Long-delayed project at key uptown Saint John corner 'moving forward,' city says

Developer Percy Wilbur bought the site in 2020 and tore down the former building in 2021. There has been a vacant hole ever since.   (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
Developer Percy Wilbur bought the site in 2020 and tore down the former building in 2021. There has been a vacant hole ever since. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

Saint John council has received long-awaited good news on the infamous hole in the heart of the city's uptown.

"I'm very excited to say that the development is moving forward," said Christopher McKiel, director of development and community standards for the city, speaking Tuesday of the site of the former Woolworth's building across from King's Square, which has been a vacant lot for more than three years.

Percy Wilbur, a local developer, tore down the existing structure on the site in 2021 with the promise of a 12-storey, multi-use building. It has since been considered a notorious eyesore for city residents and surrounding businesses.

The update came during a vote approving a canopy which will connect Wilbur's proposed building with the City Market.

Developer Percy Wilbur has previously said that he is hopeful construction at the site of the hole will start in the fall.
Developer Percy Wilbur has previously said that he is hopeful construction at the site of the hole will start in the fall.

Developer Percy Wilbur has said he is hopeful construction will start in the fall. (Shane Fowler/CBC )

"The developer began erecting fencing along South Market Street last week," McKiel said.

"This week the fencing will continue along King Street. The city has issued street occupancy permits for the development and will be issuing street excavation permits later this week."

McKiel said that in the coming weeks, "the developer will remove the existing foundation walls and prepare the site for construction," referring to walls currently erected surrounding the site of the hole.

According to a letter sent by Wilbur to the city, the approved canopy will be a gateway between his building and the market, connecting their entrances.

Council also approved Wilbur's proposal, described in his letter, for South Market Street to work as a "dual loading zone" for his new building and the market.

A welcome update

Wilbur bought the lot at King and Charlotte streets in late 2020. He has previously attributed the project delays to large cost increases and, more recently, to the province choosing not to provide tax incentives to developers.

Last year, Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon said the vacant lot was holding up two separate revitalization projects in the area, including a bilateral project to revitalize Charlotte Street, with funding that would be lost if not used by 2026.

However, this project is set to begin in mid-July.

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon says she is pleased with the update.
Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon says she is pleased with the update.

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon, wearing her team colours, says the project is 'going to rock 'n' roll now.' (Nipun Tiwari/CBC)

Reardon says she is pleased with the update.

"It's been a long time coming, and I guess you have to get your ducks in order. It sounds like they are, so we're going to rock 'n' roll now," she said.

"You're already seeing the signage going up … you're going to see that foundation get removed over the next couple of weeks, you'll see a new foundation get poured. It sort of has started now and it's just a progression of getting prepared … to do some of the bigger work."

The update didn't include a time frame for when construction would begin. Wilbur has said previously that he hopes to have the project started by fall of this year and that it would be roughly two years until completion from that point.

McKiel said that the city is working with the developer to ensure that the project progresses smoothly, with minimal impact on the surrounding areas.