Despite rejecting its only bidder for the vacant, historic downtown fire hall, the City of Brandon has apparently decided to tweak the requirements and try again.
A new request for proposals (RFP) was posted late last week to the city’s website, about two months after a grassroots attempt to start a co-operatively owned and operated brewpub in the space was rejected by city council.
The city will now accept new proposals until mid-December and hope to have a recommendation for councillors by early 2014.
It’s too bad, in our view, that the Brewtinerie quest proved quixotic. The dream to open a brewpub and poutine restaurant in the old fire hall — spearheaded in part by Brandon Sun internet co-ordinator Grant Hamilton — attracted a large number of supporters, but very little hard cash.
It was a problem that was mirrored when the proposal went before council as well. Many councillors spoke in favour of the idea, but only two voted to put their money where their mouths were and pony up by donating the building to kickstart the business.
Hamilton tells the Sun now that current building code requirements make it exceedingly difficult to shoehorn modern features into a heritage building, the Brewtinerie crew is unlikely to reapply for the fire hall unless and until those requirements are eased.
We note that council continues to kick that can down the road, with new building code equivalency policies that were once a top priority now nowhere to be seen. A situation we find deplorable, given the early and promising emphasis the current council once had for downtown redevelopment.
Meanwhile, as city police continue to use the aging fire hall for training (we hear they fire rubber bullets around the upstairs gym) and to store evidence (don’t they have a brand-spanking-new headquarters?) the revised fire hall RFP notes that if anyone does come forward to buy the building, they won’t get it all for at least a year.
The backup E911 centre, currently housed in a space on the main floor, isn’t scheduled to be relocated until the end of December 2014 — that’s a full 12 months later than was expected before.
Interestingly, a few other things have also been revised in the new RFP.
No longer will a proposal be evaluated by what benefit it offers to the community at large. The new RFP only cares what benefit it provides to the “City of Brandon Corporation.”
The new RFP also gives heavy weight to a company’s stability and experience — in fact, it is judged the most important factor to consider, along with how well the proposal will advance the city’s vision for the downtown HUB.
Doubtless, they are trying to avoid tying themselves up in meetings for another year with a group that’s long on ideas and short on qualifications.
But the fire hall is such a unique character building, we believe it’s worth exploring a few flights of fancy. There are plenty of buildings downtown where small-scale retail could fit into the main floor, and residential apartments or condominiums could be developed in the upper storeys.
There’s almost nothing like the fire hall, with a large open space on a main floor that is set back from the street.
The building screams opportunity. Despite the fact that the Brewtinerie proponents appear to be backing out, we hope that their imagination inspires other non-traditional developers to at least consider doing something interesting with the building.
But building code equivalency needs to once again become a priority — for the fire hall as well as for every other aging, semi-vacant structure downtown.
Or, a year from now, we won’t be surprised if there’s yet another lonely request for proposals issued on a still-vacant fire hall.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 22, 2013