Designs show a 12-storey building for former Woolworth's site in Saint John

·3 min read
Developer Percy Wilbur envisions a 12- or 14-storey building on the site of the old Woolworth's building.  (City of Saint John/PAC - image credit)
Developer Percy Wilbur envisions a 12- or 14-storey building on the site of the old Woolworth's building. (City of Saint John/PAC - image credit)

Saint Johners got their first glimpse on Monday of what the former Woolworth's site could ultimately look like.

Conceptual drawings circulated on social media showing design plans for the site at the corner of King and Charlotte streets.

Percy Wilbur, the developer behind the plans for the historic uptown corner, said the designs are "really rough renderings" and could change as the project makes its way through the approval process.

On Tuesday night, developers will ask the city's planning advisory committee for a zoning amendment and variance. Then it's on to city council for approval.

Wilbur said they will ask for permission to build an additional 13 metres over the limit established by the city's building codes.

With such an important and expensive project, Wilbur said, they need the additional height to make the project economically feasible.

City of Saint John/PAC
City of Saint John/PAC

The site hasn't been home to Woolworth's for almost 30 years, and despite promises by other owners to do something with the old department store building, it sat empty in recent years before it was demolished last month by Wilbur's group.

A report to the planning committee says the redevelopment of the corner, which faces King's Square and is next to the City Market, has come with challenges that were difficult to overcome.

"The developer has moved forward with the demolition of this vacant building and is seeking to transform this neglected property into a community asset."

Wilbur said the property is likely among the most expensive real estate in Saint John, if not the province, and then there are the expense and challenges in taking down the old buildings and remediation of the site.

"That's probably why it hasn't been successful and there's been so many false starts over the last 20 years," he said on Monday.

With so many accommodations already made in the design, and a widespread desire to see a worthy project erected on the site, Wilbur said he's optimistic the city will approve the variances.

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

He said the developers have "gone above and beyond" when it comes to accommodating the surroundings. For example, they've increased setbacks "to give it a more plaza-like atmosphere along Charlotte Street." They've also increased the space between the project and the City Market for the same reason.

"That's all square footage that we're out. And so square-footage has to be added somewhere," he said. "So we've got to go up instead of out."

Wilbur said "the first three floors will be a red brick and sandstone or sandstone and limestone appearance, to kind of blend in with the surrounding buildings on King Street and in particular to blend in with and complement the City Market."

There will be two or three floors of underground parking, and street-level retail space. Wilbur said there will "hopefully" be two floors of office/commercial space, topped with nine to 11 floors of residential space, most with "spectacular views" of the waterfront.

City of Saint John/PAC
City of Saint John/PAC

He said the question mark is the commercial space.

"We're working with organizations to occupy that space, but at this time, we don't have any rock-solid tenants. And until we do, we're not going to start construction," he said.

"Everything is dependent upon selling the commercial space. The residential space is really hot right now."

He said they have a long list of potential residential tenants who are eager to reserve a spot and willing to put down a deposit on a building that hasn't even been completely designed yet.

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