Volunteer Cait (Kate) Dean

Zubin & Kim’s Building – August 2010

Downtown Belleville has changed. Yes, there was a large investment from the City of Belleville taxpayers for ‘Build Belleville’ a 3-year project to improve the streetscape but a big part of the downtown revitalization is the many facades that have been updated by property owners. To help with the cost of improving historical buildings the Façade Improvement Program offers grants to property owners to improve their facades.

Each building downtown has its own unique story. In the coming months, we will be chatting with several of the property owners that have taken advantage of the Façade Improvement Program and learning a bit more about their journeys.

Façade Improvement at 279 and 281 Front St.

Property Owners: Buhran Developments Inc., Zubin Gillespie and Kim Fedor.

Tell me a bit about the Façade Improvement Program and your experience with it.

Zubin: Access to the façade improvement program has been a huge help for property owners. When facades are re-done it changes the whole look of the downtown. I think more important than the financial incentive is the psychological change of downtown. The most important thing about the facade grants is that there are many people who have jumped on the facade grants and it’s changing the look of the downtown completely.

The façade improvement program was designed to encourage preservation of the architectural traditions upon which the character of the downtown of the City of Belleville is based; to encourage restoration and rehabilitation of the older downtown buildings and maintaining consistency in design of these buildings; and to preserve downtown Belleville’s unique historic character. This program provides up to $15,000 for a single wall (façade); and $20,000 for two (2) façades (front and side, or front and rear), to a maximum of 75% of the cost of a project.
Taken from the City of Belleville Website: http://www.belleville.ca/business/page/business-incentives

Kim: For our restoration projects the Façade program has been a small portion of our budget overall, but it still really helps because it’s grant money. For some other property owners, they’ve done more modest things, and may be fully used the grant money to improve the look of their building, simple changes like a fresh coat of paint or a new awning. When people take care of the details of the streetscape and make it more inviting, people notice.

The grant has encouraged property owners to expose historic qualities of buildings, so then there’s a conversation about the history of the area that comes from it. People don’t even know why they want to walk downtown now, but with Build Belleville Street Revitalization Project and many downtown building improvements, there’s a good feeling. It kind of has exponential growth where it builds on itself and you don’t even know why it’s getting better and better but all the small details are accumulating and then all of a sudden it’s like “Wow, this is a beautiful downtown.”

Tell me about this your journey with this building.

Zubin: We purchased this property in 2009 from Richard Courneyea. The first floor had been two businesses and on the second and third floor no one had been here for 40 years, so they were empty slates. That’s the case of most of these buildings down here; no one has been in these second and third floors for a long time. It was in very bad shape, but the potential was there, especially for the third floor. It was a large space that was used for storage and occasionally the tenants would have a dance up here. The building was called the East Harrison building and the one across the street was called the West Harrison. We purchased both. Harrison was the builder of both.

K: But we didn’t realize that until after we bought them, that we had East Harrison and West Harrison.

Z: In 1863 the 279 building had a fire. You can see the remains of the stone wall there. That whole wall was stone. All the stone was burned out and they replaced it with brick. That goes down two floors. Some renovation took place in the ’70s, and probably by 1980, they stopped. When we purchased it we gutted the whole building and did a lot of structural changes to it because things were falling apart.

K: The back wall was all stone and bowed out from the back. So when you stood at the back floor and looked down, there was a gap about 7 inches where the wall was away from the floor. Zubin took out all of that stone and we had I-beam steel put in there so that we could build decks. We lost the stone, unfortunately, but it had to be done structurally.

K: This building is kind of a sister building to the one beside us. It was a different owner, but if you look at them from the front they have the same façade and proportions. They both have the three grates up at the top, which we opened in the attic. We thought the same person had built these two, but I think they were different builders, but built at the same time, using the same design.

M: What was the state of the building when you purchased it?

Z: Well, when we first came to the building we walked upstairs and there were holes right through the floor. From the attic, you could see all the way down to the first floor.

K: The outside was painted brown. The windows were broken or had plywood on them. There were two existing businesses on the storefront level. Upstairs, the first floor was old apartments. All the sinks and tubs have been ripped out and everything had been turned off. The staircase was narrow.

Z: 24-inch staircases.

K: The worst floor was the top floor. You came up the staircase to the back, and everything was just boarded up. There was no light. There was a lot of pigeon feces – two feet high. So yeah it didn’t look great, but, you know, you take a building like this, you check out the foundations and you take a look along the roofline.

Z: There had been a fire next door maybe 20, 25 years ago, the empty lot that’s beside us. That burnt down. There was lot of burnt wood. The first step in doing these buildings is you gut them. It’s the only way to do it. And that’s what we did. Took it right down to nothing and then started again, levelling everything, all the floors first, and then you can start drawing up your plans. We thought it was going to take 6 months and it took like 4 years of constant work to bring it back.
It was 4 years of nonstop building. They were so well made, but then, who knows, in the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, you had builders who came in and took out important structural elements of the building and all of a sudden you have saggy floors and all kinds of problems, and that’s the case with a lot of these buildings. So, the most important thing for us was to have the work done correctly.
We are not the first to bring an old building to life in downtown Belleville, by the way. Paul Dinkel has been doing it for years. And doing a really good job of it.

M: Any interesting finds when renovating?

Z: When we went to start the renovation downstairs it was more of a 1970’s panelled office design. When we started gutting everything, behind all the drywall, both North and South walls, there were 18-inch shelves. They just drywalled over them. So we gained 3 feet onto the interior of that building. Previously it was a shoe store.

M: What brought you to Belleville?

K: A mix of economic opportunity, a dream of restoring an old three-story brick and stone building, and a really good friend who moved back to her childhood home in Bloomfield, so she told us about the area. Coming from Calgary and Vancouver, we were looking to downsize from city living to a smaller community.

Z: There’s a great opportunity here, and it’s beautiful. Everything about this area is fabulous. We’re generally 10 years ahead of the curve, but we are finally in the right place at the right time. We were able to find buildings, we could afford the buildings, we loved the climate and the people were friendly. And we could see the potential. Why would you live in a big city when you can live in an environment like this? Also, you have access to Toronto, Montreal, New York and Ottawa.

M: What does this building look like today?

Z: The 279/281 Front Street East Harrison building is now completely restored and renovated. Both commercial shop front facades and the 2nd and 3rd-floor apartment facades have been restored meticulously taking into account original historic detailing. The building is now open for business for another 150 years.

K: The current businesses of the Belleville Bourbon and Bean Handshake Society cafe and the Artisan Collective Market are building community with their innovative ways to conduct business. They are great additions to our growing streetscape. As well, they have beautiful signage and window displays to engage all.

Facade Improvement Downtown Belleville

Zubin & Kim’s Property – Circa 2016

Zubin & Kim’s Property – Current