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Downtown Nanaimo eyesore still vacant after four years

NANAIMO – Old A&B Sound location a vital link in downtown revitalization, but owners refuse to sell it.
A&B Sound closed its Nanaimo location with little warning on July 23

Four years after closing its doors as Nanaimo's A&B Sound electronics retailer, the downtown purple eyesore commonly referred to as the 'Barney Building' continues to fall into disrepair with little interest from potential buyers.

The large, windowless building is located on prime real estate at Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue, downtown Nanaimo's busiest intersection.

A&B Sound closed the location with little warning on July 23, 2008, just a few months before the entire retail chain collapsed. At its peak, A&B Sound had 21 locations in western Canada. Nanaimo's location opened in 1990.

"I've had the question a million times, 'why isn't it moving?'," said Brad Bailey, an agent for Colliers International, which has the listing."The condition of the building at the moment isn't great so it makes for a very difficult repair or upgrade. It would take a tremendous amount of money and it might even make more sense for it to be a build-to-suit because rehabilitating that building ... may not be cost-effective."

It is currently listed for lease, not for sale.

Bailey added the slow economic recovery has also hindered interest in the location, which lists 17,725 available square feet.

"It's been a long time since there's been any interest," he said.

Across the street is the new Port of Nanaimo Centre, with the newly renovated Port Place mall just half a block away. Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, owner of Casino Nanaimo, also steps away, has plans to completely renovate its facility.

Steiner Properties Ltd. owns the Barney Building at 9 Commercial St.

Fred Steiner founded A&B Sound in 1959 before retiring in 1987, passing the business on to his son Nick, current president of Steiner Properties Ltd.

Steiner Properties Ltd. asset manager Chelsea Harding said the small, family-owned company has many properties, and are currently dealing with its Alberta properties that are producing more revenue."Nanaimo has been put on the backburner," she said.  "Because the company is small and family owned, they look at what their timing is ahead of the timing for the city."

Harding noted, however, that it is becoming more apparent the building will likely have to be demolished, but hasn't completed the steps to determine what its best options are for the site.

Bill Corsan, Nanaimo's manager of real estate, said the Steiners have a history of holding on to properties, preferring to lease rather than sell.

"They have land all over western Canada and are a little reluctant to dispose of anything," said Corsan. "That's kind of their philosophy. They have multi-millions of dollars in property, so something sitting in Nanaimo may not be top of their mind. But we'd be very supportive of the property being redeveloped."

Corry Hostetter, general manager of the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association, said the property is often brought up in discussions when it comes to injecting life back into the city's downtown core.

"It's really an important link and I think the topic that comes up the most is its potential, what it can be used for that would attract people downtown," she said. "If there was an attraction there, whether it be retail or even a public market, which has been discussed, it would bring people across from Commercial Street to the Victoria Crescent area."