Heritage for sale everything must go

Pam
Pam Frampton
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Singer: Three towers, three towers, three towers so high,
You can't see the harbour, the sun or the sky,
Arterial road makes the whole scene complete,
As they pull out the city from under our feet.

Archbishop Skinner: In keeping with the tradition of St. John's as a city of churches, the multi-million dollar Trizec Corporation has agreed to call their high rise complex Trinity Towers, as this is probably the closest to heaven that they will ever get. There will be the God the Father Office Tower, the Holy Ghost Shopping Plaza, and the Son of God Saloon.

- From Codco's "Das Capital," which began its life as the cabaret show "What Do You Want to See the Harbour For Anyway?", inspired by controversy over downtown developments like Atlantic Place.


"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun," goes the verse from Ecclesiastes.
Read Codco's "Das Capital," written 35 years ago, and that certainly seems to be true.
The play reflects the cynicism and feelings of powerlessness that are easy to understand in St. John's today, where there seems to be one set of forward-thinking rules governing development that exists on paper, and another set that is used in practice - basically, "You want to build something? Fine. We take cash, cheque or credit card. Oh, and put in a few parking spaces, will you?"
The latest inappropriate property development proposed for the downtown is Fortis Properties', but really, the name of the proponent could matter less.
Because when it comes to development, the city has often ignored its own rules - and the wishes of citizens - no matter who the developer is; the city's vision has often been limited to tax revenues instead of history and character, the desire to keep green space or to preserve views.
That has been the rule here, not the exception.
But what the heck? We'll have the best cluster of office towers money can buy.
As Codco sardonically noted, what do you want to see the harbour for, anyway?
During the long, hot debate about the controversial development of the Memorial Stadium property - now a big-box supermarket flanking Quidi Vidi Lake - then-councillor Dennis O'Keefe said, "my decision will be based on what benefits the most people in the City of St. John's."
Has his philosophy changed since he became mayor, or does he still feel that way? Because surely preserving the downtown's architectural heritage and views of the harbour - in areas where that still exists - benefits far more people in the city of St. John's than a couple of office towers, a few shops and a parking garage housed in some grim-looking glass and metal boxes?
And yet, Mayor O'Keefe is already spinning this latest development controversy in a way that makes his stance perfectly clear.
In a speech to Rotary Club recently, he implied that if citizens don't want their taxes to increase anytime soon (well, beyond the hike we just had), then they had better get onside when a bunch of developments come before council for approval.
Repeating the simplistic mantra that economic development is crucial to keeping residential and business taxes at "reasonable" levels, O'Keefe hinted at downtown development proposals that have come across his desk - some of which residents know nothing about yet - and fired this salvo: "All are absolutely necessary if we are not going to rely on property tax and business tax to continue to provide services at reasonable tax rates. It's going to be extremely difficult to accomplish those things without your support."
He fired a similar shot later in his speech: "… again, economic growth and development is going to play a major role in keeping residential and business taxes down and keeping them reasonable."
Here's that message from the mayor one more time in case someone missed it: support the developments proposed for downtown or don't come crying to me when your taxes go up.
• • •
Mr. Budgell: But this is it, ya know. We can have it all, the money, the good life, everything, but you got to make the initial investment. And once you do that, boy, the returns, I'm telling you, Mr. Macarelle, will be enormous! Why in jobs alone … there'll be hundreds of 'em - littering the streets, jobs by God, in clubs alone. Do you know how many clubs they're goin' to have in that Atlantic Place? - From Codco's "Das Capital"
• • •
Now, here's Mayor Budgell - er, Mayor O'Keefe, talking about proposed downtown developments to the St. John's Rotary Club on Jan. 28: "Hopefully, most of them, if not all of them, will come to fruition, and that will put a lot of money into the city economy and create a lot of employment."
• • •
But wait, you say - times have changed since the days of Atlantic Place. There are rules about downtown development now; height restrictions, public views to consider; heritage areas. Developments like the plans for the old Woolworth's building make sense, while others do not, which is why the rules are all set out in the St. John's Municipal Plan and Development Regulations.
Ah, but our clever mayor has thought of that, too. Read his letter today on page A20, where he outlines how he can get around those pesky rules if he has enough support.
And watch and listen in the days ahead as he continues to frame this debate as a simple matter of heritage vs. economic development.
Do you want progress? New revenues in the city coffers? Lower taxes? Of course you do - sure, there's no money in old buildings and water views! (Though London, Rome, Paris might beg to differ).
But think about this: if Fortis changed its proposal to a design that had fewer storeys and was a better match for the architectural flavour of the downtown, wouldn't that contribute to the economy, too?
• • •
Chorus: (Sings.) Eye to eye with Cabot Tower,
By two o'clock they'll darken Gower,
Who needs sun when there's no flowers?
Trizec owns the town.
- From Codco's "Das Capital"

