The New Brunswick government is now free to put the historic Sydney Street courthouse up for sale after Saint John council rejected the possibility of acquiring the building.

The courthouse, which was completed in 1829, has been vacant since the opening of Peel Plaza more than two years ago. It has received national, provincial and municipal heritage designations.

The city had the chance to take over ownership of the building, but rejected that in a vote at council.

Sarah Bustard, a communications official with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, outlined the likely next step in an email response to CBC News.

"As the municipality was not interested, the building and property may now be offered for sale by public tender at market value," said Bustard.

Coun. Susan Fullerton was the only city politician to vote against a motion to advise the province the municipality has "no interest" in acquiring the courthouse.

"I feel we are poised to make a major mistake," Fullerton told her fellow councillors.

"Sometimes in Saint John we don't think we have a lot. But one of the things we have a lot of, and that makes us value them less, are our historic buildings. And this is one of our most historic buildings."

'I find it very upsetting'

It is a sentiment echoed by lawyer John Barry, a former head of the Saint John Law Society, whose father and grandfather sat as judges in the courthouse. 


Saint John Coun. John MacKenzie argued in favour of the motion to decline the province's offer.. (CBC)

"I find it very upsetting that the city wouldn't wish to preserve such an essential part of our history," said Barry.

"It has been the principal major courthouse in New Brunswick for almost 200 years."

Setting aside it's legal history, Barry says the building is significant architecturally.

"I must say that I'm shocked that this council would not seize the opportunity to take title to it and then find opportunities for it," said Barry.

In James Macnutt's coffee table book Building for Justice the Charlottetown, P.E.I., author devotes several pages to the sandstone faced building, describing it as a "fine example of late Georgian neoclassical architecture."

'We've got enough on our plate'

Saint John Coun. John MacKenzie argued in favour of the motion to decline the province's offer.

Pointing to the long, vacant former Synagogue building on Carlton Street, MacKenzie said the city simply cannot afford the expense of even maintaining the courthouse.

'I think it will go to a developer pretty quickly.' Coun. John MacKenzie

"We don't have any interest in investing money in any buildings that we don't have to," said MacKenzie.

"We've got enough on our plate right now that we own."

MacKenzie said he believes someone in the private sector will find a use for the building. 

"It's one of the oldest buildings in the city, it's got a lot of character," said MacKenzie.

"Once the province puts it on the market I think it will go to a developer pretty quickly."

According to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, the provincial government is continuing to maintain and heat the former courthouse building.