Should St. John's demolish two heritage buildings this month?

Salvation Army buildings on Springdale Street

Two unique, old buildings in downtown St. John's are being considered for demolition, and the owners want it to happen this month.

The properties - 18 and 20 Springdale Street [Map] - are owned by the Salvation Army and are in disrepair. For over one hundred years, these buildings have been used to serve and support disadvantaged and distraught folks in the area by providing education, shelter, health services, and many other basic needs that most of us take for granted but are necessary for a functional life.

The Salvation Army would now like to dramatically increase their presence and level of service at this location by building a massive new facility to house it all. It's an incredible project with huge potential to help hundreds of people, making our city a better place for everyone.

The City's of St. John's Heritage Advisory Committee (which I co-chair) is required to weigh in on a demolition permit application within 90 days of receiving it. The Salvation Army has $250,000 of federal government funding slated for the demolition that will disappear if not earmarked by March 31. The Army's permit application was submitted on February 4th, leaving the Committee with about 56 days (less than two thirds the usual period) to follow its process.

So far the Committee has inspected the buildings and found them to be structurally sound and of distinct heritage value. We would like the buildings to be preserved in some way. The Salvation Army doesn't have a concept design for its new building, but feels it needs to demolish the buildings to proceed.

We're not serving any of these interests by demolishing a building without a plan.

So here we are. An application to demolish buildings of distinct value in terms of design and heritage is being rushed through City Hall. If the Heritage Advisory Committee recommends saving the buildings, Council can ignore that and approve the demolition.

The project being proposed for the location is an extremely worthy and exciting one. Many may feel that rejecting demolition would be akin to standing in the way. The Heritage Committee is made up of experts who believe there is great potential for the buildings to be incorporated into a new facility, preserving our built heritage by incorporating it with modern design. Demolishing without a plan could be a very regrettable mistake.

Here's the point: pretty well every councillor will agree they value heritage, development, and above all community organizations like the Salvation Army. We're not serving any of these interests by demolishing a building without a plan.

Our point is that the reason we preserve built heritage is to ensure we have a City that is uniquely ours, and the way to do this is to develop what we already have that's of value. And what better way to build on our heritage than by collaborating with this fine organization that gives so much?

I'm calling on the Federal government to carry over into next year the funds promised to the Salvation Army. This will give us time to join with the Army as they brainstorm a forward-looking, modern facility that incorporates their own past.

Most importantly, I'm calling on my fellow councillors to accept the Heritage Advisory Committee's recommendation of compromise, and work with the Salvation Army to build an iconic structure in our historic downtown.

Learn more about the Salvation Army in Newfoundland, including its headquarters on Springdale Street, opened in 1908.

Written by Dave Lane at 08:49

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