Saint John city hall won't move to old courthouse — even for $1 million
Heritage advocate offers gift, but historic building not on city hall's short list of potential new locations
Saint John has turned down an offer of $1 million to move city hall to the historic former county courthouse on King's Square.
The unsolicited offer came in a letter from developer Jim Bezanson, a heritage advocate.
It is important that a city hall reflect the values and aspirations of its citizens.- Jim Bezanson, developer
The 191-year-old sandstone courthouse sits on a prominent location in uptown Saint John. It is a national historic site.
"It is important that a city hall reflect the values and aspirations of its citizens," Bezanson wrote.
"This iconic nationally significant symbol for Saint John is ready for reuse. With an addition at the rear this would be a very appropriate new City Hall."
Although the city has been looking for a new place to house city hall, Mayor Don Darling showed no interest in Bezanson's idea.
"He's obviously very passionate about heritage properties," said Darling. "[But] it's not a building that's on our short list."
Spoken out before
In May 2016, Bezanson caused a stir when he appealed a decision by the city's heritage development board to approve plans by Irving Oil to build the company's new, 11-storey headquarters in a designated heritage zone, also on King's Square.
City council quickly pushed through changes to the municipality's heritage development bylaw to thwart the appeal.
Contacted Monday by CBC News, Bezanson said he did not wish to comment on his $1 million donation offer.
A 15-year-lease on the current City Hall, at 15 Market Square, expired in May 2016.
The city now has an option to terminate the lease with 12 months' written notice.
The municipality has enlisted the real estate brokerage firm Cushman and Wakefield Atlantic to search for a new location.
A decision is expected this fall.
The city is hoping to save $500,000 a year by leaving the space near the foot of King Street, where departments are sprawled over several floors.
While the former courthouse did not make the city's short list, there has been interest in the property.
In May, council agreed to pay half the cost of a $38,000 feasibility study on behalf of the Saint John Theatre Company which has outgrown its space on Princess Street.
Executive director Stephen Tobias said the study will look at the building's suitability as well as potential renovation costs to bring it up to code.
The results, he said, should be known within weeks.
"Is it a manageable budget? Is it too big, too scary?" said Tobias.
"We're anxious to get the information."