St. John’s city council Monday rejected a last-ditch committee recommendation to award heritage status to two downtown buildings slated for demolition.
The Salvation Army plans to demolish the two Springdale Street buildings to make room for new, bigger buildings to accommodate growing demand for their charitable services, including a community kitchen and health clinic.
Coun. Dave Lane, co-chairman of the city’s heritage advisory committee, told council the committee recommended granting heritage status to the buildings to give the city more say in plans for the property — but there’s a ticking clock attached to $250,000 of federal money.
“To demolish the building, they’ve actually been given a grant for a substantial portion of that demolition cost, through a federal program that requires them to spend the money, or at least earmark it for March 31,” said Lane, who added that the Salvation Army’s application for demolition was filed Feb. 4, prompting an “expedited process” in determining whether the buildings should be given heritage status. “They’ve been deemed to have distinct heritage qualities that are worth preserving for our city.”
But the committee’s recommendation found little support among other council members, all of whom — with the exception of Lane’s fellow committee co-chairman, Coun. Sandy Hickman — voted to reject it.
Coun. Tom Hann detailed the history of the Salvation Army’s plans for the buildings, which started long before the formal application for the demolition, and city staff have known for nearly two years that the organization isn’t planning to preserve the buildings.
“The Salvation Army has always been clear for the need of their services in the downtown core and the fact that they were outgrowing their current buildings and the need for a new structure because of increasing demand,” Hann said. “In fact, the demand over the last two years has gone from 400 clients up to 550. And they’ve always been clear that they want to build a building of eight storeys and 10 storeys.”
Hann said allowing the organization to demolish the buildings doesn’t have to mean the destruction of downtown heritage.
“I would like to see, as a compromise, that we take some of the hydrostone from the existing buildings and use it as part of the façade of the new building,” he said. “I would like to see the establishment of some kind of library or a situation where storyboards and other items are used to depict the history of the work in that site.”
Hann noted the organization is planning a design charrette for later this year.
“That means that hundreds of people, whoever wants to go, can go to this charrette and have input in terms of what the design will be of the building, what it will look like, and to make sure that it fits into the heritage area.”
Ken Ritson of the Salvation Army said the organization does want to preserve some of the elements of the existing buildings.
“But the buildings themselves are just not practical. They just will not meet the need,” he said. “They’re not big enough. They’re three-storey buildings. They’ve probably got contaminated soil.”
After the meeting, Lane said there’s still opportunity to preserve the 75- and 100-year-old structures in some way.
“I know the Salvation Army’s open to working with us to find a sensitive design that hopefully incorporates the old materials of the building, if not the building itself,” he said.