Work to transform former A&P site underway


Pictured above, the property as seen from the Minerva Street side. Plans include a walkway connecting Minerva and Main streets.

A property in the heart of Huntsville’s historic downtown, which has sat empty for years, is getting a facelift.

“It’s great to see construction starting finally at the old A&P building,” Huntsville Councillor Bob Stone told his colleagues at Huntsville Council’s July 23 meeting. Stone sits on the Board of Directors of the downtown Business Improvement Area as a council representative.

The property at 19 Main Street East has been owned by Jim Witt since 2008 and while he understands people have been anxious to see the site developed, he said there’s been a lot of planning behind the scenes.

“Over the years I’ve had every intention to do something with the building—whether that’s renovate it, sell it, add on to it, go into partnership with somebody on a project—so all of these things take time and they take sorting through and they don’t happen overnight,” he explained.

He said at one point there was interest in bundling the property with other properties for redevelopment purposes including the former Empire building site as well as the property next to it. “That’s where the biggest play could’ve been, but I don’t think that’s possible. Based on the fact that there’s other parties that have their own interest, I just decided to go ahead on my own,” he said.

Witt said moving forward with the redevelopment of the building has required careful consideration. While plans are underway to add another storey, consideration was also given to turning the existing building into a three and possibly a four storey building. At one point expanding the building into an L-shaped structure with underground parking was also considered.

One of the problems that I have in putting the money into that is whether or not Huntsville is ready to gobble up the amount of space that we would be putting on the market, so that’s always an issue. The problem you have is you’re still dealing with a small town, there’s only so much demand for office and there’s only so much demand for retail (space). Owner of 19 Main Street East property Jim Witt

Parking has been an issue on that site as well. While it is privately owned, people have been parking there at no charge for years. Somebody has even taken it upon themselves to actually plow it when needed. “In doing so they’ve helped destroy the surface of the parking lot. So I’ve had added costs in that because now it’s pretty well got to be dug up and start from scratch,” Witt explained.

As for the plans moving forward? Witt said he plans to add a second storey to the building, which will include an elevator. The second storey will contain about six office units with access off Minerva Street and a patio, while the main level could have up to six retail units as well. The end unit on the Main Street side will have a large patio.

He said the patio will measure about 34.5 feet by 40 feet. “So you’re going to get a tremendous amount of people on Main Street enjoying themselves having lunch, dinner, drinks, whatever the case may be. We want those people to be visible from the Main Street so people can see that’s an active spot.” There’ll be a second patio closer to the Minerva side of the building, which will measure 15 feet in depth by about 44 feet in length.

As for the Main Street side, it will be fully accessible and there’ll be an archway and a wide sloping entrance to the retail spaces on the main level with a parkette and a 22-foot-high covered walkway with large outdoor chandeliers connecting Main and Minerva streets. “It’s going to have curb appeal like nothing else in Huntsville,” noted Witt.

The basement of the building will have a separate entrance off Main Street. Witt said the plan is to turn the basement into climate controlled storage units with a lift. “We are probably going to turn the basement into document storage. So somebody that wants to access their documents can go in off the Main Street entrance. If they’re wanting to load documents, they would go off the Minerva Street entrance and access the lift without going through the lobby,” he explained.

Witt said a lot of thought has gone into making the most of the building. “As an owner you’ve got to make sure that there’s a pay-back on the building and it’s conducive with what the Town has been looking for.”

Rendering of the building as provided to the Town’s Planning Committee in February. The fence is not part of the plan, according to the owner.

The parking lot has been cordoned off as work begins to prepare the site. Witt said he hopes to start building within the next two weeks and is hoping the building will be ready in 2019 for a late spring occupancy. “We want it to be the premier building in the downtown and it will be,” said Witt.

A sign will be placed on the property in the near future with information, possibly a website and a phone number for those interested in leasing space in the building.

The site plan was approved at Huntsville’s Planning Committee on February 14, 2018. Plans to redevelop the property at 19 Main Street East first surfaced in 2015, when the proponent sought relief from parking requirements, which council accepted in order to encourage the redevelopment of the site.

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  1. It would be nice to have market there plus a few cafes inside. I have not been on your site before now.

      • Nancy Rogers on

        Wasn’t that building Boley’s Bakery in the 40’s? I remember being fascinated watching the donut production with the donuts being flipped over in the boiling fat half way down the line.

