A work crew has begun tearing down the old, vacant Paramount Theatre on King's Square in uptown Saint John, more than a year after an effort to save the landmark failed to gather enough support.
The former cinema's interior and roof are in the process of being dismantled and workers have started removing salvage material from the theatre to prepare for its demolition.
"We tried for 10 years to develop it, to restore it, but no luck," said Paul Daeres, the owner of the building.
"And we have no choice, because we have no tenants to rent it to."
Daeres said the city ordered him to either fix up the property or demolish the building. He said he has no current plans to develop the property without the assurance of prospective occupants.
"If someone wants to build a building, I'll sell it to them or if I have tenants I'll build a building. But for now the economy of Saint John doesn't look so good," he said.
For now, Daeres said the priority is to clean up the site and figure out its long term potential at a later date.
"We could park cars for the time being until something comes up," he said.
"It won't be permanent parking for 100 years, more like parking for month-to-month until someone comes along and develops it."
Uptown Saint John, a business agency, had wanted to transform the theatre into two large performance spaces and a café, restoring the dilapidated interior to its former Art Deco-style and making it the centre piece of a performing arts district.
The business group had been paying nearly $3,000 a month for more than a year to stave off demolition of the building, which has sat vacant since 2005 and unused for several years prior to that.
But it could no longer lead the project, which had an estimated upfront cost of $3.5 million, without financial commitments from government and the private sector.
"When they tear that building down, it's going to be a huge massive hole in the uptown," said Michael McDonald, a local filmmaker who fought to save the old cinema.
"Art and culture economies are really, really strong engines for helping sustain your municipality. But we couldn't get that through to the people of Saint John," he said.
Fundraisers did bring in a small amount of cash and the city had committed some funding, but that was cut from the 2012-13 budget when no money came in from the province or Ottawa.
The Paramount Theatre was built in 1947. The building on the outside has not changed, however, in the 1970s the one large cinema was divided into two smaller ones, according to a New Brunswick Community College architectural heritage website.