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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Put fire hall to good use

A southern-style barbecue restaurant called the Smokehouse? We’re salivating already.

And that’s just one of the new options that have been put forward for Brandon’s historic downtown former fire hall.

As first reported in the Brandon Sun yesterday, both Samson Engineering and Bowerbird Holdings put proposals forward to buy the landmark local building.

Although Samson wasn’t prepared to immediately reveal the full slate of its plans, it did say it was looking at commercial space on the main floor and the possibility of residential or office space on the upper levels.

Bowerbird, too, is looking at residential development on the building’s second and third floors. Its main floor vision calls for an open concept market hall that could include space for local retail vendors and a bakery, as well as a food court —including the aforementioned barbecue restaurant.

Bowerbird owners Jason and Robyn Sneath are quickly making a name for themselves in downtown Brandon’s historic building scene. They own 833 Rosser Ave., and are renting it out to the Brandon Hispano bakery. And the Sneaths also recently purchased the historic Fraser Block at 1031 Rosser Ave., previously Pennywise Books, where Jason, a dermatologist, plans to open a clinic as well as a high-end coffee shop.

Samson, too, already has a presence downtown, with offices at 10th Street and Princess Avenue.

It is excellent to see two groups each deciding that they want to continue to invest in downtown Brandon.

Unfortunately, of course, the city can only pick one proposal — adminstration is expected to recommend one or the other to city council in about a month and a half.

We will be following this process with interest.

Readers will remember, of course, that the grassroots push to open a brewpub in the fire hall fizzled out earlier this year. That’s when the city decided to ask again for new proposals.

The brewpub proponents — one is a Sun employee — were looking to take over the building for the nominal fee of a dollar. They said that would help them kickstart their fundraising, and would also help defray the huge costs it would take to bring the building up to modern codes.

The city declined. But it remains a frustrating quirk of local life that heritage buildings like the fire hall have to be somehow both preserved perfectly on the exterior and fully upgraded on the interior.

For example, we cannot pretend that the fire hall somehow isn’t sound, or isn’t safe, just because its stairwell is a couple of inches too narrow by modern standards. Meanwhile, even a new coat of paint on the window frames would require approval by the city’s heritage committee.

Many other jurisdictions have long since squared this circle — making allowances in their building codes for grandfathering old buildings that would be prohibitively expensive to renovate.

This allows them to actually use the heritage buildings that are so important a part of civic fabric, rather than watching them sit vacant until they are knocked down, or until they tumble down into the street on their own.

Brandon, unfortunately, has put its plans for an updated Building Equivalency Code well onto the back burner. What was once championed as an essential part of the city’s Roadmap for Growth was chopped from the budget last year.

Instead, we hear that the province is taking a look at saner codes for heritage buildings and other existing buildings, province-wide.

We eagerly await progress on that front, which will no doubt help either Samson or Bowerbird move forward with plans for the fire hall.

The building is one of Brandon’s oldest and yet best-preserved. It is an essential part of our downtown skyline. We look forward to it being open, and used, once again.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 20, 2013

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A southern-style barbecue restaurant called the Smokehouse? We’re salivating already.

And that’s just one of the new options that have been put forward for Brandon’s historic downtown former fire hall.

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A southern-style barbecue restaurant called the Smokehouse? We’re salivating already.

And that’s just one of the new options that have been put forward for Brandon’s historic downtown former fire hall.

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