Those keeping an eye on the old A&B Sound building at 1 Commercial Street downtown may have noticed a new advertisement that now adorns one of its walls.
Publicizing Hullo, the new downtown-to-downtown fast foot commuter ferry slated to launch this summer, the ad is installed on the parking lot-facing wall, where at one time residents could drive in and get their car stereos installed.
The ad represents “a new idea” that Jacob Steiner, head of operations at Vancouver-based Steiner Properties, says he’s exploring as a partial return to what A&B Sound was during its heyday as a family-owned home electronics and music retailer.
Its closure in 2008 meant that the Steiner family was left with a large portfolio of buildings across B.C. and Alberta, which are now the sites of a variety of completed and ongoing projects like this one.
However little else is happening with the property at present, as the company waits on building permit approvals, says Steiner, whose grandfather is A&B Sound’s founder Fred Steiner.
“The development permit has been approved but the building permit [still] needs to be approved,” says Steiner, who I met with at the site on April 19. “So we’ve been waiting on that for two years.”
The process of waiting for permit approvals is not just an issue in Nanaimo, adds Steiner.
“Every city takes so long, and they talk about how things are moving quicker, and that technology will help. But nothing really speeds up this process,” he says, adding that what he’s looking for from the city is collaboration.
Due to complex issues like soil remediation, potential geotechnical issues and the history of the site, the building can’t just be knocked down and rebuilt, which Steiner says may have been the ideal solution.
Current work on the building is classified under repairs to the existing structure, but as Steiner works with a structural engineer to bring the building up to code, determining what exactly those fixes may entail — and their cost — remains uncertain.
“So if we can’t build new, and we can’t pull off a repair, what can we do?” he speculates. “If [the city] can’t help us to make it happen faster, is there a storefront improvement grant or anything that can help us stomach the costs?”
Steiner Properties have submitted a building permit, “but they need to finish their development permit first,” says Bill Corsan, director of the city’s corporate and business development, when asked about the city’s process around permits and what can be done.
“We have an expedited building permit process in place now for tenant improvements which many developers are now using. This project is not one of them.”
There’s been some interest in renting some of the office and retail spaces from a few groups, including from the city, but it’s hard to secure commitments without firm timelines on the project’s completion, says Steiner.
At the moment, Steiner Properties is looking for a family-style restaurant or a beer hall that might be interested in occupying the main floor and outdoor patio, as well as smaller businesses to fill in an open concept-style market around the edges.
Steiner says he has also been in discussion with BC Housing about the potential construction of an affordable housing development in the sizable parking lot adjacent to the building, which Steiner Properties also owns.