The buildings at 1520, 1526, 1528, and 1530 Queen Street in March 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford

The colourful commercial buildings of Queen Street are up for sale, and after Halifax regional council voted earlier this year not to add the properties to the city’s heritage registry, they’re likely to be torn down.

A listing from commercial real estate brokerage CBRE for 1525 Birmingham St. advertises the “Queen & Birmingham project” as a development site. It’s unclear exactly which properties are included in the sale, but based on a photo from the listing, the site appears to include 1520, 1526, 1528 and 1530 Queen St.

This photo from CBRE’s listing highlights the properties up for sale.
This photo from CBRE’s listing highlights the properties up for sale.

“The Queen & Birmingham project (the “Site”) is an exceptional opportunity for a mixed-use development steps from Spring Garden Road in one of Halifax’s most sought after addresses,” the listing says.

“Situated with frontage on both Queen Street and Birmingham Street, the site offers opportunities for multifamily residential density as well as ground floor commercial uses. Zoned DH-1 Downtown Halifax, the site provides significant design flexibility.”

The total size of the lot is 10,778 square feet, and the price is negotiable. Interested bidders are directed to sign a confidentiality agreement to “gain access to the dataroom.”

In March, Halifax regional council voted against a staff recommendation to add those Queen Street properties and several others to the heritage registry, worried they’d be imposing the designation on the property owners.

As I reported for SaltWire at the time:

Heritage planning staff recommended council create three new heritage streetscapes, defined as groups of historic buildings that create “a sense of time and place.” The three streetscapes proposed were for Birmingham, Queen and Grafton streets, and comprised 17 properties — five on Birmingham Street, seven on Queen Street and five on Grafton Street.

Council initiated the process to identify potential heritage streetscapes last year due to concerns over the loss of unregistered heritage properties in downtown Halifax. Heritage planner Seamus McGreal told councillors there were 104 unregistered heritage buildings identified in 2009. Forty-three have been demolished since then — 41 per cent.

Staff have been going through the remaining 61 properties to identify which ones they want to try to register. Council’s heritage advisory committee then scores each proposed streetscape based on criteria including the age and historical or architectural significance of the individual buildings and their compatibility with each other. The three proposed streetscapes scored high enough to trigger a recommendation to council that they be registered.

But before considering whether to register the properties and create the streetscapes, council held a heritage hearing at its Tuesday, March 10 meeting to hear from the property owners affected.

Of the 17 properties, the owners of 14 spoke out at the meeting, and their response was near uniform: they asked council not to impose heritage registration on their properties due to concerns over limited development abilities and lower property values.

Councillors were receptive to the concerns and they started by picking individual properties off the list.

Coun. Lorelei Nicoll put forward an amendment to remove the colourful buildings at 1520, 1526, 1528 and 1530 Queen St. — owned by nearly 150-year-old marine industry company I.H. Mathers — from the list. The company’s CEO, Brian Lane, told council he started the process of redeveloping those properties in 2014 and the registration would “derail” it.

After picking almost all properties off the list, council eventually voted against all three heritage streetscapes. Now I.H. Mathers, which has its Halifax office at 1525 Birmingham St., is selling the Queen Street properties.

This photo from CBRE’s listing showing the location of the site, and a logo to market it.
This photo from CBRE’s listing showing the location of the site, and a logo to market it.

In a Twitter thread on Tuesday, writer and editor Matthew Halliday noted, “It looks like that charming ramshackle retail strip on Queen Street is about to be sold and destroyed,” connecting the sale to council’s decision.

“You may recall several councillors and [Mayor Mike Savage] had a problem with ‘imposing’ heritage designation on property owners, as if cities all around the world don’t already do this, and as if limitations on property ownership are not well-established in zoning already,” Halliday wrote.

“Imagine if our development community, citizenry, and municipal government were capable of working together to prioritize sites of low historical/architectural/cultural value for redevelopment first, rather than allowing the free market completely free reign.”

According to the municipality’s building permit data, last updated on Sunday, there are no demolition permits issued for the properties yet.

Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. Notwithstanding their charming colours, In my view these buildings are very much past their “best before” date. I do not believe they are compatible in charm or historical significance to say, the Tower Road property highlighted yesterday, From the photo it appears these properties are not accessible from a barrier free perspective, and given the width of Sidewalk, it is unlikely they can be made so without significant alterations to the building – and that is only considering what we can determine from the photo. I am pretty sure the interior structure of the building is going to present its fair share of code issues as well. While it would be well meaning to consider preserving the structures, I think the current conditions and magnitude of changes required to allow these building to be legally occupied post renovation would be impractical, if not impossible.

  2. This is deeply depressing. What is the matter with city council, why do they hate their hometown ? This small area is one of the bits of charm left in downtown Halifax. Nobody wants to wander streets of looming glass and concrete structures. Nobody. People pass quickly through those zones, there is no invitation to stop and linger, or shop. If you look at Toronto or Montreal, the most loved and visited tourist places are the friendly, people size streets of Yorkville, or the plateau in Montreal.

  3. We can do something about this. There is a municipal election coming up. Press your councillor to rescind the vote on March 10, or he/she doesn’t get your vote.
    OR request/demand that the city purchase the buildings, register them and then sell to a suitable owner or owners who will preserve the buildings. The city did this in the 1990s. What has changed?
    Finally, ask the city to step up and deny demolition permits on these “potential heritage properties”. By being so identified in the Centre Plan, there is a reason in the plan that justifies denying a demolition permit.
    -Janet M.

  4. When I worked in Halifax, I used to love that area just because of these unique shops. So sad to see what was beautiful and unique about Halifax constantly being offered up for sale so that developers can build yet another skyscraper that, based on past developments, is likely to violate more bylaws than it follows.

  5. Halifax seems determined to demolish those structures which make it an engaging city to begin with. Once it is all glass and steel and condos, who will want to go there, or live there? May as well live in Toronto.

  6. I hate to see the quaint and colourful boutiques on Queen St destroyed. They are one of the last vestiges of the culture and character of Halifax in the downtown.
    I watched a group of about 15 tourists taking photos of that streetscape last summer. They weren’t interested in the huge apartment buildings with franchise business on the main floor.
    Also where are students and others going to buy lovely second hand clothes in downtown??
    Developers win again.