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Trizec, Rotary Club

Geographic location: St. John's, Memorial Stadium, Quidi Vidi Lake London Rome Paris Cabot Tower

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Recent comments

  • Pam
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    Paddy Joe: I absolutely agree that there's nothing unique about the Fortis Building that should be preserved, which is why my point is if that property is going to be redeveloped, at least let's try and have the new building blend in with or enhance the architectural flavour and heritage of the downtown (where it still exists). I see this as an opportunity to make the downtown look better, and not just put up another glass and metal tower.

  • Andrew
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Thanks Percy, at least someone in this city has a bit of common sense.

  • Paddy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Ms. Frampton: Just for clarification. I was not talking about the present Fortis Bldg. I meant the wooden structures that Fortis wants to tear down and put a new high rise in its place. I don't feel that these buildings have any real heritage value. I will add that I agree with the Fortis proposal---15 storeys and all. But I think they need to revisit the design--The artist's conception was not very attractive.

  • Percy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    I agree totally with Paddy Joe~~~there is a vast difference between sentiment and heritage. It is like comparing apples to beets.

    If the vocal fringe group would wake up and smell the roses, we wouldn't have all of this controversy about downtown development. The silent majority needs to speak up.

    It reminds me of the media. If they interview 20 people that are against something, and a smaller number that supports it, guess who they will dwell on...the larger number that is against it of course...the silent majority has just as much a right, as the small fringe group.
    I rest my case.

  • Percy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    I agree with Andrew, and Tom 100%...I am sick and tired of listening to Frampton and all of her negative thoughts...same old...same old...
    Every article she writes is all full of pure negatives....
    I can just imagine what St.John's would look like if we had to build as the nay sayers preach.
    The Telegram has really faded from the days of the Herder family, as one person said.
    A note to all the NAY sayers....get a real life, and wake up and smell the roses...we are living in 2010, not in the 1800's....

    I visited the beautiful city of Boston, many times, over the years, and admired their heritage, along with new development. The old blends with the new...proper balance me says...

    I support the Fortis, and former Woolworth development 110%....develop or perish....

  • Paddy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    My Canadian Oxford dictionary Describes heritage as : a Country's ( or city's ) buildings, monuments and countryside etc. especially when regarded as worthy of preservation

    Are the four or five buildings at issue with the Fortis proposal worthy of preservation? Is there anything of singular or unique quality about them? I think not. We have amble buildings in St. John's that are indeed worthy of preservation such as The Court House, The Basilica, The Colonial Building etc. These buildings and many others like them have real heritage value. They are sacrosanct and everybody understands that they need to be protected. But this is not what we are talking about with the structures that Fortis wants to redevelop.

    And what is this about not being able to see The Harbour? I can't see The Harbour now from most of Downtown. When I want to admire The Harbour, I go to Signal Hill. I would think its the same in downtown, Halifax. If you want to see Halifax Harbour you go to Citadel Hill.

    Some people actually like cities that are modern and vibrant. Wouldn't it be nice to have theatres, good restaurants, night clubs, museums and art galleries and good shopping in Downtown St. John's? Please don't tell me we have George St. George St. is a dirty, slummy strip parading as an entertainment district. If you want to see what classy entertainment districts look like go visit Crescent St. in Montreal.

