Despite community pushback, the Supertest gas station in St. George will be demolished for additional parking after a motion was carried with a vote of 8-1 during the County of Brant’s Administration and Operations committee meeting on Tuesday, April 19.
Community members that were against the gas station being torn down formed the St. George Historical Supertest Committee, led by Nancy Carubba and Jenny-Lynn Bisch, to approach council members with a plan for the property, located at 2 Beverley Street.
“We would like the building to be retained, restored and repurposed,” Carubba said during a delegation at the meeting. “The proposal includes the addition of parking and accessible washrooms which can be used by the public. We propose it to be called the St. George Creative Arts Center, a place where creative culture thrives. A not-for-profit affordable space for local artists and entrepreneurs. The center shall also hold workshops, which include youth and senior programming and the Tourist Information area which will support local businesses.”
The fate of the mid-1930s gas station was discussed during the March cycle of council meetings, but the committee was given one additional cycle to gather more information to present a complete proposal to council prior to making a final decision.
The pair explained that the property would be maintained by the committee and other community volunteers, asking for support from County of Brant staff.
The estimated cost of restoring the building came in at $757,000, while the demolition was estimated at $397,000, a difference of $360,000.
Carubba explained to council that while the restoration of the building came with a larger price tag, the value it added to the community would be worth it.
“While the initial expense is significant, this is not a $400,000 expense in perpetuity,” she said. “The value of the county asset will increase over time, our ability for the asset center to sustain its own operating costs will increase over time. Any surplus in revenue will go back into the center and its programming and continue to help the community and benefit them.”
The not-for-profit pitch included a breakdown of where they would receive their income which included 50 percent from renting space to artisans, 25 percent from grants, 25 percent from community group rentals and pay as you play events.
The income breakdown, specifically the amount needed from rentals, raised concerns among members of council including Mayor David Bailey.
“Such a big piece of your business proposal is for rentals,” Mayor Bailey said. “Within a four minute walk from Beverly street there are nine community rooms now available for rent. There’s Memorial Hall, two rooms at Bowling Club, a community room and banquet hall at the arena, St. George United Church has two halls, the St George Anglican church hall, the St. George fire hall community room, and the St. George library community room are all available for you to meet up and for displays of artworks.”
Councillor John Bell echoed Mayor Bailey’s concerns asking, “Why would these not meet the needs that you’ve already expressed?”
Carubba acknowledged the concerns and stated that the committee hoped to have more rentals from artisans, in a market or display fashion rather than events and meetings.
Councillor John MacAlpine spoke in favour of the restoration of the building for a number of reasons.
“I think the unique location there at the corner would definitely act as a tourist attraction for the community,” he said. “I would highly recommend that we turn down this motion and give them the opportunity to come forward and work with the county to restore this building and to use it in the future. I think it’d be a great opportunity for the community. There has been quite a bit of support. We’ve had a petition with 84 members and the Business Association has talked very favourably towards this use.”
County of Brant staff did consult with the public about the subject. In their report, it was determined that the public preferred the original option to demolish the building, create a larger parking lot, and beautify the area with 64% of those commenting in favour of this option, and 30% in favour of keeping the Supertest station. 84% of those who responded regarding additional parking wished to see more parking in downtown St. George, and 53% of people who mentioned whether or not they wanted to keep the building were in favour..
Councillor David Miller commented prior to the recorded vote that he commends the public’s interactions leading up to the decision.
“No matter how the vote goes, I just want to say I’m very impressed with the community engagement that has come out of this,” Councillor Miller said. “There were a lot of people that I heard from, we all heard from whether it’s emails or phone calls, so I was quite impressed. It’s good to see people get out and engaged. I hope we continue to see that public engagement going forward.”
The motion was carried after an 8-1 recorded vote, with Councillor John MacAlpine opposed. The matter will be voted on once more during the council meeting on Tuesday, April 26.