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Revamp for former A&B Sound building in downtown Nanaimo

Building has been largely empty since A&B Sound closed its store at the site in 2008.

The vacant former A&B Sound building on a high-profile corner of downtown Nanaimo is poised for a dramatic transformation.

The building, on a long, narrow site running between Wallace and Terminal Streets and facing Commercial Street at its south end, has sat largely empty since A&B Sound shut down in 2008.

Now its long-time owners, the Vancouver-based Steiner family, are aiming to revive the structure, which is marred by graffiti. Plans call for a ground-floor market with boutique retail offerings, said architect Colin Harper.

Two retail units would be on the sidewalk level as well.

The owners are also hoping for a large restaurant tenant and possibly a café, while offices and a daycare with access to a rooftop patio would go on the second floor.

A row of vertical windows lining the entire ground floor of the building is proposed.

A development permit application has been submitted to the city. The advisory design committee meets today to vet the proposal.

No rezoning is needed.

Fred Steiner launched A&B Sound, which at one time had 21 locations, in 1959. A major force in Canada’s music sector, the company eventually fell into bankruptcy and closed in 2008 after the advent of new technology allowing music to be downloaded.

The Nanaimo building remains in the family, along with some other A&B properties.

The original one-storey section of the building was constructed in 1927, a city staff report said. Later additions saw it partly converted to a two-storey structure.

Harper said when he first saw the structure, he thought it had a lot of potential — only minimal intervention was needed to “really make that building sing again,” he said, noting it’s in “surprisingly” good condition.

Harper said a white colour scheme is planned for the exterior to highlight its design, which he likens to a 1930s modernist, almost Art Deco, style. Modernist building are typically streamlined, with flat roofs, smooth exterior walls, clean lines and lots of glass.

The ground floor is about 12,000 square feet and the upper level is 7,000 square feet.

The architect said the improvements will contribute to the city’s revitalization initiatives in that area, noting the building is at the gateway to downtown.

“We recognize the importance of the building and its role in bringing that neighbourhood back to life.”

The A&B Sound building is across the street from a large city-owned hole in the ground that once housed the two-storey Jean Burns building, which was destroyed in a 2016 fire.

Kim Smythe, chief executive and president of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, said the building is on a “crucial corner” in downtown. “It needs to be developed with care and with a view to how does that fit into the future of downtown?” A big question is what will happen across the street where the Jean Burns building once stood, he said.

An earlier city concept plan has been sidelined and Nanaimo has hired a consultant to work on plans for that area, Smythe said.

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce is bringing back its popular Thursday night summer market, which features a farmers market with crafts and home decor items.

Shut down for two years because of the pandemic, the market is set to reopen June 23 and will run for 11 Thursdays, Smythe said.