Red Rose tea building comes back to life

Owners of what used to be the Red Rose Tea building in Saint John held a grand reopening Friday after nearly two years of renovations. 92 year old Mildred O'Leary, who worked at Red Rose for 40 years, officially cut the ribbon.

The former tea factory has been shut down since 1988. Hundreds of people toured the building today, many of them former employees. Ron Wilkins worked there for 37 years.

This here is so beautiful," he said. "The contrast of the building, the old and new. You can see a lot of the old but the new fits right in so comfortable.

He calls the restoration a dream come true. Earlier efforts to renovate and the building had failed. Some said the building should be torn down to make way for a parking lot.

Mike McGraw, one of the three owners, was a proud tour guide. It's been nearly two years since McGraw and his partners took over the building.

Number one," he said when asked how he and his partners succeeded, "is the fact that we didn't know that we couldn't do it.

And he says their timing was right. Office space in Saint John is in demand.

The Theodore Estabrooks Tea Company put up the building in 1903. It was sold to Brooke Bond in 1932 and later to the Lipton Tea company. But it was always the home of Red Rose tea.

Now the main tenant is Exigen Group, a computer software development firm. Mike McGraw calls the big project a gamble.

We have a lot of our own money into this project and I don't mind saying that. We took a lot of risk. But a lot of times in life you don't get anywhere unless you take a risk, so we took the risk.

McGraw says it was expensive to restore the old building and it might have been cheaper to build a new one.But the result would be unsatisfying.

We've put in the air conditioning systems. We've put in every modern amenity you need to put in a building, but this brick wall and these wood windows that operate and open up and down and all that kind of stuff, you can't get in a new building. So I think the fact that it is a building that offers the character and somebody can walk in here and say wow, that certainly makes it worth every penny you put into an old building.

The city sees the restoration of the Red Rose Tea building as the beginning of a new look for the Saint John waterfront.