Debbie Murphy Eden, who transformed Saint John’s Horsfield Street in the 1980s with her late husband, Dominic Eden, has sold four of the rental buildings to Historica Developments.
Eden says she’s “a little bit sad” to let go of the lovingly restored old brick buildings on the unique uptown street, but the timing is right.
“Our plan from the very beginning was, ‘Let’s work really hard, let’s create this little business that can sustain us for our lives and makes us some money and let’s retire early,’” at around age 45, she said.
“[I’m] just a few years behind schedule, but that’s what I’m doing, I’m retiring early so I can carry on and do some of the other things I love to do.”
Eden said the deal with Historica has been about two years in the making, but she doesn’t know what the company’s plans are for the buildings — civic numbers 17, 19, 21, and 23 — which have about 15 rental units with below-market rents and zero vacancies.
“He’s proud to own them, I know that,” she said of Keith Brideau, president and CEO of the company that develops and manages properties in the city.
“Keith takes great care of properties, that much I feel comfortable about,” she added.
Brideau could not immediately be reached for comment.
Historica purchased the four properties and a vacant lot across the street for $875,000, according to Service New Brunswick records, almost double the assessed value.
The company’s numerous redevelopment projects have included the Canterbury Street carpark, which now houses Picaroons, Pomodori and the Buckland Merrifield Gallery, as well as several apartments on the upper floors.
It also restored the former Bustin’s furniture building on Germain Street, now home to Italian By Night, Five & Dime, Rogue Coffee, Tuck Interiors, and several loft apartments and office spaces.
Eden said Brideau reminds her of her husband, who died in 2006. He’s more focused on business development, while Dominic was more artistic. “But he’s a young man who has a vision and he gets things done,” she said. “I really like that and I know Dominic would have been impressed by him.
“And also, I love the fact that he sees the promise in Saint John.”
That’s what Dominic was like in the early-80s when he fell in love with one of the buildings on Horsfield during a visit from Halifax where they were both students, said Eden.
Although Horsfield has a distinct, artistic personality today, with its bright painted doors and courtyard gardens, it was “decrepit” at the time, she said.
The asphalt was crumbling, there were no street lights, a number of buildings that date back to 1876 were boarded up with chains across the doors, and two cars were up on blocks being fixed.
The whole urban core was “dilapidated and ugly and sad.”
But Dominic, even at the young age of 21, was “an incredible visionary.”
He said, “We can change that” and “started to dream,” his wife said. Before long, the couple packed up and moved from Halifax.
Eden described the first few months as “urban camping.” They had no bathroom and only one insulated room. They also had no money. But Dominic taught himself how to do the required renovations and did all the work himself.
“There was nothing too big for him,” said Eden. “It was quite incredible to watch him come up with an idea and I would just shake my head and say, ‘Oh, come on.’ And then, sure enough, a few years later, there it would be.
“He just didn’t see any obstacles along the way. He just said, ‘OK, well, let’s just get over it.’ and he’d find a way to by pass the things that popped up.”
He got to know area residents, planted flowers, picked up cigarette butts and swept, eventually earning the nickname the Mayor of Horsfield Street. He wanted to create a neighbourhood and inspired others to do the same, said Eden.
She said she felt dismayed at times over the years with slow progress in the city but is encouraged by recent uptown renewal, including Union Street.
“It really is happening and it’s exciting.”
She’s also excited about what lies ahead for her. She said she’s got some ideas, but she wants to let them “percolate” for about a year.