Nfld. & Labrador

Developer to turn St. John's harbourfront parking lot to office, retail space

An outdoor parking lot in downtown St. John's will be turned into an office and retail building, after council approved the design for a new development.

Ground-level retail space to put emphasis on Harbour Drive, says Robert Di Giorgio of Alre Properties

This is an artist's rendering of the planned building, as seen from Harbour Drive, looking west. (Alre Properties)

An outdoor parking lot in the downtown St. John's area will be turned into an office and retail building, after council approved the design for a new development.

The space at 331 Water St. — next to the Murray Premises, across the street from the Keg — is being developed by Montreal-based Alre Properties.

"I see an opportunity," said Robert Di Giorgio, president of Alre. "What a wonderful piece of real estate that's been underdeveloped for all these years."

Alre is the company behind the new $25-million outdoor shopping centre being built near Octagon Pond in Paradise.

This is a rendering of the view of the building front on Water Street. (Alre Properties)

The new 75,000-square-foot building planned for downtown comes with a $30-million price tag.

While that's a hefty investment, Di Giorgio said he's not discouraged by the number of vacant buildings and office spaces in the downtown area.

"We're in the process of finalizing an agreement with a lead tenant for the building. I'm not gonna comment on other buildings and their vacancy position in St. John's; it's not for me to do so," he said.

When considering the nature of an oil-reliant economy, Di Giorgio acknowledged there will be ups and downs, but slumps are temporary.

"That's not gonna last forever," he told CBC's On The Go on Monday. A plan like this is a long-term investment, he added.

'We want it to integrate'

City council reviewed the company's original proposal, and came back with suggestions to incorporate local art and bicyclists into its plans — requirements Di Giorgio said will "absolutely" be reworked into the blueprints.

"Working with the city, we are going to find places on the outside of the building for bicycle racks, but part of the underground garage will have a bicycle component, where our tenant employees will be able to safely store their bicycles while they're at work."

The company will use masonry in its architecture, said Di Giorgio, to fit in better with the heritage buildings around the downtown.

Alre Properties plans to build on the land highlighted in blue. (St. John's city council)

New developments and proposals in the downtown area in recent years have proven controversial, with people saying companies are compromising the historic appeal of the area, and blocking the view.

That's backlash Di Giorgio hopes to avoid.

"As we did with Paradise, it's important for our building not to stick out. We want it to integrate into the current landscape.… It's basically the Water Street heritage district," he said, adding the ground floor of the building will incorporate masonry in its retail spaces, with the modern office architecture on the second and third floors.

Di Giorgio said one point of emphasis in this development will be to encourage more retail and foot traffic on Harbour Drive.

This is another view of the new building proposal, looking up Job's Cove from Harbour Drive. (Alre Properties)

"Many of the buildings have turned their back to Harbour Drive, so our building treats the harbour as an important facade of the building and looks to set a new development standard along the harbour," he said.

"No longer is it going to be only an entry into the parking garages. We're actually going to put in a design that will help pedestrians enjoy the harbour front."

If things go according to plan, Di Giorgio said, the new building on Water Street will be under construction next month.

"We're on a very aggressive timeline. We will break ground in July, hopefully the first half of this coming July, and if all goes well — and Newfoundland weather permits — we should be up and operational 18 months later."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go

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