Nova Scotia

Province trying again to breathe life into iconic Lunenburg building

A building once central to Lunenburg's shipping past is getting repair work this year, with the hopes it can be occupied once again by the summer of 2019.

Pilings under Zwicker Building to be replaced this summer, new roof coming in the fall

The historic Zwicker & Co. building is one of Lunenburg's best-known waterfront properties. (Terry Drisdelle/Waterfront Development)

In a town as rich with resplendent historical buildings as Lunenburg, it's easy to walk past Zwicker's Wharf Warehouse without a second glance.

But the three-storey wooden structure is an important part of the waterfront, according to the Crown corporation responsible for it. That's why the corporation and the province are hoping to breathe new life into the space.

"The Lunenburg waterfront is a really important part of Lunenburg, and along the waterfront the Zwicker and Co. Building is certainly among the most prominent," said Jennifer Angel, president and CEO of the Waterfront Development Corporation, which owns the building and the wharf it sits on.

The warehouse, as well as the original wharf and adjacent buildings, which are now gone, were the headquarters for a pioneering transatlantic shipping company that once included a fleet of 12 brigs. The two-masted sailing vessels carried lumber to England in exchange for tea, dry goods and hardware.

The warehouse has been home to more modest ventures since those days of iron men and wooden ships, including the building's last tenant, Lunenburg Forge and Metal Works.

The building has been mostly empty since 2007, when the iron works moved out, although the nearby Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic has used the space for storage.

Attempts to lure new tenant

The province is hoping the $500,000 it recently spent on improvements to the wharf, as well as work this year to stabilize the building and install a new metal roof, will entice a business or businesses to once again occupy the building. 

That has been a long-standing dream of the province.

In 2011, the consulting company Colliers International completed a review of the Lunenburg waterfront. Its report concluded the Zwicker building should be "sold to the private sector … with a goal of having the facility redeveloped and marine reception facility operational for the 2012-13 summer season."

The historic Zwicker & Co. building has been mostly empty since 2007. (Terry Drisdelle/Waterfront Development)

There was a call for proposals, and lengthy negotiations followed, but in the end, no deal.

"Between that time and now, we have had lots of interest from the private sector," said Angel. "We're now responding to that interest."

Open to ideas

This past week, the Waterfront Development Corporation took the first step toward finding a new use for the building by issuing a public request for information. It's a way for the Crown corporation to decide what should be done with the site before issuing a formal call for proposals. 

"We are seeking submissions for innovative and creative adaptive re-use of the Zwicker building," according to the seven-page tender document.

"We haven't made a commitment to one particular business," said Angel. "We're creating a platform and we're inviting ideas."

Jennifer Angel is the president and CEO of the Waterfront Development Corporation. (CBC)

It's not an entirely clean slate though.

The Waterfront Development Corporation's 2018 development and management plan for the Lunenburg waterfront states one of its objectives is to "enhance Zwicker Wharf as destination for recreational boaters: docks, reception/information, tender to mooring field."

Another is to "redevelop Zwicker building for private sector pub/restaurant, office."

The corporation is reviewing responses to a tender call for a shipping container in "new or like new condition," which will house two bathrooms, a shower, laundry facilities and an office. That container will be installed next to the existing building.

The corporation has also been lobbying town council to change the zoning from marine industrial to commercial.

The Waterfront Development Corporation is trying to decide what to do with the Zwicker & Co. building. (Terry Drisdelle/Waterfront Development)

Angel insists the pub/restaurant idea is just that — an idea.

"I think what we're trying to do in terms of the conversations with the town, this being within a heritage conservation district … is how can we work with the town to enable business within the context of the heritage district," she said. "So we're really testing boundaries at this point.  

Year-round business

Angel admits some in the town want a year-round operation to occupy the building rather than a business that would close after tourist season.

Angel said that is "absolutely" the corporation's preference.  

But she added it was possible to have more than one business operate over more than one season.

"That it is only seasonal doesn't mean it isn't important and that if you use it in the summertime for one thing doesn't mean you can't use it in the wintertime for something else."

Angel said given the work that will proceed this summer and fall, it's unlikely the Zwicker building will be occupied this year, but the hope is it will be by the summer of 2019.