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Brunswick Square Vacancies A ‘Blemish’ For Saint John

By Scott Pettigrew Oct 29, 2022 | 6:00 AM

Saint John’s only Pizza Hut is picking up stakes from its 35-year home in Brunswick Square and heading to 358 Rothesay Avenue, emptying the nearly vacant urban mall even further.

The move comes as the pizza chain revamps into an “express” business model, with limited in-store seating and an emphasis on take-out and delivery.

The loss of yet another retail tenant in Brunswick Square has left other uptown retailers, and Saint Johners in general, dismayed about the future of the urban mall. Over the last ten years, the mall has seen its retailers reduced from more than 60 to less than 20.


Former Saint John mayor Don Darling took to Twitter to decry the lack of meaningful engagement from Slate Office Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), the asset company that bought Brunswick Square. Slate bought Brunswick Square, along with 13 other office and retail buildings in Atlantic Canada, from Fortis Properties of Newfoundland in 2015. The sale totaled $430 million and included 2.8 million square feet of gross leasable area (GLA).

“Right now, Brunswick Square, the mall, is a blemish on Saint John and I think the doors should be locked,” says Darling.

Darling says the city attempted to engage with Slate a few years ago after he publicly called on the company to address the vacancy issue in 2019. The result was a back-and-forth with the company about community investment that devolved into a disagreement about taxes imposed by the city on all businesses in the area.

“They did share with me that there are projects competing for their capital and investment all over the country. And clearly what they’re saying is that Brunswick Square is not a priority,” says Darling. “Here we are in 2022 and the place is a ghost town.”

For its part, Slate Office REIT announced on October 25 it is launching a special committee to complete a review of “strategic alternatives” for its investments, which could include “acquisitions, divestments, corporate transactions, and other partnership opportunities with the potential to unlock the inherent value contained within the REIT’s portfolio of high-quality workplace real estate.”

While Darling welcomes the review, he says something needs to be done now to address the issues being caused by the persistent vacancies in Brunswick Square.

“I think it’s an embarrassment to have cruise ship tours walk through Brunswick Square. It’s a black eye on the city and the owners Slate Office REIT appear not to care at all about that building.”

“Where’s the shopping centre?”

Dominique Leger, a business owner in Uptown, agrees.

Leger says she often gets cruise ship passengers in her store asking “where’s the shopping centre?” After visiting Brunswick Square they are in disbelief that the almost-empty building is the shopping attraction they’ve been pointed to.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” she says. “There are so many opportunities in Saint John, we just need someone to believe in us as much as we believe in us.”

Vacant property ordinance

“There are a whole lot of reasons why something like this happens,” says Bradley Snyder, executive managing director of Tiger Capital Group, a consultancy that deals with asset valuation and monetization.

“Sometimes there’s a land lease. When the land lessee and land lessor have different interests as the lease term gets near the end, you’ll find there’s a lot of apathy and empty spaces,” Snyder adds. Although he says this might not be the case with Brunswick Square.

Snyder points to the actions taken by the city council in Jackson, Tennessee as a way for municipalities to have landlords acknowledge and account for their persistently empty commercial properties.

Jackson implemented a vacant property ordinance in 2019, fining owners of vacant properties with fines doubling every year the property remains vacant, starting with an initial fine of $400. Five years in, the vacant property would pay a $6,400 fine and if the property was still vacant ten years later the property owner would pay a $204,800 fine. The fines are waived if the landlord has hired a realtor to market the property.

“It’s pretty draconian and it gets your attention because it’s [thousands of dollars] per space, per year,” Snyder says. “And it adds up pretty fast.”

For the city of Saint John’s part, the state of Brunswick Square is on the radar.

“Brunswick Square is privately owned, so we’re working with that partner as well to try to move that facility,” says Saint John mayor Donna Reardon. She says she’s hopeful that with the other development happening in the area that the rising economic tide will lift all boats and help fill the vacancies.

“It’s certainly a concern, but it’s also opportunity” says Nancy Tissington, the executive director of the Uptown Saint John BIA. “Who can we think about to come in and activate those spaces? We’re going to lean in and hope that our developers and landowners will understand that while we’re bringing up this vibrancy in our city, that they’ll continue to work towards an end to putting people in those spaces as well.”

Alex Graham is a reporter with Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting content partner.


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