Waterfront revitalization in Saint John picks up pace

·4 min read
Three separate, but related, projects are underway to help transform Saint John's uptown waterfront.  (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
Three separate, but related, projects are underway to help transform Saint John's uptown waterfront. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

Saint John's waterfront revitalization has begun

In fact, there's so much happening within a couple of blocks along Water Street that it's hard to keep it all straight. There are actually three separate, but related, projects on the go.

There's the city's redesign of the space adjacent to Market Square, the private Fundy Quay development of the former Coast Guard site, and the creation of a container village next to the cruise terminal.

Essentially, everything between Market Square and the Marco Polo Cruise Terminal will be transformed.

Right now, however, it's all a bit of a mess. But it's short-term pain for long-term gain, according to city officials who took reporters on a tour of the area on Tuesday.

City of Saint John
City of Saint John

Representing the restaurants of Market Square, Corey McGill, of McGills restaurant, was also there for the event. He said the project will be "transformational." For now though, restaurant owners are hurting, he said.

"Well, we've been living in the construction zone since early January with the front of the building closed off and it being quite inaccessible," he said. "So that has been a challenge."

But he looks forward to next year when the boardwalk area of the project will be complete.

'Catalytic project'

Brent McGovern, the city's commissioner of utilities and infrastructure, called the Fundy Quay development a "catalytic project" for the city that will help spur other growth.

The project is taking place on the former Coast Guard site, and the city agreed to get the land ready for the developers, Fundy Harbour Group. That prep work, which includes demolishing what was there and improving the seawall, has to be completed before the developer begins the first of five buildings planned for the site.

McGovern said the seawall work is ahead of schedule and about 75 per cent complete. The demolition work is also ahead of schedule.

Once the site is handed over to Fundy Harbour Group, work on the first building will begin. That building will be constructed on the south-east corner of the property — along Water Street at the corner closest to the Marco Polo Cruise Terminal, explained Jeff Cyr of Envision Saint John.

City of Saint John
City of Saint John

He said each of the five buildings will be constructed in separate phases and each is estimated to take about two years to complete.

The first building is a 16-storey mixed-use building. The ground floor will be commercial space, while the upper floors will be apartments.

Combined, the five buildings will add 677 residential units on a total floor area of 69,700 square metres. The complex will also include 400 internal parking spaces.

Booardwalk, patios already gone

So while the city prepares the site for that project to begin, it also started work in the Market Slip area that included Loyalist Plaza and the boardwalk area. The tender for that work is expected to be released within the next month. Construction of the public space is scheduled to continue into next year.

Demolition of that sight is well underway. The stage, the boardwalk, Loyalist Plaza, and all of the restaurant patios have been removed. The area will be reconstructed and permanent patios will be established for the restaurants. The area will also include an outdoor winter rink, a new stage and entertainment area, steps to the water, a vendors plaza, a rock pool fountain, and public seating areas.

Cyr said the bulk of that construction will happen this year. All three levels of government pledged a combined $24 million for it.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

The public portion also includes extending Harbour Passage along the waterfront in front of the Fundy Quay project. Roughly 12 to 15 metres around the private development will remain public space, said McGovern. The design for the area around the Fundy Quay buildings includes a public amphitheatre and lookout. Most of that work will be done in 2023 and beyond.

"So all of these projects combined really will transform the waterfront of the city of Saint John in a very, very short period of time — really a couple of years until the full public space component is up and running and accessible to the public," said Cyr.

McGovern said it will also make the site more accessible to the public than ever before. That, he said, was one of the things the public conveyed loud and clear during public consultation, he said.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

For the time being, Market Square restaurants do not have patios. By June, city officials promise to have temporary patios set up for an "interim patio season" until the fall. At that time, the pop-up patios will be removed and construction of the enclosed patios will begin.

McGill said the construction phase has been difficult for the Market Square restaurants.

He said the light at the end of the tunnel is the enclosed, four-season patios. He said they will be "transformational for all the businesses down there. So we'll take a little bit of a struggle this year for the excitement and what's going to come in the future."

He said the new patios will be a "game changer for all of us."

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