Breaking for coffee along Nanaimo’s Commercial Street Wednesday, members of Toronto band “Goodnight Sunrise” were buzzing about what they had seen of the city’s downtown ahead of their Thursday concert at the Vault. So they questioned why a prime lot at 6 Commercial St. has sat empty for seven years.
“In Toronto, it would be erected into something so fast it would make your head spin,” said Kyle Gritchen, a Toronto resident and band member.
“It’s so cute here. There are vintage shops, there are like record stores, things you don’t find in most places in Toronto. So I just see so many creative uses for that space,” said Vanessa Vakharia, a Toronto resident and band member of Goodnight Sunrise.
Downtown business owner Dave Lawrence agreed.
“It has sat empty for so many years now, it’s kind of ridiculous. You look at it, it’s the cornerstone of the downtown really. If you have a Times Square of Nanaimo,” said Lawrence, owner of That 50s Barbershop.
A massive fire tore through the Jean Burns building at 6 Commercial Street in 2016, and demolition has left it as a gaping hole ever since.
The City of Nanaimo bought it from its owner in 2021 to make it a potential bus exchange, but that never happened. Then in June 2023, the city stated it was inviting expressions of interest from developers to make it a ground-floor retail building with upper-floor housing, and residents hoped that kind of partnership could finally get something off the ground.
“I think it’s been empty for too many years, too long now. It should be developed into something instrumental that’s going to revitalize Nanaimo,” said Nanaimo resident Teesha Middleton.
Now a ‘For Sale’ sign appeared on the Commercial Street lot, appraised at $1.355 Million, leaving many with even more questions about its future.
“Nothing’s happening, and now there’s a big for sale sign on it,” said Lawrence.
According to Nanaimo’s Mayor, the city plans to sell the lot to a developer under strict conditions, not partner with one.
“It means the city will have control over what goes on that site because we’re not going to sell it unless we want to sell it,” said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog.
“And if you don’t see what the city wants to see on that site, will you develop it?” CHEK News asked Krog.
“I don’t think that’s going to be necessary. It’s a highly interesting site to develop, in my view,” said Krog.
Residents won’t have to wait long to find out. Developers have until Sept. 5 to submit their plans to buy and finally transform the now-empty Commercial Street lot.