Your City

Many people see the block on Water Street between Bishop’s Cove and Steer’s Cove as a black eye in what is supposed to be the historic area downtown. This block contains the old Woolworths building, and old Arcade site, but hopefully not for long, as council is looking to turn this shiner of a block into a shining example of a rejuvenated downtown.

On May third, council voted to send some proposed amendments of the municipal plan and development regulations to the Heritage Advisory committee for recommendations. The proposed changes would remove the entire block from heritage areas two and three, and designate them as “bonus sites” for additional height (up to ten stories.)

A proposal has been submitted for the old Woolworth’s building for eleven stories, but includes significant amounts of parking. The increased parking came at the request of council, who saw the development and location as ideal for increasing public parking in a downtown which is desperate for new parking (or fewer cars… Guess which one is more likely?)

This proposal is now awaiting the completion of a land-use assessment which would study the impact of the proposed development on the area in relation to views, wind, and light, among other things.

The old Arcade site had a proposal last summer which was rejected for several reasons, including height, a lack of parking, and a modern design which would not fit the heritage character the city is trying to promote. The company, Compusult Ltd., is now meeting with council and hopes to find a middle ground which will allow for the proposal to go ahead at the five stories. If the proposed changes to regulations go ahead, the height would be allowed, with a setback above the fourth story. The bigger issue for Compusult will be finding more space for parking, which council seems to be firm on since the adoption of the new Downtown Parking Study, and the removal of the parking exempt area.

Both of these developments would include retail space on street-level, and what would be considered “Class A” office space occupying the rest of the buildings. “Class A” office space is an invented category of perceived need, and has no official categorization from any regulatory body. It basically means really nice offices with modern amenities and features in a good location.

While amending the municipal plan and development regulations for an entire block is better than site-specific amendments like the city is infamous for, Tom Hann points out that it is a “piecemeal” way to address development regulations in St. John’s. Hann also stated that, as voted on in 2008, he wants the review of our regulations and the St. John’s Municipal Plan to wait until the completion of the province’s North-East Avalon Regional Plan, which they must comply with. The problem with this is that the provinces regional plan is probably another year from being completed (maybe two) and development in St. John’s will not wait.

Allowing what seems to be two popular developments to go ahead is probably a good idea, but still leaves us reacting to developments as they come in. What this city needs is a more proactive approach of open discussion on the future of our city between the public, developers, and council. At least they are looking two proposals into the future now, but we still have a big question mark at the other end of Water street.


  1. Dana · December 5, 2012

    THANK YOU, Andrew Harvey, for you for pointing out that Doc O’Keefe’s ‘Class A office space’ is a totally invented term. That’s been bugging me for at least a year now!

  2. Jordan · December 5, 2012

    Class A office space is a term used everywhere.

    Class A
    Most prestigious buildings competing for premier office users with rents above average for the area. Buildings have high quality standard finishes, state of the art systems, exceptional accessibility and a definite market presence.

    Class B
    Buildings competing for a wide range of users with rents in the average range for the area. Building finishes are fair to good for the area. Building finishes are fair to good for the area and systems are adequate, but the building does not compete with Class A at the same price.

    Class C
    Buildings competing for tenants requiring functional space at rents below the average for the area.

  3. Andrew Harvey · December 5, 2012

    Yes Jordan,

    I understand that Class A is a term used in the industry, but what I am saying is that it is not a technical classification as much as they are general categories. “Prestigious buildings”, “high quality”, and “definite market presence” are ambiguous, subjective terms.

    The idea that you could point to any given building and say “that building has a definite market presence” using any real, measurable criteria is ridiculous. I have heard Dennis O’Keefe, and others throw out statistics of vacancy rates for “Class A” office space in St. John’s. I have yet to see any actual statistics backing these claims up. I stand to be corrected, but this is almost certainly because there are none. It simply makes your case seem more credible when you cite statistics, 87% of people think so.

    Stating that there is a 0.3% vacancy rate for Class A office space is like saying that 90% of people in St. John’s are awesome. You may think this, but just because you said that doesn’t mean it’s true. It would be impossible to prove or disprove it anyways, because of the subjective nature of what you are supposedly measuring.

    Thank you for your comment, and for providing the link for peoples information, I had seen a similar link, but could not find it.

  4. Jordan · December 5, 2012

    I’ve seen several statistics over the last few years. There have been articles in the Telegram but I don’t no where I’d find them to now. I’ve seen several national stats showing St. John’s having the lowest vacancy rates in the country.

  5. Andrew Harvey · December 5, 2012

    Hey Jordan,
    I have also heard the same statistics being quoted by many different parties. I have heard both that there is a 0.4% and a 0.3% vacancy rate for “Class A” Office space. I have also never seen anyone cite where these numbers came from.

    As I indicated, I do not believe these are real statistics, I think they come from misinformation, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, or simply fabrication.

    The issue is that although the term “Class A” is used within some circles, there is no one who goes around and classifies each office building using any sort of criteria. Therefore, there is no way to get any meaningful statistics of “Class A” office space.

    If you find these articles, or somewhere the statistics are quoted, I encourage you to ask whoever wrote it to cite their source for statistics on “Class A” office space. I would suspect they would cite Nora Duke from Fortis, or Dennis O’Keefe, the only two people I have heard publicly give these numbers.

  6. Jordan · December 5, 2012

    I found this, it gives a pretty detailed description of office space in St. John’s for the last quarter of 2009.

  7. Andrew Harvey · December 5, 2012

    Thank you very much for this Jordan.

    So I stand corrected that there does appear to be someone out there classifying and reporting categories of office space available in St. John’s.

    Obviously these are statistics which they are reporting, but my initial question about the subjective nature of what they are reporting on stands. I have contacted Cushman & Wakefield who puts the document you linked to out, and am waiting to hear back from them. I am, asking who it is who decides whether or not a building is “Class A” vs “Class B”.

    To me this is the crux of the issue. If there is some sort of criteria they are using, based on something measurable, then I will admit I was wrong in my initial statement about “Class A” office space. If the classification is either self-reported, or decided by an individual using subjective terms like “prestigious”, then my criticism of the classification still stands.

    Also, because of the nature of buildings, and “modern” features, I would assume if no renovations we conducted on what was classified as a “Class A” building, it would eventually be lowered to “Class B”. At what magical moment does this change occur?

    Again Jordan, I would like to thank you for your discussion, and information on this matter. You have taught me something about the issue, and hopefully many others who will read this, and I appreciate that very much.

  8. Andrew Harvey · December 5, 2012

    After making some phone calls, and talking to several people at Cushman & Wakefield Atlantic, who put out the statistics linked above, I will stand by my original comments that:

    ““Class A” office space is an invented category of perceived need, and has no official categorization from any regulatory body. It basically means really nice offices with modern amenities and features in a good location.”

    I will mention that someone from Cushman & Wakefield Atlantic disagreed with my use of the word “perceived. But… much like if I disagreed with if a building was “prestigious” enough to be “Class A”, it doesn’t matter. They are not going to change their stats, and I am not going to change my opinion (without new information which convinces me otherwise).

    I also spoke to a appraiser here in St. John’s who told me that if I was constructing a office building, there would be no one to call to get it classified as “Class A”, I would simply call it so. Whether or not a business like Cushman & Wakefield would recognize it as such is debatable, but proves my point. When you use stats which are based on subjective terms, they do not hold the same weight as those that are based on definable, quantifiable criteria.