Membertou commercial building going up just as N.S. shut down due to COVID-19

Just as COVID-19 was shutting down much of Nova Scotia, a large commercial building started going up in the Membertou First Nation.

Chief Terry Paul said he was anxious about construction starting on the 55,000-square-foot, three-storey office and retail building just as the pandemic hit, but his worry was over the possibility of bringing the virus into the community, not whether the economy might make the project a mistake.

"All the nervousness was on the COVID-19, the fear of that being spread," Paul said.

"Financially, we're taking a bath, for sure, like a lot of other places, but we've been on this for two years now and we have all the financing in place."

Paul said discussions with the contractor and the province put his mind at rest. He said workers are following public health restrictions and keeping the community safe.

The new building — to be called Membertou Place — is already 75 per cent leased and the chief doesn't anticipate any tenants will back out. Once it is occupied, the building will house more than 200 people, he said.

Tom Ayers/CBC

"Despite the times, we feel good about this one and our real estate," Paul said.

An expansion at the Hampton Inn is nearing completion and Membertou's other commercial properties — two strip malls on Churchill Drive, the Medical Arts building on Kings Road in Sydney and the HealthPark building next to the regional hospital — are leased out and there's still demand for more, he said.

"All our other space is full to capacity," said Paul. "We've been planning this for a couple of years, so we've finally come to the point where construction is underway."

Membertou is still working on a big-box commercial development on the other side of Highway 125 across from the reserve, but Paul said that one is moving slowly.

The new commercial building is expected to open early next year.

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