In a March presentation before Council, as part of the CBRM’s budget consultation process, a newly formed Heritage Coalition – made up of heritage and community development organizations – urged the CBRM to adopt a “RE-USE FIRST” POLICY when it comes to finding space for new or existing activities, or making infrastructure and zoning decisions.
“The concepts we introduced at the presentation to Council were neither new nor revolutionary”, noted Joyce Rankin, who presented on behalf of the coalition. “Reusing what we have makes economic sense and it makes environmental sense. It is an approach to progressive development whose success in terms of fiscal responsibility, property values, quality of life and tourism attraction is backed up by a growing body of research.”
The coalition argued that there are exceptional historic landmarks, in good condition, that need to be re-purposed or regenerated. Encouraging the private, public and non-profit sectors to make these places incubators of creativity, community development, and small business – and, in some cases, places of residence or offices – would restart our local economy and ensure lively urban cores.
The coalition has met several times to inventory, assess and advocate for the reuse of vacant or soon-to-be-vacant heritage properties in Sydney’s Northend and downtown. It is composed of the Old Sydney Society, the Sydney Architectural Conservation Society, New Dawn Enterprises, Saint Andrew’s United Church, Cape Breton Genealogical and Historical Society, and the Heritage Cape Breton Connection. Given the current vacancy of the exceptional Holy Angels property, and the possible closure of both Sacred Heart Church and Saint Andrew’s Church (one of the best performance spaces in Cape Breton), there are a number of sizeable, well-maintained, and historically significant buildings into which we should be breathing new life. The recent destruction of the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club underscores the urgent need to use, reuse and deeply value our heritage buildings and properties.
The same principles can apply not just to Sydney but to other downtown areas in the region.
As noted by coalition member and CBU professor, Tom Urbaniak, “This is a crucial time for us. If we can re-purpose some of these great landmarks – and fill them with studios, and incubator businesses, and residents – we truly can turn this region around through home-grown talent and ingenuity. If we do nothing, our decline will be too hard to stop. These buildings are a barometer of our performance and our leadership as a region”.
The municipality was urged, as part of the RE-USE FIRST policy, to take a number of steps, including insisting that existing spaces be given clear priority for future facilities and feasibility studies and seconding a staff member to generate revenue for the municipality by working on property revitalization.