Historical design leads the way to downtown renewal

The just-constructed Shoppers Drug Mart building is leading the way to Newcastle’s downtown renewal. This seems to be the consensus of most of those who have a vested interest in the area: Newcastle residents, area merchants, and the Newcastle Village & District Historical Society.

The as-yet-unopened building, on the southeast corner of King Avenue and Mill Street, has been designed to incorporate the heritage theme of other historical buildings in the downtown. And while the occasional resident has remarked on the imposing size of the structure, most of those questioned in an informal survey by the Orono Times said they were pleased with the look of the new drug store.

“I think they did a fine job,” said Pauline Stork, who sold the site to Shoppers and had to watch as her life-long home was demolished earlier this year to make way for the new building. “They put some of the old bricks from the old building in it,” she noted.

Stork was admiring the facade of the building as she sat just across the road from the site, at Butler’s Ice Cream Cafe on King Avenue, joining her coffee group Monday morning.

“It blends in with the Town Hall,” said Syd De Jong, also a member of the “Monday Wednesday” coffee group of retirees who meet at the cafe.

“It’s the biggest drug store I’ve ever seen,” said Mona Majer, another member of the coffee group. According to Lisa Gibson, Director, Communications & Corporate Affairs for Shoppers, the Newcastle store – which has a proposed opening date of the end of February, 2011 – is 15,000 square feet. Kim Sharp, the media consultant for the builders, said a typical new Shoppers store is 18,000 square feet.

The only criticism of the new building came from one member of the coffee group who said that there was no entrance door at the back of the building, so those coming from the other side would have to walk all the way around to the front to get in. This might prove to be difficult for some seniors and those in wheelchairs, it was suggested.

Lorraine Forget, owner of Butler’s and the Sears dealership, said she is pleased that Shoppers has chosen to remain in downtown Newcastle rather than move further afield, like many big box stores. “As a merchant, I think it’s an excellent idea to keep the downtown downtown.”

Forget said she also liked the design of the building, “It totally blends in with the architecture; it’s the old and the new coming together.”

“I think it represents a significant turning point in downtown development,” stated Allan Kirby, president of the NV&D Historical Society. “It does a very nice job of tying in the architecture into a central theme.”

Kirby said Shoppers took the best design elements from the town, such as the brick work, lentils and brick colours used in both the Town Hall and the building which houses the Clark Family Chiropractic Centre, and incorporated them into its design.

“You just stand there and look, and you can see what they’ve incorporated from those two buildings. They’ve used the same design elements. That’s what makes it a winner.”

“By sacrificing an old building that wasn’t historic, it has restored pride and an historic theme to the downtown core,” said Kirby, noting he was in the “difficult position” of being in the Historical Society and yet speaking in favour of the demolition of the old building.

“The old building could have never recovered the cost of restoration, it would have continued to deteriorate,” he said, explaining the society’s decision to support the new building. “We recognized that you need the renewal. We are very pro-active, positive and realistic about creating a viable economic zone in the downtown area.”

“We were the ones who spoke in favour of it. We presented a four-page brochure at Clarington Council, with the recommendation of the historical frontage of the building.”

“That’s the way forward,” said Kirby. “There’s a tremendous impetus for positive historical renewal in the downtown core, like the downtowns in Port Perry and Cobourg. We just need the individual landowners to jump on the bandwagon.”

Kirby said he hopes the new Shoppers building will inspire other developments under consideration to see the benefits of historical designs, for the betterment of the merchant downtown.

“We can’t compete with Walmart. What will survive are niche market stores. If you build a modern building with a 2010 design, in a few years it becomes dated. Historical designs, neo-classical designs don’t become dated. We have to peel off the metal and the stucco and bring the old girl back to some of her charms.”

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