© photo by Joe Gibbons
A new development proposed for Duckworth Street in St. John’s has the owner of Classic Cafe East thinking about a new escape plan for his business.
Fred Reardon said he has no objection to the city wanting to clean up the area by allowing the construction of a new hotel and apartments at 83 and 90 Duckworth Street, but if it goes ahead it will have immediate and long-lasting repercussions.
“There’s a six-foot gap between our buildings and there’s a ramp for two emergency exits and an exit for my back deck, if they rip the building down, that ramp will be gone and I probably won’t be able to use my back deck or lower part of my building because there will be no fire escape,” he told The Telegram Friday.
Reardon was one of many business owners and residents who attended a public meeting Tuesday held by the city of St. John’s and Republic Properties Inc. about the proposal called the Light House Project.
He said he told the developer about his concern.
“They said they would take care of it,” he said, adding there’s also the classic problem of parking.
Reardon said there’s not enough parking in the area as it is, but if a new hotel gets built at 83 Duckworth St. parking spaces will be tied up by construction and eventually they’ll be eliminated.
“There’s still some things that have to be fine tuned, but they are two nice-looking buildings. I just wish everybody would stop kicking up a stink about why others didn’t get a chance to buy it. Nobody else wanted it. If I had said I wanted to buy it the city would ask for a proposal and the plans, it just so happened Republic did it first,” said Reardon.
Republic has purchased the former Crazy Horse strip club location which is next door to Classic Cafe East, but in order for the development to proceed, the company has asked the City of St. John’s to sell 90 Duckworth St. so it can construct apartments and parking for both projects.
During the public meeting, many residents were upset by the proposal because the buildings would be constructed in a heritage area, the view will be obstructed and it was suggested the process whereby Republic obtained the land is somehow flawed.
Tom Hann, chairman of the city’s planning and development committee, said there was nothing untoward about the arrangement with Republic to develop 90 Duckworth St.
He said a couple of years ago the company bought the Crazy Horse to build a hotel and boutique, but realized parking would be an issue. The company then asked the city to sell the former east end fire station property, and council approved it in principle.
“Staff looked at it and recommended it would probably be a good idea because it would give the city an opportunity to clean up the area, from the point of view of the Crazy Horse, which had been problematic over the years and needs to be replaced, and the fact the old fire hall is dilapidated and has outlived its usefulness,” Hann said.
He said the company had to pay $5,000 for the option to purchase the land which was valued at $556,000 at the time — it has since been appraised for $740,000, but to date the city still owns the property.
The sale of public property is not listed under the Public Tendering Act or the city act, and covers the acquisition of goods and services only, Hann said.
When the proposal went to council all but two councillors voted to allow it to proceed.
One of them was Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary.
“Under the process it is allowable (to sell the land without tender), but that doesn’t make it right,” she said.
“It’s inequitable and doesn’t give fair opportunity to businesses to (bid) on property that has huge value in the community. Not talking about an easement, a laneway; we’re talking about a substantial piece of property on the corner of Ordnance and Duckworth streets — (an) extremely high-profile tourism district. To me the process is flawed from the start and it comes down to council to use its discretion to make a move on it,” O’Leary told The Telegram Friday.
She said she thinks the land is worth more than $740,000, and as custodians of the public purse, the city should put it on the open market in order to get the most money for it.
“Nothing against Republic — I like the design — but it is the wrong place and the wrong process. It’s also in a heritage area which we are continuing to chop, chop, chop,” O’Leary said.
Hann said the city has and will continue to protect heritage areas, but the two properties on Duckworth Street do nothing to enhance the area.
No date has been set for the matter to go back to council.