Desirable Destinations

 

                              

‘Waterfront development has certainly hit a stride,' says Michael Baldwin, general manager of Saint John Waterfront Development. ‘The physical changes that have (already) taken place have certainly increased the vibrancy of the area and we're going to continue the momentum. We're opening up areas for exploration to both tourists and local residents.'

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Get ready for the year of "destinations" along the waterfront, says the new general manager of the Saint John Waterfront Development.

In addition to the newly constructed St. Patrick's Park at the south end of Water Street, where the Three Sisters lamp is located, Saint Andrew's Park at the foot of King Street will be opened in 2009, complete with trees, seating and lighting, as well as the relocated Barbour's General Store and John Hooper's sculpture People Waiting, Michael Baldwin said.

Work on phase one of Pugsley Park at the foot of Princess Street, scheduled for the spring, will also provide pedestrians with a park setting and opportunity to "feel the harbour," he said. It's expected to include a new iconic feature, possibly a clock tower, to help cruise ship passengers find their way back to the ship on time.

The whole area, dubbed the Bay of Fundy Cruise Welcome Centre, "will bring the experience of Water Street alive" for local residents and tourists alike, Baldwin said.

Continuing down Water Street along Harbour Passage, the Market Square boardwalk, which Baldwin describes as the "original Harbour Passage element" will also be refurbished and enhanced next summer.

"This will allow people to further enjoy the views from Market Square, along the boardwalk to the Cranberry Trail (Harbour Passage) heading toward the skateboard park and Long Wharf,"he said.

And a journey west will culminate in the new Split Rock Lookout at Reversing Falls on the old bridge abutments on the eastern side of the river, which will provide fantastic views of the falls, as well as the geo-marine features in the area. "Waterfront development has certainly hit a stride," said Baldwin, a Saint John native who recently moved back from Fredericton to replace Ross Jefferson, who assumed management of the Benefits Blueprint program.

"The physical changes that have (already) taken place have certainly increased the vibrancy of the area and we're going to continue the momentum. We're opening up areas for exploration to both tourists and local residents, blending new businesses with existing heritage buildings. It's a real rejuvenation. It's exciting. It's great for Saint John, the Saint John area, and the province."

Steve Carson, CEO of Enterprise Saint John, agrees.

With some of the larger projects being discussed, the next few years could be even more transformational than the last few have been, he said.

Irving Oil Ltd.'s proposal to build its $30-million corporation headquarters on Long Wharf, for example, is "a huge highlight." It has the potential to be a catalyst that will expedite other development, Carson said.

Although plans for the Coast Guard site are still in the land-acquisition stage, what was initially expected to be a five to 10-year development could "become that much more real, more quickly" if the Long Wharf project gets finalized, he suggested.

Common council recently approved the sale of the former Lantic Sugar site to Irving Oil, marking the first step of a real estate deal that would see Irving Oil hand over the Lantic site to the Saint John Port Authority in return for a 99-year lease on Long Wharf, where the company would build its headquarters. Transport Canada must now approve the swap.

The proposed development would also enhance public access to the city's waterfront via Harbour Passage with the addition of new walking trails and park space. Irving Oil has also pledged to build a world-class cruise welcome centre and contribute to the redevelopment of the Fort La Tour National Historic site.

If the project goes ahead, about 1,000 people will be working on the waterfront, which will have economic spinoffs that can't be underestimated, Carson stressed.

It could also encourage more residential development, such as John Rocca's $25-million condominium project near the harbour.

Harbourfront Residences at Three Sisters, formerly home to a grain elevator, will have 125 units in two buildings within a couple of years. It will offer condo suites, townhouses with their own street-front entrances and patio residences, with prices ranging from $149,000 to more than $700,000. Buyers have already signed up for more than half the proposed units.

Carson believes such projects could help attract people who live on the outskirts back to the city. For the past decade, Saint John has "struggled" with a lack of housing mix, he said. Empty-nesters, for example, may not be interested in owning a heritage home, but would welcome a new, low-maintenance home.

"I think continued focus on development of the waterfront will be foundational to the attraction and retention of people to the community. We have a significant opportunity to grow our population. The sense of place, mystique of the water we've got the ingredients to do something special over the next few years."

The new cruise ship terminal and headquarters for the Saint John Port Authority is expected to be finished soon. The $8.7-million, 24,000-square-foot brick building, which will be ready to be the main arrival point for cruise ship passengers during the 2009 season, will replace the tents that have been at the site for the past several years.

"It's a wonderful entry point and adds to the whole area,"Baldwin said.

Plans are also afoot to improve the area surrounding one of the world's most unique attractions, the Reversing Falls, where the St. John River changes direction under the power of the Bay of Fundy.

The goal is to attract more tourists, give west side residents a spot as popular as Harbour Passage is uptown, and get the falls back on the top 10 list for tourism.

Some of the ideas being explored include a tidal clock that would show visitors the state of the tides, a small craft marina for a possible water taxi, and an interpretive centre. Work will also continue on acquiring the Coast Guard site from the federal government." Progress is being made," Baldwin assured."A lot of different parties are involved, so we're working through the details. ... it's a good-sized site, an important site, so it does take time."

In March, city manager Terry Totten announced an agreement had been reached with the federal government to purchase the land after eight years of on-again, offagain talks. Colliers International, a realty firm, has been hired to assist the city in structuring the deal with the Hardman Group, which has proposed a $75-million development.

It's expected to include a 130-room hotel, a 36-unit condominium tower and an underground pedway connection to Market Square in the first phase.

Meanwhile, Harbour Passage, which attracts walkers, joggers and cyclists, is envisioned to be extended westward, running along Riverside Drive, possibly as far as the Harbour Bridge. It could also be extended south, past Rainbow Park to Sydney Street, although that's still in the early stages of discussion, Baldwin said.

"Long-term investment really adds to the quality of life in Saint John," Baldwin said."So we want that to continue. That's the goal."

About $9-million has been raised to date for waterfront development, including support from provincial and federal grants, municipal investments and private and corporate donations.

New developments and the growth in the tax base in the waterfront district is estimated at $65 million and recently announced projects are expected to surpass $175 million in total.

 

Source -Telegraph Journal