New era for Littledale complex

Moira Baird
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G.J. Cahill has come full circle. Forty-five years after his father installed the electrical system in the Littledale complex in the west end of St. John's, businessman Fred Cahill is renovating the property he bought last fall from the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland.

The owner of G.J. Cahill Ltd. plans to move his growing business there and lease the rest of the renovated corporate office space to other firms.

Inside the courtyard at Littledale. The rooftop of OConnor Residence, which is owned by the Sisters of Mercy, can be seen in the background. Photo by Brian Ricks/G.J. Cahill

G.J. Cahill has come full circle. Forty-five years after his father installed the electrical system in the Littledale complex in the west end of St. John's, businessman Fred Cahill is renovating the property he bought last fall from the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland.

The owner of G.J. Cahill Ltd. plans to move his growing business there and lease the rest of the renovated corporate office space to other firms.

The renovations began in July and will continue until next spring.

Cahill envisions an office complex set in campus-style grounds.

"It's a beautiful property," he said. "We're going to try to maintain this campus effect.

"I think it's going to be well-received once we get it all finished."

While the footprint and overall look of the complex won't change, some interior building walls will come down, parking will be expanded, extra windows will be installed and building entrances will be more visible.

"Our main purpose of this development is to do corporate office space, nothing more," Cahill said.

Retail is not part of the plan, though he said there may be a small coffee and sandwich shop similar to those in other office buildings.

Last fall, Cahill bought the Littledale complex for $3.3 million from the Sisters of Mercy, according to the sale agreement filed with the provincial registry of deeds.

"We saw the opportunity and all things came together at that time," said Cahill.

A condition contained in the sale agreement requires the new property owners not to use the name Littledale, St. Bride's, Convent, Mercy or any other name that might be associated with the congregation to identify the property.

So, the complex has been dubbed Tower Corporate Campus - taking its name from the former bell tower at the entrance to the St. Bride's College courtyard.

G.J. Cahill has developed a reputation for fixing up old properties and re-using them.

Its current head office was once the parish hall for the nearby Corpus Christi Church.

And in 2004-05, the company renovated CN's former train repair yard - known as the Valley Car Shops - on the Southside Road.

That refurbished building is now home to a G.J. Cahill subsidiary, Jendore Ltd., an industrial contracting firm.

In July, the Littledale buildings and grounds became a construction zone.

Gone is the Music City building on Waterford Bridge Road and a small copse of trees that shielded construction from passing traffic. Cahill bought that property for $400,000, according to documents filed with the provincial registry of deeds.

The space is destined to become a parking lot, complete with a 30-foot buffer from the road ringed by newly planted trees, a grassy berm, park benches and story boards explaining the history of the complex since it was built in 1966.

Gone, as well, is the weathered exterior of some of the buildings, thanks to a coating that gives them a new-concrete look.

The Sisters of Mercy congregation's property borders the nine-acre Littledale site, with McAuley Convent on the west side, the O'Connor Building on the east and a field to the north.

Another condition in the sale agreement requires Cahill to provide the congregation with access to Waterford Bridge Road through Littledale.

The City of St. John's imposed its own conditions as well.

When the property was rezoned from institutional to commercial, it included a condition that Cahill agreed to - limiting building heights to four storeys. (Commercial zoning regulations allow for 10-storey buildings.)

Another requirement was to improve both the entrance and exit to the property, allowing for better sight lines for the anticipated additional traffic.

As a result, the west side exit moves further west and away from the blind corner near Corpus Christi Church.

"In order to be able to meet the requirements for parking for office space, which is what we're going to do develop this into, we needed additional parking areas," said Cahill.

The goal is to have 244 parking spaces, both in the main lot and ringing the buildings, for easier access for the disabled. That's up considerably from the original 90-space lot.

The company will also widen the road throughout the property and provide the Sisters of Mercy easy access to it.

The additional parking will serve another purpose - extra parking for Corpus Christi parishioners.

"We wouldn't be needing those parking spaces on Sundays or even at nighttime, so the church could use it instead of parking at the old St. Joseph's parking lot or on the road," said Cahill.

A walkway and stairs will be built connecting the new parking lot with church property.

In the beginning

Gerard Cahill started G.J. Cahill in 1953 as an electrical contractor working out of his house.

The connection to Littledale started in the 1960s, when he landed the contract to install the electrical system for new St. Bride's College.

"That was his first big job," Cahill said of his father.

"He was asked by the archdiocese to bid on it and he did, and was fortunate enough to get the project."

In the decades since, the company has grown to more than 100 employees, has several subsidiaries and joint ventures, and specializes in electrical and instrumentation systems, mechanical outfitting and industrial fabrication.

G.J. Cahill has worked on projects, such as the Hibernia gravity base structure, the Granite Canal hydro development, the transshipment terminal at Whiffen Head, modules for the Terra Nova and White Rose production ships, and the Voisey's Bay mine mill concentrator.

Since 1985, the company's head offices have been located across the street from Littledale, but it's outgrowing the building.

Once renovations are completed next spring, the company will move into the former chapel, which has been desanctified, and the former Sisters of Mercy Generalate.

"We're going to put a second floor on the chapel," said Cahill.

They'll also keep much of the interior brick work on the chapel walls and add ground-floor windows.

In the centre of the rectangular-shaped complex is a park-style courtyard that Cahill plans to preserve.

"We'll put some benches ... planters, things like that and try to bring people into this whole area."

He figures office workers can lunch there in the summer.

Cahill also plans to preserve unique features inside the buildings, such as the fixtures and the terrazzo floor and stairs in the lobby of the former administration building.

Additional windows may be installed in the old gym and the conference centre buildings.

Cahill hasn't actively marketed the space yet, but he expects the buildings will be ready in January for would-be tenants to start renovating the interiors to their own specifications.

That process could take a couple of months.

As part of the exterior work, Cahill is also upgrading and diverting sewer lines that run through the property and under Waterford Bridge Road. The goal is to prevent future flooding in the area.

Cahill has also transplanted a variety of trees on the property to new locations.

"I'm trying to make every effort to try to save as many trees as I can."

The west parking lot, east entrance, paving, concrete coating and roof repairs will be completed by year-end. Additional landscaping will be done next spring.

"We're really excited about getting it finished," said Cahill. "It's going to be an absolutely gorgeous property, I think."

mbaird@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Corpus Christi Church, Valley Car Shops, Jendore O'Connor Building Hibernia

Geographic location: St. John's, Bride, Newfoundland Waterford Bridge Road Southside Road Music Corpus Christi Terra Nova White Rose

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Recent comments

  • Taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Man, I wish this guy had run for mayor, looks like he's doing more for that area than the city ever has.

  • cornergirl
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Good stuff-nice to see a good, well-planned development . Here's an example of respecting the old & using the new the right way.

  • Taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Man, I wish this guy had run for mayor, looks like he's doing more for that area than the city ever has.

  • cornergirl
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    Good stuff-nice to see a good, well-planned development . Here's an example of respecting the old & using the new the right way.