the City of Edmonton took over ownership.

City officials turned to demolition, after discussing the possibility of using or redeveloping the building with non-profit groups and developers - but the cost was too high.

The building was deemed unsafe to lease out, or leave empty – and it didn't meet criteria to be designated an historical site, although some of the brickwork was preserved to be used in new development on the site.

City officials said they are working on a deal to develop a multi-storey housing complex on the land once it's cleared.

"Have people living in this area that will improve the vitality, that will improve the livability of the community," Mary Ann Debrinski, City of Edmonton Director of Urban Renewal said.

The complex would be part of the larger downtown revitalization project which is already underway.

Across the street from the old York site, Phase 1 of the $42 million Boyle Renaissance project is under construction.

The city expected crews to take up to two days to demolish the brick building – however workers said actual demolition would wrap up by Saturday evening.

Crews are slated to begin working on cleaning up the site Monday, the process of hauling away debris and filling in the foundation should take about one month.

With files from Amanda Anderson