New Brunswick

Bill would open up historic Saint John courthouse to other uses

The province has introduced a bill to repeal a nearly 200-year-old trust for the Sydney Street courthouse in Saint John so the historic building can be developed for other uses.

Province seeks to dissolve nearly 200-year-old trust that limits use of the building

The former County Courthouse building on Sydney Street has been vacant since 2013, when court services were consolidated at Peel Plaza. (CBC)

The province has introduced a bill to repeal a nearly 200-year-old trust for the Sydney Street courthouse in Saint John so the historic building can be developed for other uses.

A declaration of trust executed in 1826 by the mayor and council says the building can only be used for court proceedings or municipal offices.

Repealing the trust would mean developers could take over the building and repurpose it.  

The building has sat vacant since 2013, when the new Saint John Law Courts opened. It is still owned and maintained by the province but considered surplus property.

Housekeeping measure 

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Bill Fraser said the bill, which was introduced in the legislature this week, is basically a housekeeping measure to facilitate the sale of the building.

The province had asked the City of Saint John if it wants to take over the building, but council voted against it in February 2016, freeing the province to seek other buyers.

Fraser said he expects the legislation will pass during this session of the legislature.

Once that's complete, the province will issue a request for proposals on the building.

Historical group watching  

Saint John lawyer John Barry is spearheading a sub-committee of the New Brunswick Historical Society that wants to preserve the historical integrity of the courthouse. (Matthew Bingley/CBC )

Lawyer John Barry is spearheading a sub-committee of the New Brunswick Historical Society focused on saving the 191-year-old building.

He said the repeal is a positive move as it clears the way for the building to be taken over and have a future.

"But we're still monitoring that any future use preserves the historical integrity of the building, [while] not restricting any proposals that would appropriately use it," he said, adding that features such as the courthouse's spiral staircase would be critical to preserve.

In May, Saint John council agreed to pay for half of a feasibility study by the Saint John Theatre Company to find out whether the courthouse could house the performance company.

Fraser said he was not aware of any formal proposals coming forward to take over the courthouse at this point.

"Until we go out to RFP, we won't know exactly who's interested," he said.