Service N.B. set to move out of downtown Fredericton in June

The current downtown Fredericton location of Service New Brunswick is on Queen Street, but not for much longer. (Pat Richard/CBC - image credit)
The current downtown Fredericton location of Service New Brunswick is on Queen Street, but not for much longer. (Pat Richard/CBC - image credit)

It's been almost a year since the New Brunswick government announced it would be moving its Service New Brunswick location in Fredericton from the downtown core to the Brookside Mall on the city's north side.

The move is now only a two weeks away, with the downtown office slated to be closed June 21 and 22 in preparation for the June 24 opening at Brookside.

At the time of the announcement last year, Service New Brunswick Minister Mary Wilson would not agree to an interview about the reason for the move. A spokesperson told CBC News she would be available closer to moving day.

Now, as opening day approaches, Wilson says the decision to shift the operation out of the downtown was a cost-saving measure that should benefit taxpayers.

"We've been downtown for 25 years," Wilson said in an interview Thursday.

"The lease was due for renewal this year. So last year, we started looking to see if we could, you know, find a space that might be more suitable for our needs based on the growing population."

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Wilson said nothing else was available downtown on the south side of the city along the St. John River.

When asked what was unsuitable about the Queen Street location, Wilson said the location worked well but, "at the end of the day, we do have to be accountable to our taxpayers and if we can find ways to save taxpayers dollars, we absolutely are required to do that."

Wilson said she didn't have specifics about how the move will save money, but in response to an email request, spokesperson Jennifer Vienneau said since there is already a Service New Brunswick office in the Brookside Mall, lease payments will be reduced by not having two locations, and the mall already has common spaces such as bathrooms and a kitchen, all of which is estimated to save $400,000 annually.

Vienneau said the cost of the move will not be finalized until it is completed, but current members of the service centre team will be "actively helping" with the move "to decrease the cost of moving to the new space."

At the time of last year's announcement, CBC News talked to people outside the Queen Street location to ask what they thought of the move. One student said he was concerned the new location would be more difficult to access without a car.

However Wilson did not express any concern about access. When asked about active transportation, she said there are plenty of people who live in the Brookside area of the city, "so we think it'll even out."

The Brookside Mall on Fredericton's north side is the new chosen location for Fredericton's Service New Brunswick centre.
The Brookside Mall on Fredericton's north side is the new chosen location for Fredericton's Service New Brunswick centre.

The Brookside Mall on Fredericton's north side is the new site for the Service New Brunswick service centre. (Pat Richard/CBC)

Although the location will be farther from the Kings Place transit hub, Wilson said the bus system will still be able to accommodate students as there is a line that goes to the Brookside Mall.

And "most of them are going to do the bulk of their transactions online," she said.

At the time of the original announcement, Bruce McCormack, general manager of Downtown Fredericton, expressed his disappointment the downtown would miss out on the economic spin-off that the service centre generates.

David Coon, the Green Party Leader and MLA for the area, also said he was "appalled" that the government would remove the service centre from the downtown.

"I see lots of people who don't have vehicles on this side because of the large population here living in poverty, including our homeless population," he said at the time.

Wilson said a benefit of the Brookside Mall is that it has ample parking.

And currently, new drivers need to go to a lot on the Woodstock Road, near the Delta Hotel, for testing their parallel parking skills, she said, and truck drivers need to go to the Big Stop in Lincoln for part of their training.

With the move to Brookside, all of this can be done at the mall.