The city of Saint John is talking with a developer interested in the so-called Jelly Bean buildings and three other properties left over from its purchase of land for the Peel Plaza project.
One of the possibilities being discussed is a some sort of new art district and urban village in the uptown.
Andrew Kierstead, the executive director of the Saint John Arts Centre, calls the idea "a good fit."
The centre, located in the Carnegie Building, stands amid the new Peel Plaza facility housing the police headquarters and justice building. It is steps away from a group of historic city-owned buildings that have now been vacant for four years.
"Wouldn't it be nice to be able to visit other buildings as well — that maybe have artists' studios in it?" Kierstead said.
The deal could involve five city-owned buildings on Union Street, Wellington Row, and Carleton Street, including the former synagogue.
"I think that [possible development project] might be really special and really a kind of Saint John hallmark on how this could be developed," said Kierstead.
'It's a good vision laid out, and I think we can do it.' —Brian Irving, senior manager of real estate for Saint John
Brian Irving, the senior manager of real estate for the city of Saint John, said an arts district was envisioned for the area north of Union St. in a report prepared by Uptown Saint John a few years ago.
It is believed part of the former synagogue building could be used as a performance space. Other buildings may work as studios, galleries, apartments or cafes.
Four of the buildings require substantial renovations before they can be used for anything, said Irving.
"We're really looking for rehabilitation — they're important buildings in their own right because they're all buildings that are comprised from one of the three very interesting important architectural eras in Saint John," he said.
"The great fire of 1877 destroyed all of our Georgian Greek Revival gothic buildings in the south end. So the north of Union actually is an excellent neighbourhood in that it has pre-1877 architectural types … We're really trying to ensure that those buildings are retained and kept as part of the community."
The real estate department issued a request for expressions of interest to develop the properties. Irving said they wanted someone with a good plan, development experience and the money to pull it off.
"Deep enough pockets that they have the experience to do the work," said Irving.
"And that the plan laid out seems to make sense … given the fact that we have a great resource in the Saint John Arts Centre, it's natural to create that cluster. It's a good vision laid out, and I think we can do it."
Talks with the unnamed developer continue.