Saint John studies options for future of city hall

Saint John city manager Pat Woods says he will outline options for the future of city hall to council within weeks.

City manager Pat Woods says options include building, buying, leasing new space or staying put

Saint John city manager Pat Woods says he will come back to council within weeks and outline options for the future of city hall.

Those options include remaining in the existing leased space that Saint John City Hall has occupied for the past 40 years, buying, building or leasing somewhere else.

Some councillors say it's time the city stopped paying rent.

Coun. John MacKenzie says the city pays $1.4 million in rent annually at the current city hall building.

He would like to see municipal offices set up in new city-owned spaces when the current lease expires in 2016. MacKenzie said the city could also purchase a location with the rent money it now pays.

"When you're talking the kind of money we're talking for one year, a one year extension is worth $1.4 million or $ 1.7 million, it's significant," he said.

MacKenzie suggests renovating space for offices — possibly in the City Market Tower, the former Synagogue building or another space — as long as it is city owned.

"Our people will remain uptown in other buildings that we own," he said.

McAlary recommends further study

Woods says city staff are talking to potential developers, inquiring about heritage designations on a number of other properties, and keeping the door open in case a new deal with the current landlord proves the best option.

"We've also met to talk about what potential sites would serve the purpose uptown because really there's either build, buy or lease are the three options," he said.

Coun. Shirley McAlary is not convinced either way. She says a committee should be struck to examine the options.

"I'd like somebody to take the leadership on this … maybe get a committee of council [and] staff," said McAlary.

"Then we can put something together. Because there's a lot of issues at play on this moving city hall."

Woods says he'll come back to council with options and possibly a recommendation later in the month.

Meanwhile, Saint John's high rate of corporate office vacancy is raising concern.

The city has the highest office vacancy rate in the Atlantic Region. It is almost twice as high as Charlottetown, which has the second-highest vacancy rate.

Vacating the current city hall would likely drive that figure higher in Saint John.