When a major fire destroyed the Victorian Arms Apartments in late August, it left a sizeable hole in the downtown that still exists as we enter 2013. Now that a Halifax developer has announced plans to rebuild on the site it can only serve to help the downtown core and the community as a whole.
More than 40 people were forced out with the clothes on their back when the fire began. It led to an amazing community effort that helped those people get back on their feet and showed Amherst is a community that is ready to pitch in when there’s a crisis.
Since the fire was extinguished and the remnants of the building carted away there has been a lot of speculation about what would happen to the property. There were more than a few people who expressed concern that it would sit empty for years or never be redeveloped.
While he has faced a number of challenges since the first, Alex Fillimon said he has always intended to rebuild. Now, depending on when he can get financing in place, he hopes to see construction started this spring with the building ready to accept its first tenants by early 2014.
When the town completed its Centre First Downtown Action Strategy several years ago, a key part of that was to encourage residential development in the area. It’s believed by having people living in the downtown that it will provide an impetus to small businesses to either set up in the area or stay there.
While we lost the Victorian Arms Apartments in 2012, steps were taken to redevelop the former Family and Children’s Services building and the old St. Charles school property as apartment complexes and those two projects are rapidly beginning to take shape.
Several years ago, Halifax’s Excel Real Estate pitched building a condominium near the downtown. These high-end living units never got off the ground because of a slump in the economy and a dip in the housing market. It was a lost opportunity to attract people with additional spending power into the downtown area.
With Fillimon’s plans, there will be more residential activity in the downtown core. We can only hope that this residential development will lead to increased foot traffic and opportunities for economic development. A lot of time and effort has been placed on revitalizing the downtown core. Now we need people to help support it and the businesses and services that are located there. This is a big step in that direction.