Thursday, July 17, 2008

Historic waterfront building set for refurbishment

"Hopefully, it will generate more traffic down there and it will become an anchor of the waterfront," -- Mayor Herb Pond, expressing hope that a revitalization plan for the old CN station on the waterfront will make for attractive addition to the waterfront scene.

The City couldn't afford the job, tight financial times having put any reclamation project of the old Waterfront train station well down and out of reach on their to do list.

So, when a local investor stepped in, the city apparently found the numbers to their liking and have gone forward with a plan to turn over the waterfront heritage building to FER Building Solutions who have plans to renovate the old CN station to its previous charms.

The City will give FER title to the building for fifty years, at which point the city has the option if desired to repurchase the building. For the next fifty years or so however, the building once sold will belong to FER, who have plans to open a bistro on the main floor and provide office space, including their own offices on the upper floor.

The transfer price listed as thirty thousand dollars on the land and building purchase, not including whatever work must be down by FER to return it to proper standards and such.

The purchase process must still go in front of a public hearing, which will be heard later this summer.

As part of the process the City advertised their intentions in the Daily News on Wednesday with a page twelve notice of provision of Assistance as per the Community Charter Section 24.

The Daily News had further background as the front page story in Wednesday's paper.

Historic Building with roots back to Rupert's dawn, will be restored to its former glory
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Pages 1 and 2

One of Prince Rupert's oldest heritage buildings will finally be getting the restoration it deserves once the city has officially sold it this summer.

Following a process that began nearly two years ago, FER Building Solutions is planning to revitalize the old CN building on the waterfront following its purchase of the building from the City of Prince Rupert.

The company is a group made up of five architects and engineers who do restorations of buildings and properties across the globe, from Venice and Rome, Italy to the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Prince Rupert resident Frank Visentine is one of the five shareholders in FER, and said that he cannot currently divulge too much information about the property or the sale of it.

However, he did confirm that the sale was nearing completion, and outlined what the group had in mind for the property after restoration was complete.

"Our intention is to do a total restoration to the building to Heritage Canada standards and bring the building back to it's original state when it was first built," said Visentine. "We intend to put a bistro downstairs, with commercial office space upstairs."

The building has a long history, with the design drawings dating back to 1906 and construction being completed in 1922. It was originally designed for city-founder Charles Hays.

More recently, the Prince Rupert Port Authority looked at housing their offices in the building, but discovered the cost of seismic upgrades and other restoration was too high.

FER Building Solutions faces a lengthy process for restoring the building, because both the interior and exterior have, for the most part, fallen into a state of disrepair.

The company will also have to keep Heritage Canada building requirements in mind while bringing the building up to specification to meet current safety codes and regulations.

"We'll be putting all the canopies back in where they were when it was originally built, with one along the whole length of the building on the rail side and two on the waterfront side."

"It's going to be quite detailed and involved," said Visentine.

"It could take up to a year-and-a-half, possibly two years from the moment we start the restoration process."

Mayor Herb Pond said the city is excited about having the company purchase the building and have it restored to its original glory, something the city has always dreamed of pursuing but never had the finances to do.

The sale of the property will be outright, with a stipulation that the City of Prince Rupert has the option of reacquiring the building from FER after 50 years.

"Hopefully, it will generate more traffic down there and it will become an anchor of the waterfront," said Pond. "It's an incredible spot, and the building is really significant in Rupert's history, being built around the coming of the railroad.

"It would be a long time before the city would be able to afford its restoration, and I'm not sure we could justify the costs that we'd have to go through to renovate that building. Whereas the private sector is in a position to do something pretty special to that building I think.

"It's a big job, but an entrepreneur can find some creative ways to restore it and bring it up to code."

Visentine also said he has heard there is another group currently looking at purchasing waterfront property in the same area, although he wouldn't expand on what that other developments might comprise.

"When my partners first saw the building, they were very intrigued, because we do a lot of restoration work in places like Venice, refinishing villas and buildings along the Grand Canal," said Visentine.

"We have offices in London and Rome, but this could eventually be our Canadian affiliate. The upstairs offices will be partly for us, but we're in discussions with some other tenants. For the bistro, we're in talks with a couple of groups, one being local and the other being a chain."

The final steps in the sale of the property will be a public hearing, followed by a final approval from city council, both of which should be announced in the immediate future.

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