The fire hall in Prince Albert, Sask., has remained viable as a community museum since the late 1970s.
With growth comes opportunity, as Brandon’s police and fire departments have now both officially taken up new digs at the corner of 10th Street and Victoria Avenue and the foot of the 18th Street Bridge, respectively.
This expansion, albeit time-consuming, gives our city services folks facilities that will house their needs for quite some time.
By examining the footprint of these new complexes you also must look at the legacy their former homes have on the city and the potential empty properties.
First, in the case of the former police services complex, it is a fit for possible tenants with room for growth and, as recent reports suggest, has garnered some interest.
The latter of the two, Fire Hall No.1 is a larger hurdle, facing some recent patching to maintain structural integrity. It is a unique space and could be a focal point for a downtown going through some positive changes.
The old fire hall was born in a time when our city was hoping to find itself, surrounded by horse drawn wagons, the Prince Edward Hotel, stables and a blossoming downtown. The hall has certainly seen its share of changes in a century.
It has served the community well and now we have a chance to give back to the building by repurposing it with a new and progressive plan.
Plenty of ideas have been tossed around the coffee shop community as to what to do with the hall including a brew pub, a museum, housing opportunities and even from a few cynical residents, a wish to have the decision-makers lock the doors and walk away.
Some have merit, some are exciting opportunities and some like the "walk away" theory don’t hold much weight in this columnist’s opinion.
In any case, the buy-in is significant, but with ambitious ideas and a stable plan, it could be both rewarding and sustainable and in the fire hall’s case, rich in history. It’s comforting for this community to know we need not reinvent the wheel here.
There are examples of projects in similar sized cities where entrepreneurs have worked through the request for proposals process and been successful.
Take, for example, the Lake of the Woods Brewing Inc. Company of Kenora, Ont. The group submitted a proposal for usage of a 1912 fire hall as a microbrewery and restaurant, and was unanimously selected by the council of the day to become the second tenant in the hall’s existence.
The building when complete is expected to house close to 300 patrons with the old vehicle doors opening in summer time to accommodate a patio seating area, a realistic possibility with our current location.
Another is that of the fire hall re-do in Prince Albert, Sask. A focal point of that city’s downtown, it plays host to a community museum. It operates regular business hours and has stabilized the neighbourhood since reopening to the public in the late 70s.
The hall is another shining example of a permanent repurpose of an early 1900s fire hall structure. These are focused projects for similar buildings; key pieces in downtown plans and both have merit.
The Brandon General Museum project had looked into the fire hall in 2009 as a permanent location and if the want is there, should have the opportunity to examine the possibility once again.
Or possibly the city seeks a developer with an eye for opportunity to repurpose the hall into something spectacular, remembering time is of the essence.
The hall has been showing its age and is in desperate need of a bit of exterior cosmetic upkeep.
Both are feasible and both give something to the community in their own unique way, standing as examples of blueprints for success.
It may seem limiting with Fire Hall No.1 to take into account heritage or usage of space, but I believe by following frameworks of similar success, it allows the city to find the absolute right tenant for the project.
In this case, I hope for the community the right decision is made, with vision and optimism and without haste.
I also hope the future tenant preserves a heritage that has lasted for more than a century protecting the people who will become its patrons.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 4, 2012