Council votes to demolish historic building in downtown Brockville, Ont.

A heritage building in downtown Brockville, Ont. is set to meet the wrecking ball, after Council voted down a motion to allow a volunteer group – led by former Senator Bob Runciman – to try to save it.

“I’m disappointed but I wasn’t terribly surprised,” Runciman said of the decision.

The building is known as the Black-Earle Double House and sits at 8-10 Market St. W., on the corner with Water St. 

“I think it boiled down to a majority of councillors feeling that restoration, preservation of the building was going to jeopardize future development opportunities for that site,” he added. 

“I disagree. I think it could in fact enhance development opportunities, with a historic property like that restored and beautified, it could attract investment,” Runciman said, citing examples in Ottawa and Kingston where they incorporated historic buildings into development proposals.

“There’s a reluctance here and I think it’s a wish to see revitalization of the downtown core, and I understand that, but this is the wrong way to go about it,” he added.

Council voted to demolish a historic building on Market Street West in Brockville, Ont. on Wednesday, despite efforts by a volunteer group to try to save it. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

Runciman led a group nicknamed the 1863 Committee, named after the year of the building’s construction. It was able to pause the demolition process in May, get an engineer to say the site was structurally sound, and offer up a new rendering of what the building could become.

“We suggested a welcome centre, because this is really at the tourism centre of the city, and then the south side facing the river a cafe,” Runciman said. “These were possibilities we put to the city, so we were answering some of the concerns.”

Runciman noted the city wanted to see a revenue stream for the revamped space, and ideas were put before Council. 

“These were not firm and not solid. At the end of the day if it was restored, the city would make the decision or the decisions on what would go in there and what it would look like in terms of the interior. So these were just ideas trying to address the councillors request for some sort of a vision and we gave it to them,” Runciman added. 

The conceptual sketches of the redesigned building caught opposition from councillors over the vertical light wood siding, and since the volunteer group never got a chance to form a committee, they could not complete a stakeholder review to ask for input from citizens and councillors. 

Conceptual sketches of the redesign of the historic building on Market Street West in Brockville, Ont. proposed by a volunteer group trying to save the building. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

After the motion was denied to try to save the building, council quickly passed a resolution to proceed with the demolition. 

Both motions passed by a 7-2 vote, with acclaimed Mayor Matt Wren and councillor Cameron Wales opposing the demolition. 

Coun. Larry Journal, who voted for the demolition, said the decision came down to “opportunity cost”, and that the land was purchased years ago for new development.

“For me, it got down to opportunity costs versus heritage value, and you know what, Brockville is so full of heritage buildings, we have so many beautiful buildings, right beside it, of course, we have city hall which is just an iconic heritage building,” Journal told CTV News. 

“I just didn’t see the heritage value in that particular building and I know I’m going to get some feedback on that but it really is an opportunity cost issue,” he added. 

“Originally that whole corridor was put together so we could have a beautiful development that overlooks the river and it would hamper that development if we had a building right there,” Journal said. 

He also wondered if the revamped building would add value to the city, and what the ongoing costs would be. 

“We had to look at whether or not it actually adds value,” he said. “We’re looking at a bathroom. Yeah, washrooms downtown are a good idea. Just to have a building that is there for office space, we have that, so I just didn’t see that part of it being as beneficial as it could be.”

Brockville residents were split on the issue when asked, with some wanting to save Brockville’s history, and others saying the time has come.

“I have no concern of it going because to me it does not look to be that nicely kept,” said Valery Blackburn. “It’s a bit of an eyesore. As long as they don’t convert it into another parking lot.”

“Well, briefly, I’m very disappointed,” said Ted Abbott. “I just hate to see that kind of decision-making by the council. I think we need to keep that kind of antiquity around Brockville.”

Journal says while there is talk about the corner becoming another parking lot, a green space has been discussed as well as an information centre. 

“I really do see both sides of it and I’m really hoping that we made the right decision last night,” Journal added, thanking Runciman for spearheading the volunteer group. 

“(He does) a lot for our community, we really appreciate it,” Journal said. “I’m kind of sorry we aren’t moving forward with your initiative. On the other hand, as I said, I am really looking forward to a new beautiful development in that area at some point.”

“We had to make the decision, either to move forward or not to move forward,” he added. 

While Runciman thinks the city should hold off on tearing it down until another development plan is in place, he hopes there still might be a slim chance to save the building once a new Council is sworn in.

“It would depend on the number of newcomers and how they feel about this whole question of restoration versus demolition,” Runciman said, praising incoming mayor Wren for pressing the issue of tearing down a historical building. 

“By demolishing this property they are in effect violating their own official plan where’s there’s a commitment to retain and protect historic properties within the city boundaries,” Runciman said. 

“He said that there’s no notwithstanding clause here, but we are moving ahead, and I thought that was a very telling and accurate comment.”

“I’m very disappointed, I think it’s the wrong decision,” Runciman added, “But I’ve lost a few battles before in my life and you just keep going on and that’s it. We gave it our best shot and that’s all we can ask for.”

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