Kays Brothers Building / Welsh and Owen Building
DOWNTOWN GEM THREATENED WITH DEMOLITION
The verdict on the future of the historic Kays Bros. Building in Charlottetown’s old commercial area awaits the outcome of an engineering report. Delisting and demolishing it for a new hotel would leave a large hole in this important historic streetscape.
Why it matters
Constructed in 1872 for prominent politicians, merchants and shipbuilders Lemuel Owen and William Welsh, the Italianate Commercial-style building on Queen Street (later known as the Kayes Bros. Building) played an important role in the commercial history of Charlottetown. The large, four-storey structure with decorative brickwork, round-arched windows and row of three storefronts with large plate glass, wooden piers, and signband, it is one of the most impressive along the historic streescape.
Over the years it was home to prominent newspapers and important local retail and commercial activities, but it is best known for its wholesale grocery businesses (J.T. Peardon’s, R.E. Mutch and Company and later the Kays Brothers). It suffered three fires that have damaged the interior, but left the exterior walls intact.
In 1962, the Kays Brothers purchased the building where they ran their wholesale company until 2009. The opening of Confederation Bridge, which made it easier for customers to shop out of province, was cited as the primary reason for its closure. It was purchased by the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC) that year for $750,000 and has been vacant ever since.
The building is included as a Designated Heritage Resource as per Appendix A in the City of Charlottetown Zoning and Development Bylaw.
Why it’s endangered
A new owner, island businessman Danny Murphy, wants to develop a $15-million hotel on the site that would require the delisting and demolition of the historic building. His engineering report, that states the building is structurally unsound, contradicts a report by J.M. Griffin Engineering Inc. prepared a year ago for P.E.I. developer Tim Banks. Based on that report, Banks had planned a hotel redevelopment that would incorporate part of the historic building.
Where things stand
Tim Banks is encouraging CADC and the provincial government to provide funding to Murphy to help restore the building as part of a hotel, instead of demolishing it.
The municipal Heritage Board has recommended that City Council not approve the demolition at this point and to uphold its designated status. Murphy withdrew his demolition application before the vote in council could take place. The final decision has been delayed until an independent engineer assesses the building’s structural integrity.
Murphy has not made any progress on his proposal since he withdrew it several weeks ago, but in a media interview made it clear he will be moving forward with the project.
In the meantime, questions have arisen about how a listed heritage property was allowed to deteriorate to the extent that it has.
Update: The building underwent a $6.5 million restoration. The project included the restoration of the brick façade with new custom-made windows that respect the heritage character of the building. The project received a $1 million provincial heritage grant.
Location: Charlottetown, PEI
Top 10 Endangered Places List: 2011