New Brunswick

Owners explain 'heartbreak' of listing Saint John's oldest church for sale

A few months after successfully petitioning to remove the heritage designation from the oldest church in Saint John, Carla Humphrey said she and her business partners have been forced to put the Old Saint George Restaurant - formerly St. George's Church - up for sale.

Councillor says lifting heritage designation from 1821 west side property was a mistake

The St. George's church building on the west side of Saint John is up for sale for the second time in 18 months. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

A few months after successfully petitioning to remove the heritage designation from the oldest church in Saint John, Carla Humphrey said she and her business partners have been forced to put the Old Saint George Restaurant up for sale.

A "huge problem" with the family partnership is behind the decision, Humphrey said.

The former St. George's Church, which encompasses three city lots and has functioned as a restaurant and wedding chapel since last June, was purchased in June 2015 by Humphrey, her husband David McCashion, and her parents, Carl and Joyce Humphrey, all of whom are listed as owners of the church built in 1821.

The final services were held in the building in June 2015. Humphrey's business partnership purchased it the same month for $118,500.

As of November 2016, it was listed for sale at $225,000.

"We didn't plan this," said Humphrey. "It was an overnight thing. There's a massive issue between us on how to move forward as a partnership. I'm heartbroken."

Timing questioned

Coun. Donna Reardon, who who sits on the city's heritage board, believes the heritage designation never should have been lifted. Saint John's heritage bylaws, while they permit property owners to make improvements and changes, contain "specific guidelines on how the work needs to be done" that can deter some potential buyers, said Reardon.  

She questions the timing of the request to remove the designation so soon before offering the building for sale.

"Was it the intent all along?" Reardon asked. "To remove the heritage designation in the hope that would increase its value, so that they could then put it on the market? I don't know."

Reardon said the owners, when they made the request to council in August, seemed to misunderstand what was and was not permitted under the heritage designation.

"They had a lot of their information wrong about the impact of the heritage designation, and what it meant for them," Reardon said.

She said the heritage board attempted to explain the bylaws, but the owners "brought all those same concerns again to council."

'Thousands' invested in the property

Owner Carla Humphrey said she's aware of skepticism regarding the higher price.

"We put thousands and thousands of dollars into this place," said Humphrey, describing upgrades including installing a commercial kitchen, pizza oven and deep fryer, and sprinkler system. All of the kitchen equipment would be included in the sale, she said.

Reardon disagrees with that argument.

"Just because you put a certain number of dollars into your home doesn't mean you're going to recoup those dollars when you put it up for sale," she said.

"I think the big selling point now from the owner's perspective is that it does not have a heritage designation."

'Didn't go too well'

Whatever happens with the sale, Humphrey said the Old St. George Restaurant will continue to operate for the foreseeable future.

We borrow our heritage buildings for a certain amount of time, and then we pass it along to the next generation. Once you take them down, that's the end of that.- Donna Reardon , Common Councilor 

"One way or the other, we're going to keep on going," she said. "If it sells, great. If it doesn't, we'll struggle along and keep it running."

The problem, she said, is the size of the building versus the money the restaurant and wedding chapel bring in.

"We have to generate some sort of business in this great big place to continue to run it," said Humphrey. "We have to heat it, light it and insure it and keep up with renovations. With it just doing what it's doing now, it's not making enough."

"Unfortunately," said she, "it didn't go too well."

Heritage buildings 'on loan'

The old St. George's church building on the west side of Saint John has been used as a restaurant since June 2015. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)
Reardon said it "sends the wrong message to Saint John that a building with centuries of history "could now absolutely be knocked down."

"This building is part of Saint John's heritage. It's our history," said Reardon.

"We borrow our heritage buildings for a certain amount of time, and then we pass it along to the next generation. Once you take them down, that's the end of that."

The Royal LePage listing describes the old St. George's Church as a "landmark," which, in addition to its spacious  main floor, bell tower, balcony and "beautiful" church sanctuary, has a number of "additional large rooms that are perfect for events or rental space to community groups."

with files from Information Morning Saint John

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