A new façade for Fenwick

HALIFAX – Plans revealed at a public consultation last night promise a landmark change in the Halifax landscape. Fenwick tower is getting all dolled up. If all goes according to plan, the building will be turned into luxury apartments within the next couple of years.  The former Dalhousie residence will be cloaked in a lavish glass shell, shielding Haligonians from the building’s grim, oppressive concrete appearance. The glass exoskeleton will add about 11 metres to the building’s girth, flanked by an additional 8-storey and 10-storey building, with street-level restaurants and boutiques.

Happy new homeowners, Templeton Properties, are geared to live up to their name, creating a decadent retreat for the Halifax elite. This marks a seminal shift in the building’s tumultuous legacy.  After developer Kenney Construction went bankrupt during the tower’s construction in the 1970s, Dalhousie took on the unfinished apartment building to provide student housing, often to families and international students. Its brutal exterior and context-insensitive height have been the butt of criticism through the decades and rumours about a mysterious non-functional top-floor swimming pool have further cemented its status as a symbol of bad planning.

The revamped tower will no doubt say goodbye to students, and a big, warm, 33-storey hello to high-income renters. You’ve got to give Templeton points for cleverness — it’s extremely unlikely a building of this height would now be approved in Halifax. A glass sweater might fare better.

With City approval pending, a few questions stand out: Will a shimmery glass exterior help this 1970s eyesore bring new vitality to the South End neighbourhood? Or do we really want luxury apartments to define a new movement in Halifax architecture? How will changes to this landmark — the tallest building in the Maritimes — impact the city’s identity?

photo by Elena Romera

12 comments

  1. Would be nice to see real digital renderings (not hand perspectives) of the proposal to offer an informed opinion. From the CBC link, it appears as though the podium base is new as well. If so, I’d be more concerned with the scale, character and materials of the podium before the tower. That is what will have the most impact (good or bad) on the adjacent neighbours.

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  2. Your implicit criticisms ( “The revamped tower will no doubt say goodbye to students, and a big, warm, 33-storey hello to high-income renters.” – ” Templeton Properties, are geared to live up to their name, creating a decadent retreat for the Halifax elite”) and less implicit (“do we really want luxury apartments to define a new movement in Halifax architecture”) are interesting to me, they seem to reveal more of an opinion than curiosity.

    I’m not sure that I actually believe there are enough new customers for a “luxury apartment” in halifax and I believe that it will inevitably revert to some level of “student dorm”.

    My guess is that it would be more cost-effective for Dalhousie to re-rent these apartments when they are completed in order to continue to provide space to international students and families. I have been in Fenwick place as a dorm and it was not a well serviced “apartment” and hardly healthy place for families (in my opinion).

    I’m actually not sure I disagree with a lot of your sentiment, but I am pretty sure the truth sits somewhere in the middle. Comments like “The revamped tower will no doubt say goodbye to students, and a big, warm, 33-storey hello to high-income renters.” sound factual, but you have no basis to support that, and I think you might be wrong.

    I seriously doubt that the “market” will bear rents any higher than what are currently charged at places like 1333 South Park St (1400$/month for a 2bedroom — no parking, 1 washroom, no washer/dryer, 2 appliances), but because of location, 1333 south park can provide terrible conditions and some of the worst building management I have ever seen. Maintenance there is horrific.

    I would suggest that the net effect might be more about bringing up the quality of accommodations and less about bringing up rents in the long run. This will provide needed competition around Dal and the hospitals.

    You will either see other buildings take steps to compete with the glass behemoth or they will have to lower their prices in order to serve any population displaced by the new Fenwick.

  3. RE: Baray,
    There are a few more photos on the developer’s facebook page Vision of Fenwick Tower, where they spend a little more time talking about the podium, pedestrian walkway and the commercial business that’s going to go in.

    If Somerset Place (1333 S. Park St, like Jevon mentioned) is any indication, I think the new fenwick will still put up plenty of students, which will help to keep many of the new businesses that move into the podium affordable—uncommon grounds-esque. With Dal and SMU so close, this is inevitable. However, the area only needs so many Uncle Buck’s pizza joints, and with the many historical buildings and streets nearby, there’s bound to be a few fancy shops moving in. As long as there’s a diverse mix, it can work.

  4. Re: Jevon
    From what i’ve read, Fenwick is over 93% occupied at the moment.
    http://thechronicleherald.ca/Business/9014119.html

    As for when the works starts, the plan is to put the cladding on the tower in sections (5-7 floor) so they will be able to keep renting while work happens on the building. Once they start gutting the entire inside though, I’m not sure if this will be done in sections or all at once (my guess is all at once).

  5. “So we’ll vacate those floors, do the work and then go to the next seven floors, and we’ll move those tenants into the newly renovated units.”

    It sounds like they will honour the current leases? Which means that current residents will get a fully renovated building/apartment at the rents they are paying now? (that isn’t stated, but seems like it would be the case? not sure) It is the fair thing to do, but it surprises me.

    It would, if true, be counter to Emma’s assertion that the renovations necessitate a socio-economic shift in the tenants of the building.

  6. jevon: while i can’t bring myself to think there are even enough rich people in halifax to fill fenwick tower, it’s also hilariously naive for you to think a developer is going to sink $100 million into a property, just to keep the rent the same as it was when the property was a simmering stinkhole. think about it boy-oh!

  7. the $100 million is not only for the existing tower, the developer said they were going to be building two more low rise buildings on the site (i think 8 and 10 floors), and create a number of boutique shops focusing on the local communities amenity needs along with a pedestrian street connecting fenwick and south.. Sounds like a great design, and will be a breath of life in that part of town

  8. Fenwick is underappreciated and misunderstood. This building was one of Halifax’s first ventures into modern concrete design and, love it or hate it, there is nothing else like it in Atlantic Canada. Covering it with glass is a waste of resources and unimaginative. What a shame.

  9. DO NOT RENT FROM TEMPLETON!! They are horrible, underhanded, assholes. They do not abide by the landlord tenant act. They will over charge you, the windows leak, the appliances are 27yrs old, they enter tenant’s apts without giving any notice, the constant construction noise and fire alarms are awful! They make all these promises of “luxury living” that they definately cannot keep. IT WAS THE WORST RENTAL EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE!

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