    I think many people who cry heritage with respect the properties that Fortis wants to replace are mistaking sentiment for heritage. When I was growing up, we had no central heating. There was only a Maid of Avalon stove in the kitchen. I liked that old stove but when my family could afford it we put in central heating and replaced that old stove with a new electric range. I don't remember my mother crying about it. You see it had no real heritage value.But, my great- grandmother's bible is still in our family. The difference between that old stove and my great-grandma's bible is the difference between sentiment and heritage.

  • Devon
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Another pathetic column...this is BS as its best. St John's needs to grow and I support the fortis proposal 100%, as do I any other reasonable development that will benefit our city. It's time the NIMBY's let it go and let our city grow...do you spend all your time looking at the harbour? Pathetic.

  • Andrew
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Oh look, a second column on this issue by Ms. Frampton. As if the first one wasn't enough of a joke. Go back a bit and you can read her thoughts on technology - the Amazon Kindle and how its destroying our society.

    Both the Fortis development and this new development in the Woolworth building are very worthwhile and would be very beneficial to our city. I agree with Tom and Devon 100%.

    What ever happened to actual journalism?

  • Keepin' It Real
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    The sad truth of the matter is that we in Newfoundland are our own worst enemy. When any of us strive to rise above the masses, the masses immediately begin working on pulling them back down.

    Nobody is as critical of a successful Newfoundlander as their fellow Newfoundlanders.

  • VRP
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Unless you want to sell knitted goods to tourists, or, fiddle, while arguing that your saving culture, don't try doing business in Newfoundland.

  • people on EI
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    tom from terra nova of what special interests group are you ?

  • downtown lover
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Yes, some cities have been able to successfully blend the old with the new but, so far, the few modern buildings that we have in St. John's are a complete and utter disgrace. I don't believe people are against the employment this proposal can generate for Newfoundlanders, instead people are against this monstrous building going in the center of the downtown core! br Shopping wise, downtown didn't have much going on until about the past 12 years when new shops started springing up everywhere. There seems to be a great revival going on there and hopefully it will only continue to flourish. I am a great supporter of downtown development, just not of skyscrapers in the middle of the downtown core development... why can't it go somewhere else? (old Woolworth's/Arcade site even). br br As for every person who seems to think tree huggers , granolas' , people stuck in 1800 are the only ones who care; stop being so immature. (If it wasn't for trees we wouldn't be able to breathe... someone's got to look after them).

  • tom
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    I see that the tree hugger society has infiltrated the telegram . the only people left are the sports writers .the rest are from the arts society.poor old herder family would be turning over in their grave if they knew their paper had fallen into the hands of this maligned group

  • Pam
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Andrew from St. John's: are you referring to the column a few weeks back (Jan. 16/10) where I wrote: I can understand the appeal of reading devices that you can carry anywhere and that can store a virtual library? That hardly sounds like I'm suggesting the Kindle is destroying our society.

  • VRP
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    ... preserving the downtowns ...views of the harbour benefits far more people in the city of St. Johns than a couple of office towers . Unless, of course, they're welders and laborers and street sweepers and mechanics and store clerks and teachers and nurses and... It must be really satisfying to be a writer or a Mr. Budgell or a member of Codco, smugly satisfied that your prosperity is totally unrelated to the economy as a whole, except for the few yankee dollars that might get dropped off at the knitted goods shop during tourist season. I'm sort of tired of their version of let them eat cake .

  • Percy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    TO DOWNTOWN LOVER...I am sick and tired of hearing why can't it go elsewhere . Did you listen to our Mayor recently on CBC radio saying exactly what I am saying....go elsewhere is all people can say....Kenmount Road/by the airport...these people want their views as well...(excuse the pun)

    I say, whoever wants a good view of St.John's...that is totally unobstructed, walk or take your vehicle to Signal Hill...now you have the best view of the city...my oh my...we have a great view of the harbour in front of the Harveys' pier...don't we....like the fringe group who didn't want the Memorial Stadium turned into an ultra modern supermarket....it is a beautiful sight to see the ancient jail house by the Lake....isn't that a wonderful sight to behold.....
    You will NEVER please the NAY sayers..it is that simple....they have blinkers on 24 hours a day...they simply DON'T want development...
    Remember a few years ago there was a Christian based group(Teen Challenge) who wanted to have a building to help troubled teens in St.John's...well, what an uproar that created...no...no...no...they didn't want it in their back yard...go elsewhere....
    Do you get my drift? Need I say more...
    This society is nothing but a I and ME
    generation...
    You hear young people crying out for help, right, left and center.,..yet, someone came along that wanted to help the teenagers in St.John's, and people cried go elsewhere ...not in my neighbourhood.....
    I rest my case~~~

