Looming heritage demolition in Saint John worries historian

The looming demotion of another historic property in Saint John's uptown has local historian Harold Wright worried.

Harold Wright fears parking lot will repace Armstrong and Bruce building that dates back to 1880s

Historic property in Saint John slated to be torn down 2:19

The looming demotion of another historic property in Saint John's Uptown has local historian Harold Wright worried.

The heritage Armstrong and Bruce Building on Prince William Street in Saint John is to be demolished in the next few months. (CBC)
The Armstrong and Bruce building was constructed 1879 after the Great Fire of 1877. But it's now empty, the owner is out of the province and hasn't responded to orders from the city to repair the building.

City inspectors say the exterior wall of the building is unstable and have ordered the building to be torn down at an estimated cost of $150,000, with no guarantee it can recover the money from the owner.

Wright fears the site will become another parking lot.

"Visitors are coming to Saint John, they're not coming to see empty parking lots," said Wright. "And they're certainly not coming to see brand new buildings. The heritage architecture that we have is the main drawing card."

Wright estimates the city is losing 10 significant buildings a year.

The uptown is full of empty parking lots.- Harold Wright, historian

"I call them bomb craters," said Wright. "Because if you look at an aerial map of Saint John today versus 60 years ago, we look like London after the bombing of [the Second World War]. The uptown is full of empty parking lots."

One of the recent casualties is the Lyric Theatre, which also dates back to the Great Fire. It ended up vacant in recent years and was a target of arson in 2012.

The Paramount Theatre and the T.S. Simms & Co. Limited paint brush factory are also now nothing but memories in the city.

Developer Keith Brideau is bullish on uptown Saint John. (CBC)
However, not all buildings in Saint John meet with a demolition crew.

Developer Keith Brideau has been building new life into old properties for six years and is showing no signs of slowing down.

His most recent project is transforming the Hayward and Warwick warehouse into 25 upscale apartments, which will be fully rented by Aug. 1.

"Uptown Saint John's come a long way," said Brideau. "I think one of the best ways we can keep these buildings is to invest more money into the uptown."

Brideau thinks the city's new municipal plan will help.

"It's going to focus more of the city's dollars on investing in the urban centre as well as the key priority neighbourhoods," he said.