Dear St. John's, Happy Heritage Day …Love, Fortis!


Historic buildings at 151 to 167 Water Street, St. John's, Newfoundland headed for demolition. Photo by Greg Locke © 2010

February 15 was Heritage Day in Newfoundland and Labrador and the Newfoundland Historic Trust has released its Buildings at Risk report (pdf). Researched and produced by NHT director Deborah O'Reilly the document lists and gives the history of a number of historic buildings in the province that are at risk of being lost due to neglect or from development pressures.

Timely in that one of those listed is 151 to 167 Water Street in St. John's. This block of commercial buildings in the city's heritage area are currently owned by Fortis Properties who have submitted a development proposal that would see these buildings demolished and replaced by a 15 story glass office tower. (artists drawing at right) in complete contravention of the St. John's heritage area and development regulations.They also plan to re-clad their existing 12 story building in matching glass panels. As the existing building was built before the current development plan they can do pretty well anything they want with it except add more height.

These buildings were once a part of an unbroken block of architecturally significant commercial properties that ran from Prescott Street to Baird's Cove and marked the beginning of the St. John's retail district. The Royal Stores dominated the corner of Prescott and Water from the turn of the century to 1968 when it was demolished by Lundrigan's Ltd to build the 12 story building (known then as the Royal Trust Building) that now exists on the site (seen in top photo) and currently owned by Fortis.

Ms. O'Reilly's document is well worth the read offering a great insight to the history of Water Street, the architecture and the businesses that operated along Water Street and the harbour front.

At St. John's City Hall, a number of elected councillors, including the mayor and senior city staff  do not value this history and heritage that makes St. John's the unique place that it is nor respect the established development regulations that were designed to protect the city historic properties and still allow for proper commercial development and growth. They are planning on voting for the Fortis project that would destroy this block of historic buildings and replace it with a Class A office tower and enclosed shopping mall. …”Class A” means REALLY expensive rent.

For more information on the St. John's heritage area, historic St. John's and architecture and the current battle between Fortis, their cohorts at City Hall and the citizens of St. John's over the preservation and development in the downtown here are a few links.

Newfoundland Historic Trust
Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador
St. John's City Councillors and Mayor
HAPPY CITY – Smart Growth in Downtown St. John's
Fortis Properties
City of St. John's Planning and Development

City views indicating location of proposed Fortis project. ...here here and here

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 19:23 #

    great post!

  2. Anonymous September 21, 2010 at 09:31 #

    Too often bloggers take the time to write quality detailed posts like this and people fly back, absorb, and move on.I want to thank you for sharing this in depth knowledge with us. Hope you can keep up your blog and not fall into the 80% who eventually abandon their blog.
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  3. Anonymous May 3, 2010 at 06:48 #

    I’m impressed, you know what you’re talking about
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  4. Anonymous February 25, 2010 at 03:36 #

    Well said Greg, I think a lot of people aren't getting the economic impact here, especially as it pertains to the independent local retailers.
    P.S. Debbie's last name is spelled “O'Rielly.” Don't worry, she's used to it. 🙂