'Significant' contamination could limit uses for former sugar refinery site

The City of Saint John is hoping to interest developers in a waterfront property, but it comes with some baggage.

The seven-acre, former Lantic Sugar site on the city's harbourfront may require a costly environmental cleanup.

The property is included on a list of "priority" plots of municipally owned land to be aggressively marketed to developers as part off Saint John's newly revealed growth plan to increase the population and build the economy.

And it does have some attractions.

It looks out on the Bay of Fundy and Partridge Island and fronts partly on Tin Can Beach.

Close to urban core

It's also situated a short walk from the city's uptown office towers.

"It's a really great site in that it's really close to the urban core," says Morgan Lanigan, a self-identified urbanist and president of Uptown Saint John.

Lanigan says he'd like to see central peninsula streets like Prince William and Charlotte extended through the former refinery property all the way to the water's edge, a step he believes would act to pull the area into the urban core.

"If you can make a really good commercial, mixed-use neighbourhood that has the vitality, has the interest, that is new construction, that is affordable, these are criteria that people are looking for," said Lanigan.

Lantic Sugar opened a refinery on the site in 1915 and operated it until 2000, when the company pulled up stakes leaving 180 people unemployed.

The building was later demolished but decades of industrial waste remains underground.

The harbourfront is part of Coun. Gerry Lowe's ward.

Lowe is a big fan of the area and grew up a few hundred feet away on Broad Street.

'It's got problems'

But he suspects it would cost too much today to clean up the site to residential standards.

"It's got problems, definitely with the environment," said Lowe.

Lowe says cleanup requirements are not as strict if the property is used for commercial rather than residential uses.

He says by marketing the plot the city hopes to generate new ideas.

"If we don't look at it, if we don't throw it in the mix, nothing happens, nothing gets done."

Land swap idea

Coun. Donna Reardon suggests the city approach the Port of Saint John about a land swap.

She says the port has shown interest in the past in the sugar refinery property while Long Wharf further to the north would make a more attractive residential area considerably closer to the uptown.

"It might be a better placement for a neighbourhood," said Reardon. "I think it would be interesting to talk to the port and find out what direction they're going in and would any of that align with what we're looking to do."​

It's a discussion port president Jim Quinn is willing to have, but he believes "significant" contamination at the former refinery site make it unlikely his organization would construct a building there if it did own the property.

"We're always open for discussions," said Quinn. "We would certainly sit down and have a talk about it."