Well it’s no brew pub plan, but we’re glad to see that the vacant fire hall at 637 Princess Ave. will be given new life as a mixed-use commercial and residential by a local company.
Council chose Samson Engineering Inc.’s proposal to redevelop the fire hall during Monday’s regular council meeting, one of two put forward for consideration in this second round of tenders.
The city’s manager of property administration, Tanya Marshall, said the initial phase of the project put forward by Samson would see the main floor redeveloped for use as a “bakery, café, restaurant, European-style delicatessen ... specialty wine shop or other.”
In the next two phases, the second and third floors would be developed into either rental and/or condo apartments, commercial offices, an educational or a medical facility, a banquet facility or even a museum.
With the sale decision now made, the initial occupancy of the main floor is anticipated to be finalized by 2016, and full occupancy of the building targeted for 2019, with the second and third floors reliant on market demand.
The Chateauesque-style building with its Italianate tower has stood as a city landmark for more than a century. And Samson Engineering will now have the honour of adding a new chapter to the structure’s history.
We note with no small amount of relief that Samson’s senior engineer and company president, Phil Dorn, appears well-cognizant of just how meaningful the fire hall is to downtown’s identity. This is, after all, a designated municipal heritage site.
“I’m delighted first of all,” Dorn told the Sun 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.”
The city’s evaluation committee said both plans — including the one put forward by Bowerbird Holdings — would have been welcome additions to Brandon’s downtown. But the committee reasoned Samson’s plan was superior because its phasing plan provided for an immediate possession and development of the main floor and exterior first.
It also apparently better fit (enhances, they said) the Downtown HUB vision and provides economic opportunities.
For all the high-minded words, however, we’re pretty sure that the unstated reason for the committee’s recommendation and council’s decision came down to the fact that Samson’s $100,000 bid was $50,000 more than their competitors. In reality, the plans put forward by the two companies were quite similar, so it’s difficult not to think that cash was a major factor.
No matter. A plan has been chosen, and a deal made. Yet however much we are glad to see new owners for Central Fire Station No. 1 who are committed to its preservation, our opinion remains somewhat reserved on Samson’s plans for the fire hall. Ultimately, much depends upon what kind of businesses find a home within her refurbished walls.
A micro-brewery, like the one championed originally by Mayor Shari Decter Hirst during her election campaign, or the Brewtinerie co-operative, previously proposed by Sun staffer Grant Hamilton, would surely have provided some lively entertainment downtown.
And we’re not convinced that a deli, bakery or wine shop will pack the same punch, though we admit it’s a little unfair to prejudge the future of the site when the company has yet to secure a tenant.
The fact remains that this is good news for the city, as the sale of the fire hall ensures that someone other than Brandon taxpayers will be responsible for the building’s expensive upkeep and renovation.
But more than that, it also ensures that a beautiful piece of this city’s heritage will not be lost to neglect or the wrecking ball.