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‘Do you see it as an asset or a liability?’: Saint John mulls future of vacant north-end houses – New Brunswick

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As vacant buildings across Saint John’s old north end come down — either by fire or scheduled demolition — some in the neighbourhood say tearing down is the best chance to clear the way for rebirth.

“Well, they’ve got to come down at some point to rebuild the community. The north end was once a thriving community quite some time ago, so I believe it’s necessary for it to be completely rebuilt,” said north-end resident Matt Allan.

Thirty-three vacant buildings have been torn down this year and another 44 have been repaired, passing the 2018 target of 75 cases. There are approximately 200 buildings that are either vacant or badly damaged on the city’s watch list.

Ward 2 Coun. John MacKenzie shares the opinion that the abandoned buildings need to be torn down to help facilitate revitalization.

“Obviously, if we want developers to come in and do something in this area, we’ve got to clean it up. Nobody wants to put a new building beside three or four buildings that need to be torn down,” he said.

“So phase one, tear them down and clean it up, and then phase two, rebuild.”

READ MORE: Fire crews battle overnight blaze in north end Saint John

Kit Hickey, the executive director of Housing Alternatives, an organization that provides property management and maintenance services for housing co-ops and non-profit housing, says the steps taken by the city to enforce the dangerous and unsightly premises bylaw is helping to restore a sense of safety to the north-end community.

“The city should be applauded on the measures that they are taking to ensure that the vacant, dilapidated buildings are being dealt with in a timely manner,” she said.

“This community has not felt safe as a result of the number of structure fires so it is absolutely essential that the city continues on with the enforcement of these bylaws.”


READ MORE:
N.B. provincial testing reveals slight drop in Grade 2 students’ reading abilities  

MacKenzie said the city intends to keep up its current pace of demolitions.

“I think that people are starting to feel a lot safer now because the city is tearing down so many of them and I think we’re getting a good positive reaction,” he said.

“We’re going to continue to do it, we’re going to prioritize and get the ones that are the most dangerous down as quickly as we can.”

But others see a missed opportunity where others see only urban blight.

“I see a whole bunch of lost opportunities everywhere and it’s just a way of thinking about it. Do you think of it as an insurmountable problem?” said Jim Bezanson, who formerly served as a heritage planner for Saint John.

“One option is, yes, tear it down, solve the problem quickly… Or do you go in, look at them, assess them? Sure, if it needs to come down, bring in the crew and dismantle it.”

WATCH: Saint John City Market vacancies raise eyebrows






Bezanson says he’d rather see buildings restored, and if they are too far gone, see them dismantled, allowing for a stockpile of materials to built to assist in repairing or building other homes.

With the right programs and management, Bezanson sees possible opportunities for education through the stripping or repairing of vacant buildings which could then lead to possible employment, and once a building is finished, affordable housing.

“Do you see it as an asset or a liability? And it’s that simple. If you see it as an asset, then first priority, you fix it up,” he said.

Hickey contends that restoration is often too impractical and expensive for non-profits. She added Housing Alternatives looks to get a lifespan of 25-30 years using minor renovations. Where that isn’t possible, investment isn’t practical.

“Based on the experience that we have and the type of development that we do, we need to ensure that we’re going to have a fairly long-term life out of these buildings. The reality for the majority of the building, we’re not going to be able to realize the lifespan of 25 to 35 years,” she said.

“When we look at them, we know that financially, it’s not going to be viable for us to do minor renovations because we’re going to be faced with major repairs in the not-too-distant future.”


READ MORE:
Saint John Mayor Don Darling says 2019 a ‘make-or-break’ year for city

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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