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Citizens’ committee formed to save Market Street West building

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Challenge accepted.

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Brockville council’s finance committee warned this week that an old Market Street West building will be torn down without a community fundraising effort to save it. On Thursday, former senator Bob Runciman said a group now exists to get such an effort going.

Not only that, but the new citizens’ committee includes some community heavy hitters.

Runciman, who tentatively called himself the acting chairman of the new citizens’ committee until a structure is formalized, said the other members are Graeme Sifton, Jay Martin, Wayne Blackwell, Brockville Rowing Club president Katherine Rowan, and local historian Brian Porter. Coun. Cameron Wales is the city council liaison.

Sifton is president of the Carolyn Sifton Foundation, which recently donated $ 1 million to the Brockville and District Hospital Foundation toward the purchase of an MRI device for Brockville General Hospital.

The group has come together, said Runciman, to answer the challenge issued Tuesday by city council’s finance and administration committee when it defeated a motion to fund studies into the cost of restoring or preserving the building, which includes addresses 8 and 10 Market Street West .

Both the Market Street West structure, which once housed Brockville’s tourism office, and an adjacent residential building on Water Street, were marked for demolition earlier this year after city officials deemed it too costly to maintain or rehabilitate them.

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While the Water Street structure is likely beyond hope, advocates for taking another look at saving the Market Street West building, including Runciman, joined in a public outcry that last month prompted city council to pause the demolition until at least mid-September.

The council finance committee voted unanimously Tuesday against spending $ 17,500 on new studies, and put supporters of the Market Street West building on notice that, if they are to save it from demolition, they must find the money themselves.

Runciman said Thursday he could see an effort to preserve the building similar to the one he led to rebuild the Five Mile Light, also known as the Cole Shoal lighthouse, after it was destroyed by fire in 2018.

The former senator hopes the credibility of the people assembled in the citizens’ committee will convince council to grant it carte blanche to commission its own studies, both to assess the costs of fixing up the building to make it usable, and to restore it. Runciman would like to hire someone with expertise in the restoration of historic buildings, but acknowledges a complete restoration to its original state is not on the table.

“What I would like to see is the exterior restored to the appearance of what it looked like in the 1800s,” he said.

“The inside of the building we want to make as functional as possible.”

It’s too early to say what the group’s initial fundraising target will be, he added.

The citizens’ committee would then turn to the public for ideas about its possible uses, said Runciman.

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More immediately, the citizens’ committee must be recognized by council, said the former senator, who hopes city hall will allow donors to get tax receipts through the city. He also hopes that, should the new group be making significant headway come the September deadline, city council will be willing to extend it.

Mayor Mike Kalivas said Thursday council is ready to listen to any presentation the new citizens’ group wants to make, but he suggested the group do its due diligence as quickly as possible to see if the building is even salvageable.

He suggested the new committee look at an engineering report on the building done by the city in 2017, “to see if they want to proceed any further.”

“Decisions have to be made on how far they want to raise funds,” said the mayor.

“The point of the matter is that they need to do it sooner rather than later.”

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