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New look for a new century: Choices for Youth breathes new life into 1920s St. John's building

Choices for Youth's Sheldon Pollett says construction should be complete by May.  (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC - image credit)
Choices for Youth's Sheldon Pollett says construction should be complete by May. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC - image credit)

What has long been an eyesore in the west end of St. John's will soon be the new home of Choices for Youth's social enterprise and innovation hub.

The building at 340 LeMarchant Road, built in 1929 and once known as Avalon Garage and Service Station, has been sitting empty for years, but if all goes to plan it will be up and running again in the spring after a $4.3-million boost from private sponsors and all levels of government.

Major renovations are in full swing to turn the dilapidated warehouse into a new retail space, training school and office space.

Executive director Sheldon Pollett said it will be a huge step up for Choices for Youth, which has been operating out of a location on Duckworth Street — one-third the size of its new home — for five years.  

"You'll be able to feel the energy in this place when it's done," Pollett said.

"In a few short months, this space will be a bustling centre for social enterprise, training and employment. We'll be training, employing over 100 young people a year."

Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director of Choices for Youth, said the new space will be three times the size of their current building.
Sheldon Pollett, Executive Director of Choices for Youth, said the new space will be three times the size of their current building.

Pollett says the new space will be three times the size of their current building. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Two public-facing social enterprises that already operate in the city's east end will be expanding into the building: the Neighbourhood thrift shop and Crust Craft Bakery.

"Those are two businesses that are thriving, doing amazing work but also providing quality services to the community." Pollett said.

Investing in youth

The bulk of the money — $2.7 million — comes from the federal government.

Seamus O'Regan, member of Parliament for St. John's South-Mount Pearl, said this new hub will support youth mental health and take young people who might be on risky paths and point them toward more promising ones.

"I'm also the minister of labour, and this is exactly the type of thing I love to see — young people getting involved in the workforce, getting the training that they need to get a job and show up to that job with confidence," he said. "This is the real deal."

The City of St. John's contributed $100,000 to the project through a capital grant and has waived permit and application fees.

Mayor Danny Breen said the new hub is in a prime location, since the entire neighbourhood is being revitalized, pointing to the nearby Urban Market and Brookfield ice cream site, as well as the redevelopment of the west end fire station into apartments.

"There's a lot of changes going to be happening here in this area over the next 10 years," he said.

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