November 30th, 2012
St. John’s, St. John’s, a helluva town.
Cabot Tower is up, but the Battery’s down.
With apologies to Leonard Bernstein and the authors of the Broadway musical On the Town….
Ever since Memorial announced it had purchased the Battery Hotel and Suites on Signal Hill I have felt like singing. The Battery has long occupied a place of prominence on the Hill, unavoidably looming over the harbour like a giant white elephant. Indeed, the hotel has long seen better days. A scan of comments on the most credible tourist sites (Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc.), underscores just how rundown the place has become. Shabby doesn’t even cover it. Without its spectacular view and relatively affordable rates, the hotel would be fully, permanently vacant. For decades, St. John’s residents have lamented its condition, dreaming of a new and improved landmark. The Battery has been for sale for some time and so the dreaming had some real motivation. But, then, many of us feared who might buy it and turn it into some even uglier version of itself.
Well, now that Memorial has bought it many of us are feeling a helluva lot better. I honestly think this is one of the most inspired and ambitious things we have done in a long time, and full credit goes to President Gary Kachanoski for imagining the possibility—and then acting upon it. It’s a visionary move, full of surprise and wonder. You could practically hear the jaws dropping all over town.
Since the announcement a couple of weeks ago I have heard nothing but expressions of delight. True, I did read a bit of nasty chat feedback on some news sites, where the usual anonymous cranky types railed against the purchase and called the university down to the dirt for taking jobs away from hotel staff. But for the most part everyone thinks this is a good, bold move.
Plans for how to fill the vast space are already cooking but I am sure the president and his team will be consulting the community as to how best to utilize it. About a million dollars is being spent on off-campus rental space right now, and so it makes sense to relocate those clients to the Hill. But there are other obvious occupants, such as any unit involved in public engagement. A floor or two could be easily devoted to visiting scholars, and another to PhD students, especially couples who could make good use of the suites. I sure hope we maintain the bar with its own ten-million dollar view. It’s the only place you can get a drink on the Hill, and while we’re at it a decent coffee shop would be more than welcome.
I have long cried in this BlogSpot about Memorial space needs and pointed enviously to other campuses where fresh architecture had transformed a campus, and where dedicated graduate student residences flourished, a sign of a healthy management culture. Seems to me that we have finally started to think more creatively about how best to serve and inspire our staff and students. A great big room with a view is a confident move in the right direction. Can a shuttle service be far behind?