Tenders for former Jellybean Houses site to be issued within weeks

Saint John Non-Profit Housing will issue tenders to architects within the next couple of weeks for a 40-unit building at the site of the former so-called Jellybean Houses, which were torn down over the weekend.

People who opposed the demolition of the three historic colourful buildings will also be invited to provide input on the design of the new mixed-income apartment complex that will cost between $3.5 million and $5.5 million, said president Lisa Keenan.

"It's going to be an addition to uptown Saint John, it's going to look good, it's going to fit in well with the neighbourhood and hopefully, hopefully we can incorporate some of the history of the buildings into the new project," she said.

Some items were salvaged from buildings before the controversial demolition, including stained-glass windows, marble fireplaces, some crown moulding and "a few parts" from the exteriors, said Keenan.

"That's the best we could do at the time."

Protesters who wanted the city-owned buildings located on Wellington Row to be saved from the wrecking ball stood and watched in horror as they came down early Saturday morning.

Keenan said Monday the non-profit organization had little choice.

"We had tens of thousands of dollars wrapped up in the project and we had to go forward," she said.

The buildings, which pre-dated the Great Fire of 1877 and were considered by many to be historically significant, "were suffering from some mould and weren't conducive to a project," said Keenan.

The group had commissioned a study trying to incorporate the facades into a new building, but members "didn't think it looked very appropriate and it would have cost a lot of money," she said.

"We're not jumping up and down with joy that the buildings came down," stressed Keenan.

"But I would like to say that the passion people have for heritage and history … is just about the same passion we have for equal opportunity housing."

Max Kotlowski, owner of the Reversing Falls Restaurant, said he offered to buy the buildings for $100,000 on Friday night after finding out they were going to be demolished Saturday.

"I would [have restored] the building and offer it as a tourist asset. That's what it was, a tourism asset."

Property developer Andreas Holmes had also offered a week prior to preserve the buildings, and a community petition to spare the buildings gathered 1,000 signatures.

Liability concerns

Keenan said the demolition, approved in February, was planned for early Saturday morning because Saint John Non-Profit Housing, which had an option on the property, was concerned about liability.

Some people had started painting the facade, while others were trying to get inside and the group was worried someone was going to get hurt, she said.

Keenan expects the site to be cleaned up within a week or two and the new building to be completed within 18 months.

"We have to look to the future," she said, describing the project as a "great opportunity."

It will provide employment, a tax base for the city and people are going to be happy living there, said Keenan.