A historic building in Carbonear made headlines this past week after concerns were raised it doors might not open this summer as planned or ever again.
The Stone Jug, formerly the Stone House, has been under renovation for several years on Water Street, with a substantial amount of money being invested for upgrading it to a restaurant.
American businessman Bruce Branan is the proprietor of the project. Currently in China, he spoke with The Compass by email last week to discuss how he came across the property, the issues it faces and what to expect in the coming months.
For several years, the Town of Carbonear has been promoting tourism and attempting to promote its downtown historic sites. The Stone Jug falls into that category.
But purchasing the building several years ago was not something that Branan had pre-planned.
“I came to Newfoundland by chance, stayed and invested by choice,” he explained. “I felt Carbonear had great potential for growth due to geographic proximately to a developing oil market and the reprocessing plant in Long Harbour.”
It was more than just investing in a business. Branan has a passion for heritage structures. In fact, he wanted to be sure that the building kept its historic charm.
“From the beginning for the Stone Jug, it was all about stepping up, doing the right thing and saving the structure,” he said.
Although he is staying mum on the amount of money he has invested in the property, he confirmed a project such as this could cost a substantial amount of money.
“Heritage architecture absorbs a lot of capital if your intention is to remain heritage,” he noted. “I believe if you’re going to do anything at all, you should do it right or just don’t do it at all.”
Filling a void
The province has invested millions in tourism ads and marketing over the past number of years, often portraying beautiful scenery and promoting its heritage. From colourful older homes to the landscapes by the sea, it is seen as a place that oozes character and history.
Carbonear has a strong history itself, with many older buildings and structures and a deep connection to the fishing industry. Many other places do as well. But Branan sees more potential for those who are visiting, since not all areas of the province look like the commercials.
“When these visitors come based on advertisement and do not experience what they were led to believe existed in Newfoundland, they post their own advert on Trip Advisor,” he explained. “An example is Harbour Grace. There is great heritage architecture but currently it is a little like Berlin in 1945 with dilapidating structures.”
Branan developed a connection with Carbonear, and shares in the town’s belief that the downtown can be rejuvenated, leading to an increase in tourism.
“The Stone Jug will be a corner stone of the downtown,” he said. “We always imagined that if we invested in the Stone Jug and it came out well, that it would snowball and spin off other opportunities…”
It’s not just his structure that he thinks will create this ripple effect. Any and all developments and investments in the downtown are equally capable of doing the same, he noted. With the plans the town has for development and growth, Branan believes Carbonear will become a destination of choice for tourists and visitors.
What’s the hold up?
It was hoped the building would have opened months ago, but a few things have caused delays.
Rumours over why the building hasn’t opened its doors yet are running rampant, especially involving government regulations. But Branan wants to put them to rest.
“Let me make it crystal clear, it does not benefit anyone if a battle (happens) between government and business,” he explained.
One situation that arose was the need for paperwork from a licensed architect. When Branan began the project, he thought the building would be grandfathered, since it was previously a bar. Because of that, he didn’t have an architect on the project.
But when he began to apply for an occupancy permit, he learned there needed to be an architect involved in order to sign off on the work done.
“We performed upgrades by qualified vendors for life and safety and added zero architectural content (design) to the original structure,” he explained. “So we did not have an understanding that an architect would be required in such a case.”
Unfortunately, that is one reason why it has not opened yet.
Another issue involves the third floor, which has a stage and over a dozen tables. It is expected to be used for private functions, including birthday parties.
Branan told The Compass the building is considered “combustible” because it has wooden floors, even though it has metre-thick stone walls. With that classification, he is not supposed to have a third adjoining floor.
“We are currently trying to be solution based, seeking options and working with Service NL,” he said.
Getting it open
There is always a possibility the project will not go ahead, but Branan is not prepared to quit just yet.
“I wake up every morning and hope today will be the day everything gets resolved,” he said.
If the project weren’t to go ahead, he admitted he’d be heartbroken.
“This would be a bad omen for the Baccalieu Trail region in general,” he said. “Investment and prosperity will come to Newfoundland as a result of our successes, not because of our failures.
“I still believe strongly that there will be a resolution and the Stone Jug will open this summer.”