Amherst public gives input on historic structure

Christopher
Christopher Gooding
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Lots of ideas, no obvious investors except taxpayers

AMHERST – For the first time in a number of years the public had an opportunity to peer inside the former Bank of Montreal [BMO] building on the corner of East Victoria and Laplanche Street and, needless to say, it’s a shadow of its former glory.

Whatever glory the former Bank Of Montreal building on Victoria Street in Amherst had it’s been long erased by time, but many in the community feel the Town of Amherst should invest in its future and have the building restored.

Built in 1903 by the Rhodes and Curry Co., the red sandstone building has seen better days. Very little hardwood is left and only faded plaster and the occasional tile give any hint of the detailed mosaic that used to be underfoot; wood shims, both old and new, make up space in the stone walls. The roof leaks, and a black strap kept visitors from venturing too far into the former bank, later a police station, yet the 18-pin door where a safe used to be is still there amongst the dirt, dust and debris.

It’s in rough shape, but for many who came out Wednesday to give the Town of Amherst their input on potential uses for the building, it’s history with saving.

“I am so impressed. It’s an amazing space,” Leslie Childs said. “I don’t have expertise in engineering, but there’s a range of opportunities.”

Childs, Claire Frasier and Bill Fairbanks, all directors with the Cumberland County Museum, were present during the afternoon public viewing and consultation. To them, the building is a link to the past that needs to be saved.

“We want to se something like this preserved,” Fairbanks said. “[It’s] an asset of the town that tells a story of our past. We should do everything we can to preserve that story.”

The museum doesn’t have any capital to put towards restoring the building, but where they were short on money they made up with ideas and reasons why the town should restore the building.

“The building is much older than the building the town just fixed up for their offices,” Fairbanks said. “I think it could become an office building just like the town hall.”

There were a lot of ideas being offered for the building, but if there were any businesses or contractors present who wanted to put some actual capital into the infrastructure, they were staying mum.

Nonetheless, Amherst Deputy Mayor Lisa Emery was jotting down suggestions as she moved from one group to another that had come to see the building.

“There’s been a lot of good ideas,” Emery said. “It’s still early. And there’s the issue of funding.”

Emery admitted she was shock how far gone the building was, but said if there’s a political-will to restore it, she’s behind it. She also acknowledged if there was a political-will to demolish the building, that outcome could take place, too.

“The people who would want to demolish it would because of the cost,” Emery said.

Director of Planning and Development for the Town of Amherst, Jason MacDonald, says there are two estimates in front of council right now for the building. The first, for a restoration of the building bringing it back to a useable, open structure, is in the ballpark of $900,000. In essence, he said, you’d have to build a building inside of the building.

The second estimate – demolishing and building something new with the same square footage – is $500,000.

“The question is, is the façade worth $400,000 to the community?” MacDonald said. “The intent today is, it’s a public building; is there an interest in doing something with it, find out ideas and opportunities. No decision has been made.”

With that in mind, the town will remain open to suggestions, including from potential investors.

“If Starbuck said they wanted this building, I’m sure council would consider it,” MacDonald said.

 

Email: christopher.gooding@tc.tc

Twitter: ADNchris

Organizations: Curry Co., Cumberland County Museum

Geographic location: Amherst

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Recent comments

  • Reason
    December 11, 2013 - 08:04

    In order for there to be an actual turn around for the decline of the downtown in Amherst, there will have to be successful retail businesses located there. That isn't going to happen in buildings that have long outlived there usefulness. If on the other hand your vision of Amherst is some sort of turn of the century living museum, then the buildings will need to be saved, and the young will continue to emigrate to greener pastures. These buildings have been the cornerstone of a dying economy for more than 2 decades now, time to let the past go or forget about having a future...

  • Al
    December 10, 2013 - 21:32

    Just let it sit for another few decades and see town officials get refoccused on providing more jobs for Amherstonians. Go to Moncton and Truro and ask the mayors what they are doing to attract new industry. We're all tired with the screw ups of Michelin, Molson and Cambell Soup being shunned.

  • Sherry
    December 07, 2013 - 09:24

    I have seen countless tourists strole our main street in the summer and fall, stopping to take photos of our historic row of sandstone buildings, from the corner of Lawrence St to the corner this building stands on. These buildings attract tourists. Amherst has lost so many beautiful old buildings, with the West Highlands school next on the chopping block. Lets at least preserve our downtown, in the end I think the town will recoupe the 400,000 to restore it through tax revenue and tourism dollars. The downtown is being revitalized in the last few years, lets not take a step backwards by demolishing this building.

  • CHARLES WOOD
    December 07, 2013 - 00:53

    I grew up in that building, in the fortys & the fiftys,, my mother & my father were the cartakers and lived in the apartment in the back of the building, there are 2 safes one on the main floor and one in the bastment chuck

  • WM
    December 05, 2013 - 10:44

    I can appreciate the history behind the structure, but, Amherst needs to move on. Perhaps that should be the new saying for the town, "Moving On"! We need to start incorporating new state of the art buildings with the old to draw investment. Throwing money at the past isn't going to save the future.

  • Joe
    December 05, 2013 - 08:21

    Actual Frank the heritage part is already gone. What the downtown cabal wants is hundreds of dollars from every property taxpayer to build a brand new building inside a seriously chipped, blackened, eroded exterior shell. There are what, 3,500 property taxpayers? divide that number into the estimated cost. After spending all this money, no company is going to pay that kind of premium for 5000 square feet of usable space (I don't include the 2500sq.f basement, as few clients would realistically use it for offices or even food prep space.) Or does the town think selling it at a loss of hundreds of thousands to be good management of the peoples limited resources?

  • Frank Trenholm
    December 04, 2013 - 19:16

    How much is your heritage worth? Once gone, it can never be replaced.

  • Sharon Jones
    December 04, 2013 - 18:13

    The actual building date as given in the Heritage Properties website is 1906. The designer was the well-known Maritime architect J. C. Dumaresq. Construction has been accredited to James Reid of Sydney and to Rhodes, Curry Co. of Amherst. Rhodes, Curry Co. installed the interior and was an important business in the industrial, commercial, and architectural history of Amherst and Nova Scotia. This company was the contractor and builder of a number of grand homes and businesses throughout Nova Scotia. Glad to see coverage of this important local issue. A review of the $900,000 estimate suggests that it is seriously flawed, greatly overestimating the money needed to fix it.. In fact, adequate renovations could cost significantly less. Is this estimate done by someone who is an expert in heritage properties. Are we prepared to let out heritage slip away now that we have just spent so much money to create an attractive setting for them in the downtown revitalization. Save the BMO building. Let us all work together to find a solution. To share your thoughts join our Facebook page....Save Amherst BMO