Brandon University to Acquire More Downtown Property

The parking lot at 149 10th Street, with the new Brandon University sign on 901 Princess Avenue in the background. (Credit: Logan Praznik/The Quill)

Brandon University announced that they will soon be acquiring more property in downtown Brandon adjacent to the newly-acquired Strand Theatre building.

BU has reached an agreement with Renaissance Brandon regarding the properties at 136 and 144 9th Street, as well as 901 Princess Avenue. The agreement is, as of press time, “in principle,” meaning that the overarching principles of the deal have been agreed upon, but the necessary legal paperwork has yet to be finalized.

The university has also reached an agreement with the City of Brandon with regards to the property at 156 9th Street.

The Brandon Inn building once stood on the properties that BU is in the process of acquiring from the City of Brandon and Renaissane Brandon, before its demolition in April 2013.

In a February 6th press release, the university claimed that the acquisition of the land were done “at minimal dollar value to facilitate the initiative while not straning the University’s financial resources.”

Meanwhile, BU is finalizing discussions with the current owners of the property at 137 and 149 10th Street, which are currently occupied by parking lots, after the collapse and subsequent demolition of the Brown Block in 2011.

Combined, the land that BU is set to acquire occupies nearly 70,000 square feet, and makes up the majority of the city block between 9th and 10th Street to the east and west, and Rosser Avenue and Princess Avenue to the north and sourh.

According to data from the City of Brandon’s website, the combined property taxes paid on the properties in 2016 totaled slightly over $26,000. It is unknown if the university will receive any tax breaks on the property, or how taxes will change as the land is developed.

“This is an exciting development that will be transformative for both the University and for the entire city,” Brandon University president Dr. Gervan Fearon said in an email circulated to students on February 6th.

“As seen in other cities, including Winnipeg, this type of University-based initiative can spur the revitalization of downtown cores and bring investment dollars to the table normally not otherwise available to the university or city,” Fearon later added, claiming that the university aims to act “as a catalyst for growth an innovation in our community.”

In the press release, Renaissance Brandon board chair Steve McMillan said that the new development “will unquestionably spark new energy in the heart of our city,” and that it would increase pedestrian activity at all times of the day, boost foot traffic for existing downtown businesses, and help add diversity to Brandon’s downtown.

Though nothing concrete is confirmed for the land yet, the university has proposed “a large-scale, mixed-use downtown development” that will feature academic spaces, “appropriate” commercial development, and a residence that will “meet students’ needs and benefit the entire University community.”

Brandon University is undergoing “fruitful” discussions with Servants of Service, a seniors’ housing group, to explore the combination of a seniors’ residence with a student residence in the future development.

Jim Brannan, a member of Servants of Service, said in the press release, “There’s a clear demand for affordable housing for people of all ages in Brandon. Rather than working in silos, this concept will allow us to share design and project costs that seemed to be dupilcated in the past.”

He went further to claim that students and seniors have similar needs from their residences, including smaller spaces, laundry facilities, easy access to outside amenities, and a good transit system, and that seniors and students have intermingled successfully in affordable housing in the United States and the Netherlands, “with the benefit of being able to exchange thoughts and ideas.”

In an interview, Renaissance Brandon’s executive director, Elisabeth Saftiuk, claimed that the proposed development would “unquestionably spark new energy in the heart of the city.”

She later elaborated, saying that a “critical mass” of people living in Brandon’s downtown will “truly effect positive change,” and that “a vibrant and prosperous downtown contributes to the strength of the city as a whole.”

The new development will not include the Strand Theatre building in its current form, as an engineering assessment of the building and its ongoing deterioration has deemed restoration “not feasible.”

A team, including BU Archivist Emeritus Tom Mitchell, will perform a “historical and cultural examination” of the building to determine what will be saved from the building, with the aim to “preserve elements of the building and its design in a fashion that is complementary to the area and future development of the downtown core.”

The examination will include complete documentation and photography of the building, as well as collecting historical documents and resources to be stored in the university’s S. J. McKee Archives.

Brandon University will be holding its next consultations on its Campus Master Plan on March 9th, when an open house will be held for members of the university community and the wider, general public to share their ideas for the development.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 107, Issue 23, February 28th, 2017.