  • Pam
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    Paddy Joe: I absolutely agree that there's nothing unique about the Fortis Building that should be preserved, which is why my point is if that property is going to be redeveloped, at least let's try and have the new building blend in with or enhance the architectural flavour and heritage of the downtown (where it still exists). I see this as an opportunity to make the downtown look better, and not just put up another glass and metal tower.

  • Andrew
    July 01, 2010 - 20:24

    Thanks Percy, at least someone in this city has a bit of common sense.

  • Paddy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Ms. Frampton: Just for clarification. I was not talking about the present Fortis Bldg. I meant the wooden structures that Fortis wants to tear down and put a new high rise in its place. I don't feel that these buildings have any real heritage value. I will add that I agree with the Fortis proposal---15 storeys and all. But I think they need to revisit the design--The artist's conception was not very attractive.

  • Percy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    I agree totally with Paddy Joe~~~there is a vast difference between sentiment and heritage. It is like comparing apples to beets.

    If the vocal fringe group would wake up and smell the roses, we wouldn't have all of this controversy about downtown development. The silent majority needs to speak up.

    It reminds me of the media. If they interview 20 people that are against something, and a smaller number that supports it, guess who they will dwell on...the larger number that is against it of course...the silent majority has just as much a right, as the small fringe group.
    I rest my case.

  • Percy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    I agree with Andrew, and Tom 100%...I am sick and tired of listening to Frampton and all of her negative thoughts...same old...same old...
    Every article she writes is all full of pure negatives....
    I can just imagine what St.John's would look like if we had to build as the nay sayers preach.
    The Telegram has really faded from the days of the Herder family, as one person said.
    A note to all the NAY sayers....get a real life, and wake up and smell the roses...we are living in 2010, not in the 1800's....

    I visited the beautiful city of Boston, many times, over the years, and admired their heritage, along with new development. The old blends with the new...proper balance me says...

    I support the Fortis, and former Woolworth development 110%....develop or perish....

  • Paddy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    My Canadian Oxford dictionary Describes heritage as : a Country's ( or city's ) buildings, monuments and countryside etc. especially when regarded as worthy of preservation

    Are the four or five buildings at issue with the Fortis proposal worthy of preservation? Is there anything of singular or unique quality about them? I think not. We have amble buildings in St. John's that are indeed worthy of preservation such as The Court House, The Basilica, The Colonial Building etc. These buildings and many others like them have real heritage value. They are sacrosanct and everybody understands that they need to be protected. But this is not what we are talking about with the structures that Fortis wants to redevelop.

    And what is this about not being able to see The Harbour? I can't see The Harbour now from most of Downtown. When I want to admire The Harbour, I go to Signal Hill. I would think its the same in downtown, Halifax. If you want to see Halifax Harbour you go to Citadel Hill.

    Some people actually like cities that are modern and vibrant. Wouldn't it be nice to have theatres, good restaurants, night clubs, museums and art galleries and good shopping in Downtown St. John's? Please don't tell me we have George St. George St. is a dirty, slummy strip parading as an entertainment district. If you want to see what classy entertainment districts look like go visit Crescent St. in Montreal.

    I think many people who cry heritage with respect the properties that Fortis wants to replace are mistaking sentiment for heritage. When I was growing up, we had no central heating. There was only a Maid of Avalon stove in the kitchen. I liked that old stove but when my family could afford it we put in central heating and replaced that old stove with a new electric range. I don't remember my mother crying about it. You see it had no real heritage value.But, my great- grandmother's bible is still in our family. The difference between that old stove and my great-grandma's bible is the difference between sentiment and heritage.

