Irving Oil Ltd.'s parent company, Fort Reliance, has cancelled a plan to build its new world headquarters at Saint John's Long Wharf.

Fort Reliance blamed the economic downturn for the decision.

"All opportunities have certain windows and during the time it has taken for us to get from our starting point to today the economic landscape has changed and the window on this project has unfortunately closed," said Blaine Higgs, a Fort Reliance official, in a statement Tuesday.

Irving Oil signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saint John Port Authority in June 2008 on a deal to construct a $30-million building in the Long Wharf area along the shore.

Planning for the headquarters had been going on for months. Changes to city zoning requirements to make room for the headquarters and surrounding green space were finalized in October.

Saint John Mayor Ivan Court said the decision to halt plans on the new headquarters shows "no community is immune" from the global economic downturn.

"The company has assured us that today Saint John will remain its headquarters," Court said in a media statement.

Project met criticism

Last fall, Irving Oil began driving more than 300 steel beams into the wharf to prepare the site for the waterfront corporate headquarters.

In November 2009, New Democratic Party MP Yvon Godin called on the family-owned company to halt construction until the project received full federal approval. 

The International Longshoremen's Association was also a vocal opponent of the development,  arguing that there would be a lack of locations to increase port business, such as moorage for cruise ships.

Stephen Campbell, chairman of the Saint John Port Authority, said they were extremely disappointed with the decision to cancel the plan. The decision was made despite the port authority's best efforts and due to factors outside its control, Campbell said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Although this announcement is a significant setback, it will not diminish our resolve in transforming the port to meet the competitive challenges of today's marketplace."

It's not known when or if  the site will be returned to its previous condition.

This is the second major project that Irving Oil has halted in the city in the last year.

In July, Irving Oil and BP stopped plans to build a second oil refinery just outside of Saint John.

Irving Oil had partnered with BP to build the $8-billion project, which is known as Eider Rock, and construction was supposed to start in 2011. The refinery project was to create 5,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs.