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Downtown heritage building may be torn down

The heritage building known as Bohemian Penguin on 397-399 Front Street could soon be torn down. It was built in 1859 and is a historic part of Bellevilles downtown. [1]

The heritage building known as Bohemian Penguin at 397-399 Front St. could soon be torn down. It was built in 1859 and is a historic part of Belleville’s downtown. Photo by Erin Stewart

By Erin Stewart

BELLEVILLE – The downtown heritage building known as the Bohemian Penguin could soon to be torn down.

This would make the Penguin the second historic building in the downtown core to be destroyed recently. The Quinte Hotel burned down in December 2012.

The Bohemian Penguin building at 397-399 Front St. dates from 1859 and was originally named the Henderson Building after its first owner, George Henderson. It is made of stone and brick with a cast-iron front and is the only building with a complete cast-iron main floor remaining in Belleville, according to an inventory of historic buildings done by Heritage Belleville.

The building’s owner, Mark Rashotte, wants to tear it down and replace it with a new building with a front that would replicate that of the existing historic building.

Rashotte did not respond to multiple requests for an interview with QNet News, but he has been quoted in other news reports as saying that the building has severe structural damage.

Rashotte has brought the plan to Heritage Belleville, an advisory committee of city council. It has approved his proposal and he is now in the process of applying for a demolition permit from the city.

The application has to be approved by city council because it is a designated heritage building.

Part of the ground floor of the building was formerly occupied by the shop Runway Bridal. In February 2012 store owner Brooke Miller was ordered by the fire department to move out due to the building’s poor structural condition.

“It was fine when I was there until the (structural) damage started to happen, and then we were evacuated overnight. So it was a bit of a shock,” Miller said.

Heritage Belleville member Vern Whalen said he thinks the new building will be a good addition to the downtown core.

“The fact that the building is going to be a brand new building, I think that is a plus for downtown Belleville for one thing. And the fact that he is going to duplicate the facade to look like the old building so that it blends in with everything else downtown, I think it’s a bonus really,” Whalen said.

The city’s special-projects planner, Greg Pinchin, said he thinks it is a shame “that it doesn’t seem they are able to save it.”

The building is a “gateway feature” when people are coming into the downtown area, he said.

In putting up a new building, “the hope is that they are going to be able to re-use a lot of the ornamentation and things that are currently on the front of the building,” Pinchin added.

The demolition request will probably go to council in the upcoming weeks for consideration, he said.