Nfld. & Labrador

City of St. John's sells downtown lane to developer planning hotel space, concert hall

How much was Hutchings Lane worth? About $73,000, according to St. John's Mayor Danny Breen.

Hutchings Lane goes for about $73K to Steele Hotels

John Steele is planning a big new downtown development, and has bought Hutchings Lane from the city for about $73,000 to include in that design. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

John Steele's ambitious new downtown project still needs municipal approval, but the City of St. John's has already sold him a piece of property that fits his plans.

Steele runs Steele Hotels, which has six properties across Newfoundland, including the Jag Hotel on Buchanan Street. The company now also owns Hutchings Lane, purchased from the city in a deal Mayor Danny Breen said was worth about $73,000.

That lane, which runs east-west between New Gower and George Streets, is just a part of Steele's larger plan to expand the Jag Hotel with a new, 80-room hotel space and concert hall.

The businessman has already purchased the Gaze Seed, Technip, and old John Howard Society buildings, all across Buchanan Street from the hotel.

We all know that we want development in the downtown.- Danny Breen

Breen told CBC the city sells property, from time to time, and in this instance, Steele Hotels needed to know if it could purchase the lane for the project, before it moves to an expensive design phase.

"They would need to know that they could square off that property and have the whole piece," he told CBC's On the Go.

The city approved the terms of reference for a land-use assessment report.

"When that's completed, then this whole project will come back to a public meeting," he said.

Public input

The sale of Hutchings Lane has its detractors.

On Twitter, a self-described group of "design-oriented townies promoting and critiquing architecture and planning" tweeted that Halifax's municipal council requires more public input before selling land, citing a similar project by the same proponent: Steele Hotels.

Steele wants to replicate the Jag Hotel in Halifax.

"Why is our council rolling over for a project that hasn't seen the light of day?" asked the Narrows Collective.

Breen said the city has approved the terms of reference for a land-use assessment report, and after that, there will be an opportunity for public input.

"When that's completed, then this whole project will come back to a public meeting," he said.

The mayor disagreed with the Narrows Collective's implication that the City of St. John's was too quick to sell the land, and noted the city had no use or plans for the lane itself.

"We all know that we want development in the downtown. We all need to make sure that we're encouraging development, especially a significant one like this," he said.

"This could really become an anchor for the downtown, particularly in the west end of the city."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go

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