Balancing Heritage and Development in Kingston

Downtown Kingston architecture, Jack Astor's, Milestone's, The KegIn a city like Kingston, it’s hard to miss the history that is all around us.  From our narrow roads and nineteenth century architecture, to our historic landmarks, the past is everywhere.  This is a gift in many ways.  It’s an authentic part of Kingston’s culture that people come from far and wide to see and experience, but it is also a difficult thing to work around when  new development is in the air.

I am proud to live in a city that doesn’t tear down every old building in the name of progress, and I find it interesting to see how new businesses and our various institutions of higher learning will handle the incorporation of new buildings.  We have seen a lot of this type of development over the past few years – at least in the downtown core.  With the rejuvenation of S&R, the opening of the Keg in the former British Whig building and, most recently, the take over of the old TD by the incredibly popular Jack Astor’s across from Market Square, this week’s poll question asks:

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It’s always nice to see local downtown businesses doing their best to maintain the beautiful details of storefronts along Princess and Brock.  As I type, some store fronts in the Wellington-King block are being repainted, maintaining the integrity of the history of these buildings.  But we certainly aren’t perfect.  New buildings on Queen’s campus have always brought on discussions of which direction we should be headed.  I arrived in Kingston after it was built, but the architecture of Stauffer library, for example, is still talked about today.  How could they possibly build something so modern amongst ancient limestone buildings?  But this type of development is showing no signs of slowing.  In the very near future we will see Queen Street United Church transformed into condominiums, not to mention the many other locations downtown that have seen, or will soon see, brand new apartments and condominiums sprouting up.

How much responsibility do we, or does the city, have in insuring that we maintain our historic reputation?  How important is it to you personally?  Drop us a comment and tell us how you feel about new development in this fine, old town.

Danielle Lennon

Danielle Lennon is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. She was the Editor, Community Event Coordinator and Contributor at-large (2008-2018). She is otherwise employed as a section violinist with the Kingston Symphony, violin teacher, studio musician and cat lover. Learn more about Danielle...

9 thoughts on “Balancing Heritage and Development in Kingston

    • oops! Sorry, yesterday was a long one. Thanks for pointing out the typo.

  • I see this constant butting of heads between progressive thinking and heritage sites everywhere in Halifax, though neither side is happy, I think it's pretty well balanced here!

  • This is a great question. For me, the preservation of 'heritage' in the form of architectural details is a nice touch downtown when the context is dealt with properly, but I don't think it should be mandatory. If Jack Astor's is a good example of heritage preservation, it is at the expense of being interesting or pleasant to look at (my opinion..), as well as not taking advantage of or contributing to the environment around market square (by excluding any useful street level windows to people watch from and presumably there will be no street level patio space as it is rooftop). S&R, on the other hand, was done very nicely and improves the street it fronts on. Heritage preservation should not be done at the expense of placemaking.

    I personally welcome a mix and like to see modern buildings like the new public works, police station, and childrens aid society buildings.

    • I am a big fan of modern architecture, but the surroundings must be the driving factor. In our historic downtown, respecting what was/is in place is a delicate business for developers. The former TD Bank was an absolute eyesore, compounded by the fact that it sat vacant for nearly a decade. Whether or not you like the new Jack Astor's, I think the transformation respects the block and gives is a modern edge. Re-clad in red brick and stone, and some prominent modern and industrial accents. I can't wait to see how they finish the rooftop patio, and to check out the view from there. The signage leaves a bit to be desired, but I suppose it's a reasonable tradeoff given how much worse it could have been.

      The transformation of the S&R Building is equally as impressive. They kept much of the old structure's look and feel on the Princess and Ontario street sides. The other sides of the building look completely different, and a touch cold. Too corporate for my liking, but then again, I think there's a law firm in some of that space. A few other recent transformations that stand out for all the right reasons: Coffeeco in the form Block and Cleaver, as well as the renovated Downtown Sports.

      • I really liked what happened with the old Modern Furniture building when Trailhead renovated and moved in. They took an old building that was looking a little worn and run down, and really revitalised it. In many cases with the buildings in our downtown, a little work can go a long way. Next door to Trailhead, the old Runners Choice building, which now houses Spin Dessert Bar, is another good example.

        The old S&R building improved significantly on the exterior, but even more so when you go inside. The work done to the lobby area was tremendous.

        I like that Jack Astor's took a modern eyesore and made the effort to blend it in with the other buildings in the area, it might not be as fine a building to look at as the old Whig building, but expectations should be kept realistic. The same goes for what happened to the old RBC building when Urban Outfitters moved in, they gave a modern building a little old world twist with some brick work, and it no longer looks as much an eyesore.

  • I think the Jack Astor's is a vast improvement over the TD building, even if it's only so much cladding – the odd windows are a result of the bank's original design. They clearly went a long way into making it understated (for a JA's… see the photo in the comments above.) As a franchise, they've got certain standards they must follow and I think they bent quite a few franchise rules to fit in with the streetscape. It will mean a bit of a crowd of smokers and people waiting for tables out front, though.

    It is certainly an improvement over the original building.

    • I could be mistaken, but I am reasonably certain that Jack Astor's is not a franchise. They are all corporately owned.

    • I disagree. The TD Building had some architectural integrity at least, whether any of us liked it or not. But I would actually rather they had demolished it completely and built something that was properly designed than this. What Jack Astor's have done is create a fake and hideous looking blob. It's increased the bulk of the building and it has no connection to anything architectural at all. It is just an ersatz, bland corporate presence.

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