Four years ago Jody McCairns moved to Saint John from Toronto with the intention of redeveloping Gothic Arches, a former church, into condominiums. With a slump in the markets, McCairns is now looking for creative ways just to keep the historic building from being demolished. His most recent proposal has been to tap into one of New Brunswick’s growing industries by turning the church into a brewpub.
The church was constructed in 1882 and was actively used until the 1990’s when its congregation grew too small to support it. The large stone structure has set empty for a number of years since, but as one of Saint John’s architectural gems it’s proven too dear to part with.
McCairns’ company, Ethos Development Group, with their mandate of adapting and reusing heritage buildings seemed an ideal solution. Their policy of creating “habitable pieces of art that inspire our imagination, nurture our wellbeing, offer solace to the soul, and ignite a sense of wonderment,” suited Saint John’s need to embrace the rich character of its heritage properties.
“We never once thought for a second our condo project wouldn’t fly,” says McCairns. The project was originally posed as a 75-unit concept, that was later downgraded to 26, and finally abandoned. McCairns says that after four years the decision ultimately came down to low consumer confidence, “Condos are not readily accepted in this market. We couldn’t find a builder with the expertise willing to take on the tender we put out.”
As McCairns explains, Gothic Arches is now sitting subject to the elements, and while he admits the building is built like a tank, any building left unoccupied and unheated is going to suffer. He’s now fighting time, and other financial pressures, to ensure a use for the building rather than it being sold for pieces.
McCairns has looked at a wide variety of other options – from a performance space and recording studio, to a cannabis grow-op / tasting room. Now he’s put together a proposal with examples of what has worked in other cities: the converted church brewpub.
In particular, McCairns references the effect that Picaroon’s new General Store has had on Saint John’s uptown core in the last year. “Uptown has really come into its own since we’ve been here… I do love beer, and Picaroons has been a great addition to the Uptown scene and an influencing factor in my move to Saint John. The craft beer market here in New Brunswick is one of the only growth industries. It’s great that it is such a grassroots movement. And Saint John really has the potential to become a food / beverage destination.”
McCairns has gone so far as to approach a few brewers on the location’s potential, including some larger breweries looking to get into the craft market. The cost of converting the building would require the right kind of business to see it done properly, but McCairns is open to other opportunities.
“I’m an entrepreneur and I believe in diversification so who knows. I love developing new things so I would definitely have a lot to offer and would love to be involved. If a straight buyer can’t be found, I would love to find the right partner(s) to see this building brought back to life.”
While the building is currently on the market for $500k, McCairns, says, “I’d sell it for $1 to the right group.” Though likely not in its current state. The building is in need of a new roof, stained glass windows taken out and retro-fitted, new electrical, new plumbing, masonry, kitchen, brewing equipment, bottling equipment, bathrooms, and administration space, or in short: it needs gutting.
“My skill-set can be adapted to a lot of industries,” says McCairns, “and I love beer! If a brewer came along and wanted to do his own thing, by all means they could cut a cheque and be on their way. I’m just trying to remain flexible. Ultimately, I hope to save the building.”