VACANT PLACES: Repurpose downtown St. Stephen or tear it all down?

The following was written about 6 years ago. And now, as 2022 comes to a close, it seems some modest progress has been made in small areas of downtown St. Stephen. BUT!!! Numerous buildings have been demolished and are no longer available and there are still about a dozen empty buildings in the downtown area and more in the surrounding areas. Clearly innovative development ideas are still required!


Yesterday I toured my hometown to look for vacant spaces. I have always been interested in exploring potential development opportunities and was curious about what might exist in St. Stephen today. I have written about the decline of St. Stephen several times. But this time I wanted to take a look through the eyes of a developer who might be thinking about moving or setting up a business there.

With the possible further demolition of the “Town Hall” heritage building and other locations that are also on the “chopping” block”, plus the empty spaces left by fires and demolition, and the multitude of empty store fronts, the Town of St. Stephen does not present an attractive front. While the parks and flowers are nice, they are no replacement for the businesses that once existed there and which were part of the active internal economy of the town and a dynamic town. Unfortunately, the new multi-million dollar “civic center” may not provide the boost that some think it will particularly as it seems to be simply replacing other traditional venues and causing losses elsewhere … but that is another story.

I took an hour or so to tour the downtown and other commercial areas and it is clear … St. Stephen is in desperate shape and it is doubtful that the spotty but nice grounds, the beautifully tended flowers, a sculpture, a monument and an arena will help. Certainly, Chocolate Fest and the Chocolate Museum will continue to attract people but these are “one-shot deals” and have little impact on the long term development of the municipality. With this lack of local business goes a lack of political power and the town folks should expect more closures of services like the court, and further cuts to health care and education services. This does not bode well for attracting new businesses or families to town. Would you move to a location that had limited services for your family?


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