A re-imagined Rheem Factory is worth examining. Hamilton has an exciting opportunity to resurrect a piece of our industrial past and weave it into the fabric of new residential development.
By Matt Jelly
Published May 18, 2011
Since early last year, the City of Hamilton has owned 22 properties in the West Harbour Area. This includes a number of residential homes, a former gas station, an auto body facility, a metal recycling facility, and the former Rheem factory. These properties were acquired in anticipation that a Stadium would be built at this location for the 2015 Pan Am Games. Needless to say, that plan didn’t work out.
In the meantime, these structures have been sitting vacant, awaiting some sort of redevelopment plan for the West Harbour. Due to concerns in the neighbourhood, most of these structures will eventually be demolished.
Earlier this week, the City of Hamilton Public Works Committee received a report by staff on the demolition of the buildings now owned by the City of Hamilton in the West Harbour/Barton-Tiffany area. You can watch a video of the discussion here. The portion of the meeting that deals with the report starts around 37:30.
The report dealt specifically with demolishing a number of properties the City of Hamilton acquired, previously intended to be used for the proposed West Harbour Stadium. The report addressed demolition of all the properties except for the Rheem Factory at 128 Barton Street West, bounded by Barton, Tiffany, Stuart and Caroline Streets.
The report states:
the Rheem property, known as 128 Barton Street West, is excluded from this specific recommendation. Staff is already in the process of issuing an additional tender that combines the demolition of 128 Barton Street West with the abandoned portion of the former Firestone building at 1579 Burlington Street East. Staff intends to issue the tender for Rheem and Firestone buildings in mid-May 2011. Based on the large amount of steel contained on these two sites, it is seen as being attractive to bidders for the City to bundle these specific facilities together. This bundling could have the effect of a "zero-cost" for the City and even possibly stand a chance of collecting shared revenue with the bidder, assuming that the scrap steel market trends continue to be relatively high during the demolition of the sites. These results will be known upon completion of the tender.
City-Owned West Harbour Properties - Barton/Tiffany/Stuart
At this point, it makes good sense to demolish the vacant houses on Barton West and Tiffany, as well as the former gas station at Hess North and Barton West, and to begin the total remediation of the former B & M Metals site between Caroline and Hess. The toxic site at Hess and Stuart, owned by Dave Maden, still needs to be cleared of the hazardous waste currently locked up onsite, and the site needs a total remediation, pending the conclusion of ongoing investigations by the Ministry of the Environment.
This neighbourhood, and the immediate neighbours of these sites, many of whom have lived for decades in this area, deserve to be heard - and they are in support of this demolition. These homes used to house their neighbours and friends - two of which have passed away since the City acquired their homes by essentially forcing sale of the houses through provincial injunction. These houses, now boarded up and vacant, represent bad memories for this neighbourhood.
In the two year-long political fumble over Stadium locations, this neighbourhood was left half-vacant, without a plan in sight. The time has come for the City of Hamilton to make things right in the West Harbour, and prove that they care about this area beyond it being an attractive location for sporting facilities.
While demolition of the houses is a priority for the neighbourhood, in talking to a few residents the idea of retaining and reusing the former Rheem Factory came to mind. There is of course some discussion that the building could possibly be badly contaminated, but for argument’s sake, what would the cost be to decontaminate this one building as it is, and adaptively reuse the structure for a future use? Isn’t it worth evaluating this option?
In January 2011, Mark Richardson posted a great piece on Raise The Hammer entitled West Harbour: The Three R's, exploring the idea of bioremediation of the contaminated sites, and adaptive reuse of the Rheem Factory, singling out the Rheem building as a prime candidate for adaptive reuse: "Soaring ceilings, bright and high chain sash windows, stunning structural metal… this building has everything needed for a great adaptive reuse. Leave it up and no remediation is needed where it stands. An indoor playground, retail space for artists, another good cafe, an interactive industrial museum… what can you envision in there?"
Rom D’Angelo, Manager of Corporate Building and Technical Services (Public Works) stated in meeting I mentioned above:
The condition of the building, the Rheem Property, the factory itself - the plant - is in pretty good shape, my concern is the office portion being vacant for so long, the systems in the building not being operational for that period of time, so it's deteriorated quite a bit. But the concrete construction and the steel construction of the factory keeps it in pretty good shape. There is some work that needs to be done, but at the time, our biggest opportunity at the moment is combining the Firestone Plant with the Rheem property and trying to get the best opportunity for the City at zero cost for the demolition of both those properties.
On the contrary, maybe a free demolition of this site in exchange for the value of the steel isn’t the best opportunity for the City - maybe an interesting reuse of this structure could be a bold symbolic gesture; as we remediate and in many ways redefine this neighbourhood, it would be a progressive move to rehabilitate this structure and find new use for it.
As development eventually takes place on the soon-to-be demolished residential plots, pending ongoing OMB appeals, a reimagined Rheem Factory could be an interesting symbol of transformation. Rethink Barton Tiffany is a group that has been calling for an adaptive re-use approach to the West Habour district, particularly in terms of the Rheem building.
The City of Hamilton could lead by example - resurrecting a large piece of our industrial past, and weave it into the fabric of new residential development. As a solid concrete and steel structure, this building is open to reinterpretation. Perhaps it could be a great example of post-industrial mixed-use cultural redevelopment. I believe we have the opportunity to do something unique in West Harbour.
Whether as cultural space, residential loft development, a museum space, or a mix of local retail businesses, I believe there can be many creative options for reuse using this now-City owned resource, and it would be prudent to at least have staff explore those options. Any development at West Harbour should have the support of the neighbourhood however - all good potential ideas aside, what’s important is that we carefully consider all options for the Rheem before committing it to the wrecking ball.
Parque Fundidora, Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, a sister city of Hamilton, is a city roughly twice Hamilton’s size, with a population of 1,130,960. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Monterrey twice, in 2003 and 2005. Monterrey, like Hamilton, has a long history of steel production.
The Monterrey Steel Foundry Company operated in Monterrey from 1900 until it’s bankuptcy in 1986. Since then, the site was transformed into a 142-hectare urban sustainable park, containing 26 former industrial properties adaptively reused as galleries, cultural centres, performance spaces, hotels, a traveller’s hostel, all connected to sprawling walking trails and green space interspersed with the repurposed monolithic remains of Monterrey’s industrial steelmaking heritage.
The Rheem Factory is just one building. But looking through photos of Parque Fundidora, I came across this photo of the CONARTE cultural complex, in one of the former industrial buildings in the park.
CONARTE Cultural Complex, Parque Fundidora, Monterrey MEX
Interior Photo of CONARTE Cultural Complex
The similarities in construction and scope of the CONARTE building and the Rheem are remarkable. Let’s at least entertain this option and remove the metal cladding from the Rheem, and see what kind of asset we’ve got. Let’s see what potential might be found in this building. Let’s urge council to at least explore these possibilities, and explore the feasibility of adapting and marketing this building. Let’s think about doing something interesting here.
Interior Photo of Rheem from Michael Richardson’s Article “West Harbour: The Three R’s” on RTH
The Distillery District, Toronto, Ontario
A little closer to home, there is another great example of adaptive reuse of industrial buildings at Toronto’s Distillery District, which was converted from the former The Gooderham and Worts Distillery in 2001 to house shops, art galleries, restaurants, cafes, and coffeehouses, including the Mill Street micro brewery.
Distillery District, Toronto, Canada, photo from Wikipedia by Mathew Ingram
West Harbour: The Three R's - Raise The Hammer - Mark Richardson
This article was first posted on Matt Jelly's Blog.
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