Council eyes buildings for ‘Distillery District’
Booth Street complex part of the plan
Natural Resources Canada’s plans to get rid of part of its huge building complex on Booth Street is adding to hopes that the area could become Ottawa’s version of Toronto’s popular Distillery District.
The idea of creating a shopping and entertainment area out of repurposed brick government buildings on the land north of Carling Avenue near Preston Street has been kicked around for some time, but would require NRCan to give up the property.
The department said late last week that it is now “in discussions” to transfer ownership of a piece of land bound by Norman, Booth, Orangeville and Rochester streets to the Canada Lands Company, which would then decide what to do with it.
Canada Lands manages, redevelops or sells federal government properties that are no longer needed.
Buildings on the quadrant are almost completely vacant, wrote NRCan spokeswoman Jacinthe Perras in an email, and a “small remainder of activities” are to be moved into other department buildings over coming months.
The property may be transferred to Canada Lands by next year, Perras wrote. It was declared surplus to NRCan’s needs in 2011.
With the city looking at how it wants the Preston-Carling neighbourhood to develop, some say it’s the perfect time to let Canada Lands know what would be preferred.
Urban design consultant George Dark has recommended that the city should do its best to save some of the historic buildings, said Councillor Peter Hume, chairman of council’s planning committee.
“What his proposal was is that we start to develop the planning framework around what he calls our version of the Distillery District,” said Hume.
The well-attended district in Toronto is a collection of restored industrial buildings that contain studios, shops, galleries, cafés and restaurants.
Dark’s proposed model for the Preston-Carling area is being circulated for public comment before city staff review it and come up with recommendations.
If the Distillery District-type idea goes ahead for the NRCan land, the city would make clear its expectations for the property so that it plays a role in Canada Lands’ decisions, Hume said.
Draft drawings in Dark’s plan indicate a building height of up to 18 storeys being allowed at the northeast corner of Norman and Rochester, but the rest of the property left at its existing height. Most of the buildings there now are around four storeys.
With a condo boom already happening in the area and much of nearby Preston Street devoted to restaurants, a new retail district could be a “great attraction,” said Lori Mellor, executive director of the Preston Street Business Improvement Area.
“It’s just off the Queensway. It would be within easy walking distance of thousands of new residents. It could really be a success if we can save some of those great buildings in there,” she said.
The buildings’ conditions appear to vary. Though 568 Booth, for example, was rated as fair to good in an assessment detailed by the Citizen in 2011, two smaller buildings at 556 and 562 Booth were rated poor. Soil remediation has been completed on the property.
Michael Powell of the Dalhousie Community Association said NRCan’s move is happening at a good time with the city considering how the community should grow.
“There are lot of interesting buildings there that could be adapted for different uses that keep a feel of that part of the neighbourhood,” Powell said. He noted there’s also a need for public green space and the neighbourhood lacks a grocery store.
Although Canada Lands can be expected to try to sell the property to the highest bidder, “signalling now what we expect from those areas as much as we can is probably the most important step,” said Powell.
“There’s a lot of exciting opportunities there, but the key is to make sure we get it right.”
Manon Lapensée, a spokeswoman for the Canada Lands Company, referred questions to NRCan, saying Canada Lands doesn’t own the Booth Street complex. Canada Lands states on its website that it “optimizes the financial and community value of strategic Government of Canada properties.”