  2. Bonnie Branton on

    This building will have multiple tenants & users on 3 levels. (Even basement rented out for “Document Storage Units” instead of Underground Parking, as developer once suggested.

    Developer was granted “Relief from the Parking Requirements”!
    1 step forward, 2 very large steps back. There aren’t even enough parking spaces to accommodate the building’s tenants.

    Exacerbating available parking for neighbouring businesses – probably.

  3. I sincerely hope that Mr. Witt has been in touch with the Town’s streetscaping consultants: certain elements, e.g. the lighting chandeliers, the type of tree(s), the sidewalk width/style, certainly have the capability to contrast with their overall plan. While I don’t have the temerity to dispute a doubtless popular concept like a patio cafe, I can only regret that some of the rooftop area couldn’t have been devoted to a market garden or solar panels.

    • The rendering of the proposed building looks like it will contrast with the downtown of Huntsville in a big way. I hope this is not the final draft.

  4. It will be a great improvement, but still think the building should look a little more like Muskoka, and a little less like Toronto

  5. Gayle McCaig on

    I think it sounds great! Glad downtown will begin to have a facelift. Good luck Jim, hope all your plans go well.

  6. Matthew Tynan on

    Slight oversight in the drawings.

    There’s a ‘right of way’ that travels from
    Main Street to Minerva Street East that runs down the side of Caswell insurance.
    It’s about 10 feet wide.

    Just sayin.

  7. Hooray! I’m grateful that something is finally being done to that eyesore. Now, if we only could get someone to fix up the old Empire Hotel site, we would be looking pretty good. I wonder if the pigeons who have been getting at the old A&P building will move on or if they will attack the new building? They do a LOT of damage to buildings. The Summit Centre seems to have succeeded in getting rid of their pigeon problem–what did they do?

  8. If the parking lot there, is anything like the parking lot at the Pharma Save next door was, and I suspect it is, there was never proper base stone put in there. Sand, while we have plenty of it, is a lousy substrate for paving. Drainage is also extremely important, as even the most well-built road will break up without proper drainage of the road bed.

  9. Nancy Rogers on

    Wasn’t the Dominion/A&P building Boley’s Bakery in the 40’s? I remember as a child being fascinated by the production of donuts being flipped half way down the line in the boiling fat and riding up a conveyor belt at the end.

    • No boleys was in the building where the insurance company is , my aunt was a cook there when I was a little child.

  10. Brian Tapley on

    I’m probably wrong but my childhood memories put Boley’s Bakery closer to the Algonquin Theater than this building. I know it was Dominion Grocery for a long time but memory fails me on if it was ever actually branded as an A&P. Who owned what is of little interest, just the name on the store would matter and this is kind of an archeological item at this point anyway.

    Did not know about the 10 foot right of way, but maybe it could have the archway and chandeliers and the parking go against the side of the newly renovated building??? Interesting little fact.

    Does anyone store actual documents these days or are they not all digital? If one is going to store paper documents a basement is usually the last preferred place as it is the first to flood if anything goes wrong.
    Any property owner will tell you that “something” always goes wrong and usually at the worst possible moment.

    The patio is a nice idea but personally, sitting and watching the traffic go by does little for me. However, I don’t think they are planning on my demographic to be big customers of such a patio. It might work out.

    It is unfortunate that this whole block, from the old Empire site down to and including this latest idea could not all be done as an integrated project but that would be a bit too utopian for a place like Huntsville.
    One thing that I think cannot be overemphasized is that for the downtown to flourish there must be adequate and free parking. Why? Because whether one comes in a fancy Tesla, a smoke belching diesel pick up or a bagged out, rusty Chev. the only way most people will get to the downtown is by personal car. No parking equals no customers, it is that simple. If the planner who suggested that a 4 or 5 block walk is good for our health wants to try this exercise on a minus 20 day in Feb. or on a rainy night, or carrying a 50 pound package, they will soon change their recommendation about parking I think.

    Regardless of the above notes, I wish this project well, one way or another, as the existing “pigeon hotel” has had it’s day.

  11. Yes, it was an A&P. First Dominion, then A&P, then the grocery store closed and moved to the mall. Then a dollar store of some sort and then Salvation Army Thrift Store. What it was before Dominion I don’t know, maybe that’s what it was built for.

  12. Janet Baillie on

    The building looks very fancy but I wonder whether the lack of parking spots (which the new downtown development plan doesn’t acknowledge) will send shoppers to the mall…

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