The proposal from Samson Engineering Inc. to redevelop the historic former fire hall was accepted by Brandon City Council earlier this month. This is the engineering firm’s conceptual rendering of its plans, which would include an outdoor patio and potentially several tenants, such as a café, bistro or pub on the main floor. (SAMSON ENGINEERING)
Picture this: sipping a beer with friends on a new downtown patio located at a restored historic Brandon landmark.
That is part of the vision Samson Engineering Inc. has for the former fire hall — a designated heritage building — on Princess Avenue.
"It’s a wonderful opportunity. I hope to preserve it for future generations," said Phil Dorn, senior engineer and president of Samson Engineering.
"I think it’s a wonderful building. It’s not too tired and it can be repurposed for this very, very nicely."
Samson Engineering’s proposal for the building was accepted by city council earlier this month. They will be the new owners of the building, at a cost of $100,000.
Dorn said it is important to keep the historic building as close to its original design as possible.
"We don’t want to change the outside, you can’t, and you don’t want to," Dorn said. "We’d … put it back to the way it was and its iconic colours."
The 103-year-old building was known as the Central Fire Station No. 1. It stands on the site of its 1882-93 predecessor. The architecture combines Chateauesque style with an Italianate tower. The structure includes red brick, a steeply-pitched roof with protruding dormers, and wrought-iron balconies beneath the brackets of the bell tower.
It has been largely out of use since Brandon Fire and Emergency Services moved into a new facility on 19th Street North in 2010. Since then, the old fire hall has been used for some emergency training purposes.
"To see something like that lie in waste is a tragedy for Brandon and I would really like to see something happen to it," Dorn said. "And I have every intention of doing that."
In addition to the outdoor patio, Samson’s proposal for the main floor includes the potential for a restaurant, café, bistro, pub, bakery, or other tenants.
Dorn said the company is still in the "blue sky thinking" phase, and is making contacts with potential tenants.
"We’re going to see what we can have materialize," he said.
Depending on who comes forward, the main floor could be several different shops, or one large restaurant or brew pub.
"If you’re going to have the evening crowd, you want to have beer and food ... a good restaurant, and we’d like that for downtown," Dorn said. "We want people to be downtown, so we’d like to do that."
Dorn said ideally they would figure out a way to attract the day and evening crowd.
"If you put a restaurant in here ... you don’t have the morning crowd, so it’s actually a very challenging problem and to find a solution to it, is not immediately evident as to which way to go," he said. "But I want the a.m. and the p.m. crowd."
Phase 2 and 3 of Samson’s proposal would consist of the development of the second and third floors into possibly rental and/or condo apartments, commercial offices, an educational or medical facility, banquet facility or museum.
Dorn said there are many possibilities, and it all depends on who shows interest in the building.
"I would love to see something happen by fall, because I don’t want to sit on this," he said. "But not all the variables are in my control. Insofar that they are in my control, we’re going to try to make it happen very quickly. We have a little bit of a track record at being successful at it, but … you need to be blessed sometimes at how things come together."
Dorn has plans to restore the interior of the building to what it originally was, and would like to see it as an open concept.
"If you go into a bistro, or a deli and there’s brick walls, it’s beautiful, it speaks to you," he said. "It has a timeless component to it that is very hard to identify, but it’s absolutely gorgeous."
Samson Engineering, located a few blocks away from the fire hall at the corner of Princess Avenue and 10th Street, has experience in downtown renovation projects.
The firm designed the new Westman Immigrant Services facility, which is located in the old CP Rail building on Pacific Avenue. They also converted an old pool hall into what is now the Seventh Street Health Access Centre.
Most recently, Samson redeveloped 440 Rosser Ave., where MX Group is now a tenant. They also designed pocket housing at the back of that property.
"We’re really trying to improve the downtown," Dorn said. "I love Brandon. Brandon’s a beautiful, wonderful little town ... I want all good for it, that’s certainly our intention."
The city’s municipal heritage advisory committee is pleased to see redevelopment plans in the works for the old fire hall.
Corey Roberts, committee chair, and the city’s Rosser ward councillor, said there was a sense of relief when Samson’s proposal was approved.
"It’s a designated landmark, and a real ... corner stone to the downtown," Roberts said. "It’s a landmark and needed to be maintained, and brought back to life ... so it’s hugely important."
As it was designated a municipal heritage site in 2000, a heritage permit must be taken out when work is being done.
"If there’s anything being done to what is deemed as an important heritage aspect of the building it has to go through the approval process," Roberts said. "That’s a guideline through the province’s Heritage Resources Act ... it’s not just a city bylaw but also a provincial document."
The heritage committee plans to work closely with Samson Engineering as they move forward with the redevelopment. The goal is to help them streamline the process, not hold them up, Roberts said.
"We don’t want to extend any of their deadlines, we want to help them reach their deadlines, so we’ll do what we can to help with that process," he said.
Renaissance Brandon chair Shaun Cameron said Samson’s plans for the building will help the downtown stay vibrant after-hours.
"I think it’s great that they’re looking to have people down there after dark and make it a place that people want to visit," he said.
From a heritage standpoint, Cameron said revamping the building is "tremendously important."
"Recognizing that it has a point in Brandon’s history, that it was important," he said. "They’re going to bring an old building back to life in the downtown, we’re excited about it."
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 21, 2014