A building engineer says Saint John could tear down the historic jellybean houses, rebuild and still maintain the streetscape. (Google Street View)

A building engineer says Saint John's jellybean houses should be torn down and rebuilt if the city wants to maintain the streetscape on Wellington Row.

John Johnson said rebuilding the row houses from scratch would be far less expensive than restoration.

'Take a picture, tear them down and build something that replicates what was there.' —John Johnson

Two of the three houses, named for their colourful exteriors, are among a group of properties purchased by the city in 2007 and 2008 for possible development of the Peel Plaza development.

Plans for the project changed and the buildings have remained vacant.

"I don't think it's a good use of government money to spend more money on them. Take a picture, tear them down and build something in there that replicates what was there. That would be what I would do" said Johnson.

The distinctive wood features on the exterior of the buildings can be matched perfectly on new ones, he said.

"It's easy to replicate it so it looks exactly like it always used to 50 years ago, that's not a problem."

Meanwhile, municipal staff are preparing a report for council on the state of the buildings.

But any move in that direction is complicated by the fact that one of the jellybean houses is in private hands.

Saint John architect Bob Boyce said something needs to happen soon. He said the city should move quickly while there may still be time to refurbish.

"Put them out with a request for proposals. Provide some stipulations in that proposal, call that restoration of what's there or replication is a mandatory condition of the purchase," said Boyce.

But Boyce acknowledged that, in the end, it may not make financial sense to refurbish the three-story, mansard-roof buildings.

There is no word on when the staff report on the properties will be presented to council.