Owner of shuttered Saint John restaurant says city won’t do necessary repairs

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WATCH: Saint John restaurant owner says city won’t do necessary repairs – Apr 16, 2022

The owner of a restaurant in Saint John says the building housing his business needs repairs before it can reopen — but the city, which owns the building, has been dragging its feet on getting the work done.

It’s been more than two years since the last customer sat down inside 14 1/2 Café + Bar, an establishment with sweeping views of the Reversing Falls Rapids.

“It was very festive,” said Yan Del Valle, who co-owns the eatery with his wife, Yeny.

He said it’s a place for friends to gather first, and a restaurant and café second.

“I always think that we happen to sell coffee, food, drinks, but have a place that welcomes tourists and locals alike,” he said.

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Del Valle proudly shows off videos of the establishment in its heyday, featuring live music on the tiered patios and themed dance parties in the lower level.

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Now, the patios are crumbling and overgrown, and the lower level is torn apart and smells of mould.

Del Valle says the entire exterior wall needs to be replaced due to water damage. Travis Fortnum / Global News

He fears what’s stopping the spot from getting back to those glory days is a lack of vision.

“I want to look back five or ten years from now to see this as a pivotal point for this area,” Del Valle said.

“What’s the vision that we’re going to apply in this area to revive the reversing falls?”

He said setting up shop in the Fallsview Avenue building was actually the city’s idea.

The couple, who also own Connections Bistro in the Saint John Airport, set out to expand their restauranteur resumes back in 2017. They began to have discussions with the city about expanding to another location.

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“They proposed this location, which, back then, was vacant,” said Del Valle.

He said the City of Saint John took over ownership of the location after its previous owner defaulted on payments.

Del Valle said the 2018 and 2019 seasons were incredibly successful, with more than 400 busloads of cruise ship passengers stopping by in the latter season alone.

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It was late that season, he said, when the urgent need for repairs to the decks and roof became apparent, followed by the discovery of extensive interior water damage caused by leaking glass panels.

He made the difficult decision early in 2020 to shutter for the whole season in order for his landlord to make the repairs — before the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality.

Two years later, the doors haven’t reopened.

“We had been under the impression that the repairs were going to be done in 2020 and then they didn’t happen,” Del Valle said.

“We were under the impression that they had to move forward in 2021 and that didn’t happen.”

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Del Valle’s rent agreement had been based on restaurant sales and they have not paid rent since October 2019.

He said the city told him his rent would double in order to make up the cost of all the necessary work, something Del Valle said he cannot afford for a location only open seasonally.

“The insulation in here? We couldn’t be open longer if we wanted to,” the business owner said.

Standing inside the empty venue, Del Valle said he and the city appear to be at a stalemate.

14 1/2 Cafe + Bar boasts sweeping views of the reversing falls rapids but hasn’t opened its doors since 2019. Travis Fortnum / Global News

Global News reached out to the City of Saint John for comment on when or if they might begin the work.

According to Lisa Caissie, director of external relations, they might look at finding someone else to lease the space instead.

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“The property at 450 Fallsview Avenue is a valued asset for the City and our community,” Caissie said in an email.

“As such, the City is exploring all options for its continued operation, including the potential to leverage capital and operating investment through third-party interest.”

She says a call for expressions of interest will go out later this spring.

Del Valle said he believes the city is looking for someone who will pour the required repair money into the place themselves.

Yet he’s still cautiously optimistic that he and his wife can keep the business. He said they intend to submit an expression of interest in hopes of keeping the restaurant alive.

“If we come together, we can find a path forward to save the building and continue the revival of the reversing falls.”

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