Brandon’s historic downtown fire hall will be transformed into a mixed-use commercial and residential space.
City council has accepted Samson Engineering Inc.’s proposal to redevelop the vacant fire hall at 637 Princess Ave.
"I’m delighted first of all," Phil Dorn, senior engineer and president of Samson Engineering, said following council’s unanimous vote. "But along with that there’s a little bit of a realization that what an iconic piece it is, and what an important part of the city it is."
Two proposals were submitted to the city — by Samson Engineering, as well as Bowerbird Holdings Ltd.
Tanya Marshall, the city’s manager of property administration, described both proposals and the reasons Samson Engineering was the preferred choice.
"Phase 1 would consist of the development of the main floor for target tenants of either specialty market with bakery, café, restaurant, European-style delicatessen … specialty wine shop or other," Marshall said of Samson Engineering’s proposal.
Phase 2 and 3 of Samson’s proposal would consist of the development of the second and third floors into either rental and/or condo apartments, commercial offices, educational or medical facility, banquet facility or museum. Initial occupancy of the main floor is anticipated to be finalized by 2016, and full occupancy of the building is anticipated by 2019, with the second and third floors reliant on market demand.
Samson Engineering offered to purchase the building for $100,000, while Bowerbird Holdings offered $50,000.
Bowerbird’s vision for the building was similar to Samson’s proposal. It proposed to create an open-concept market hall with mixed-use dining and retail outlets on the main floor. Bowerbird also proposed a mix of one-bedroom and studio suites on the second floor, and apartments and loft space on the third floor.
An evaluation committee consisting of staff from the city’s engineering, property, planning, heritage and economic development departments examined both proposals, and ultimately recommended Samson’s.
"While both proposals submitted would be welcomed additions to downtown Brandon and further the vision for the area," Marshall said.
The evaluation committee concluded that Samson Engineering’s proposal is the better choice.
The reasons for recommending Samson’s proposal include the fact that its phasing plan provides for an immediate possession and development of the main floor and exterior first and the overall proposed use enhances the Downtown HUB vision and provides economic opportunities.
Marshall’s report also states that Samson Engineering has past experience with similar projects and financial support from its financial lender.
"We’re making inquiries with prospective tenants and we’re looking forward to move ahead on it," Dorn said.
Jason Sneath, who co-owns Bowerbird Holdings Ltd. along with Robyn Sneath, said they are disappointed in the decision, as they spent a lot of time and resources on their proposal.
"(We) felt our vision for the fire hall closely aligned with the city’s vision in that it would turn this historic building into a fun destination downtown, bring more people downtown, and add some much-needed low-income housing in a very unique space," he said.
Sneath said they are passionate about investing in Brandon’s downtown and are encouraged that others share that vision.
"I live, work, and am developing in downtown, so anything that improves it is something I’m happy about," he said. "We commend Samson Engineering for its commitment to revitalizing this landmark property. We look forward to hearing the details of their plan and seeing the final results."
The fire hall was constructed in 1911 and designated a municipal heritage site in 2000.
The appraised value of the property has been established (as of 2012) at $370,000.
As for a timeline, Dorn said it’s a bit up in the air, as the first thing that has to happen is changing ownership of the building.
"Then we have to go through the heritage committee, we have to make arrangements with the tenants that are going to go in there, so there’s some work to do," he said. "We want to move ahead expeditiously."
The city denied Samson Engineering’s request for a two-year property tax suspension. However, it encouraged the company to apply for a tax credit through the Renaissance Distract Tax Credit Program.
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