Second Long Wharf building possible

SAINT JOHN - A pedestrian bridge over the water from the side of Long Wharf to the boardwalk at the foot of Union Street is one of the surprising features proposed for the Irving Oil Ltd. office development.

                                

Irving Oil Ltd. is proposing to build a four-storey building on Long Wharf to house 1,000 of its employees. If the business needs more space in the future, it would construct another low-rising building beside it.

Another is how little space the four-storey, 185,000-square-foot building takes up on the scale model of the area prepared by New York architect Robert A. M. Stern.

"Whenever I drove by the site, I imagined a building taking up most of the space," said Coun. Donnie Snook, part of the crowd at the open house Thursday at Hilton Saint John, where Irving Oil Ltd. displayed the proposed office and green space development.

The majority of Long Wharf is currently out of bounds to the public, which is kept out by a high wire fence. But if the Saint John Port Authority gets permission from the federal government to sell the land sought by the oil company for its building and lease the remainder to it, the area will be much more open to the public.

Irving Oil has outgrown its office space on Union Street and wants to construct the new building to bring together about 1,000 employees in the uptown. The company is now looking at a phased development if it gets permission to go ahead, said Jennifer Parker, a company spokeswoman.

"We are now actually looking at building it in phases, based on our needs. And we know we have a need right now for more space, for a building that could hold approximately 1,000 people. So what we would like to do is go ahead and build that building," she said.

It would be the low-rise structure depicted on the drawings and model at the open house. But if the business needs more space in the future, there is room on the Long Wharf site to put up another low rise beside it, she said.

"If our company grows, or we bring in partners from away that need space, we would also like to have the ability to expand down the road," she said.

The building is being designed with the natural landscape of Saint John in mind, she said.

"We are looking right now at approximately a four-storey building, with one storey of parking an three stories on top of that," Parker said. "We recognize that the waterfront is a very nice area and rather than looking at a tower, we are looking at a low-level structure that would fit in with the landscape."

The proposal includes disguising the flatness of the current wharf by bringing in enough earth to create some contour to the land and provide the ability to secure the wharf front when being used by cruise ships.

The company has set up a website, www.longwharf.ca where anyone interested in giving feedback on what they would like to see at the site can do so, she said.

There was nothing in the display to show what the company is proposing for an upgrade of the neighbouring Fort La Tour site.

"All that has yet to be worked out," Parker said.

Provincial government representatives and local residents interested in Fort La Tour have some interesting ideas and the company will be looking into how it can contribute, if the project goes ahead, she said.

Capt. Al Soppitt, president and CEO of the Saint John Port Authority, said work on the presentation to the federal government to approve the land swap is moving along.

"They appear to be quite supportive. We have a number of components we have to put together and are working through those with Irving Oil," he said.

Soppitt could not put a time frame on it, but said he hopes it will go quickly.

"The sooner the better, but government process does take time," he said.

The city of Saint John has already agreed to sell the former Lantic Sugar Refinery site at the mouth of the harbour to Irving Oil. If the deal goes through, the company will transfer that land to the port as part of the exchange.

Published Friday January 16th, 2009 Telegraph Journal