While downtown Brandon is still plagued with vacant storefronts, some recent purchases have given hope for some of the city’s oldest buildings.
The Brandon Sun chose six vacant downtown storefronts that have been empty for more than a year. With land title information through the provincial registry, the Sun tracked down most of the people and management companies behind the properties to find out what plans are in place for the buildings.
Jason Sneath of Vancouver recently approached the city with a plan to breathe new life into the historic Fraser Block, the former home of Pennywise Books.
According to Sneath’s application to the city, he wants to open a cosmetic and dermatology clinic to fill a service gap between Regina and Winnipeg. Plans also include an upscale café “selling high quality espresso-based drinks, smoothies and snacks,” according to the application.
Sneath said renovations to the building’s upper floors will accommodate more office space, but added work won’t happen for five or 10 years.
Shondell Sabad and Tamara Moore-Sabad, a transplanted Westman couple now living in Calgary, purchased the historic Campbell & Campbell building at 29 10th St. last summer with hopes of restoring it after years of neglect.
“I am not an absentee landlord,” Moore-Sabad said, adding she has maintained a relationship with Renaissance Brandon and retained an architect to help with the work.
She said she’d eventually like to see a vibrant storefront below. However, Moore-Sabad added it will take years before all the work is completed.
Not every owner is champing at the bit to find businesses to fill commercial space.
William McTavish, co-owner of 717 and 719 Rosser Ave., said his two storefronts have been nothing more than storage space for the last decade. He has focused on the reliable income generated from the eight apartments above.
“And until I get a bona fide tenant applying, that’s all it will ever be,” McTavish said.
Other Brandon properties will likely remain vacant for the foreseeable future.
The former KFC on Princess Avenue, for instance, is one of 343 properties across nine provinces owned by Fredericton-based Plazacorp Retail Properties Ltd. The 55-year-old vandalism magnet is simply not a top priority for the real estate company.
Brenda Maxwell, owner of the Curran Block at 631 Rosser Ave., said she doesn’t consider renting out a second storefront a priority. The other storefront is leased to a private renter.
Maxwell described attracting retail to Brandon’s core as a “red herring.”
“We should be focusing on what downtown can be, and that is an office, professional area,” she said. “The reason why half the shops close is because retail’s not working. It’s not rocket science.”
Meanwhile, property owners are bound to the city’s derelict building bylaw that prevents buildings from falling into severe disrepair. The bylaw is aimed at buildings that may lower surrounding property values, create vermin infestation, increase the chance of arson or vandalism and “create the impression of decline.”
Many of the six buildings profiled by the Sun are considered municipal heritage buildings or “significant buildings” — those with historical or architectural value that are awaiting evaluation by the Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 26, 2013