  • Devon
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Another pathetic column...this is BS as its best. St John's needs to grow and I support the fortis proposal 100%, as do I any other reasonable development that will benefit our city. It's time the NIMBY's let it go and let our city grow...do you spend all your time looking at the harbour? Pathetic.

  • Andrew
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    Oh look, a second column on this issue by Ms. Frampton. As if the first one wasn't enough of a joke. Go back a bit and you can read her thoughts on technology - the Amazon Kindle and how its destroying our society.

    Both the Fortis development and this new development in the Woolworth building are very worthwhile and would be very beneficial to our city. I agree with Tom and Devon 100%.

    What ever happened to actual journalism?

  • Keepin' It Real
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    The sad truth of the matter is that we in Newfoundland are our own worst enemy. When any of us strive to rise above the masses, the masses immediately begin working on pulling them back down.

    Nobody is as critical of a successful Newfoundlander as their fellow Newfoundlanders.

  • VRP
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    Unless you want to sell knitted goods to tourists, or, fiddle, while arguing that your saving culture, don't try doing business in Newfoundland.

  • people on EI
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    tom from terra nova of what special interests group are you ?

  • downtown lover
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Yes, some cities have been able to successfully blend the old with the new but, so far, the few modern buildings that we have in St. John's are a complete and utter disgrace. I don't believe people are against the employment this proposal can generate for Newfoundlanders, instead people are against this monstrous building going in the center of the downtown core! br Shopping wise, downtown didn't have much going on until about the past 12 years when new shops started springing up everywhere. There seems to be a great revival going on there and hopefully it will only continue to flourish. I am a great supporter of downtown development, just not of skyscrapers in the middle of the downtown core development... why can't it go somewhere else? (old Woolworth's/Arcade site even). br br As for every person who seems to think tree huggers , granolas' , people stuck in 1800 are the only ones who care; stop being so immature. (If it wasn't for trees we wouldn't be able to breathe... someone's got to look after them).

  • tom
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    I see that the tree hugger society has infiltrated the telegram . the only people left are the sports writers .the rest are from the arts society.poor old herder family would be turning over in their grave if they knew their paper had fallen into the hands of this maligned group

  • Pam
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    Andrew from St. John's: are you referring to the column a few weeks back (Jan. 16/10) where I wrote: I can understand the appeal of reading devices that you can carry anywhere and that can store a virtual library? That hardly sounds like I'm suggesting the Kindle is destroying our society.

  • VRP
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    ... preserving the downtowns ...views of the harbour benefits far more people in the city of St. Johns than a couple of office towers . Unless, of course, they're welders and laborers and street sweepers and mechanics and store clerks and teachers and nurses and... It must be really satisfying to be a writer or a Mr. Budgell or a member of Codco, smugly satisfied that your prosperity is totally unrelated to the economy as a whole, except for the few yankee dollars that might get dropped off at the knitted goods shop during tourist season. I'm sort of tired of their version of let them eat cake .

  • Percy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    TO DOWNTOWN LOVER...I am sick and tired of hearing why can't it go elsewhere . Did you listen to our Mayor recently on CBC radio saying exactly what I am saying....go elsewhere is all people can say....Kenmount Road/by the airport...these people want their views as well...(excuse the pun)

    I say, whoever wants a good view of St.John's...that is totally unobstructed, walk or take your vehicle to Signal Hill...now you have the best view of the city...my oh my...we have a great view of the harbour in front of the Harveys' pier...don't we....like the fringe group who didn't want the Memorial Stadium turned into an ultra modern supermarket....it is a beautiful sight to see the ancient jail house by the Lake....isn't that a wonderful sight to behold.....
    You will NEVER please the NAY sayers..it is that simple....they have blinkers on 24 hours a day...they simply DON'T want development...
    Remember a few years ago there was a Christian based group(Teen Challenge) who wanted to have a building to help troubled teens in St.John's...well, what an uproar that created...no...no...no...they didn't want it in their back yard...go elsewhere....
    Do you get my drift? Need I say more...
    This society is nothing but a I and ME
    generation...
    You hear young people crying out for help, right, left and center.,..yet, someone came along that wanted to help the teenagers in St.John's, and people cried go elsewhere ...not in my neighbourhood.....
    I rest my case~~~