Special Report: Heritage

Gore Demolition Forestalled, Province Reluctant to Intervene

Heritage advocates argue that the latest crisis for the Gore buildings highlights the need to designate them under the Ontario Heritage Act.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 22, 2013

Last Friday, the demolition of 18-28 King Street East began. However, after an emergency 3:00 PM meeting between Councillor Jason Farr, Councillor Brian McHattie and Robert Miles, a representative of Wilson-Blanchard, the demolition was halted and the "confusion" behind it was cleared up.

Fencing around Gore streetwall
Fencing around Gore streetwall

In a Friday afternoon phone interview, Councillor Farr said the issue was that Ed VanderWindt, the City's chief building official, had sent Wilson-Blanchard a notice that the demolition permit was going to expire on July 25.

Wilson-Blanchard responded to what Farr called a "miscommunication from the building department" by initializing the demolition "to show that there has been commencement of some progress of a demolition within that time frame." This is because a demolition permit does not expire if the property owner can show that the demolition has commenced before the expiry date.

In an update on the situation, Farr added that he had not included the building department at his earlier meeting with Wilson-Blanchard, in which they reached an agreement to hold off on demolishing the buildings.

Farr said that City inspectors had already entered 18-22 and "concluded that there has been commencement so the permit won't expire on the 25th." According to Farr, the reason Wilson-Blanchard wants to maintain the demolition permit is to carry out its plan to demolish the rear portions of the buildings and preserve the fronts.

He also confirmed, "The bulldozer is leaving or has left the site" and no actual demolition has taken place. Wilson-Blanchard is still committed to an independent review of its engineering report on the buildings and an agreement to meet and engage the community on their future, as well as a meeting with heritage staff.

Asked whether he thinks Council may become more receptive to the idea of designating heritage buildings under the Ontario Heritage Act, Farr said, "Up to now, Council has been responsive and willing to work on this issue. After today, my colleagues deserve to be updated on what's going on" before any other response is considered.

He expressed frustration with the "ad-hoc" manner in which the City treats threatened buildings with heritage value. "Why wasn't the Gore designated as a heritage district in the '80s or even '70s?" He noted that the City's Downtown Hamilton Built Heritage Inventory Study is an attempt to take a more comprehensive, proactive approach to heritage buildings.

Acknowledging that Council has not designated any buildings in years, Farr concluded, "Maybe an incident like this may help them to appreciate [heritage] more."

Situation Highlights Vulnerability

Despite relief that the demolitions are on hold again, heritage advocates maintain that the drama and uncertainty over the buildings is needless and that this latest crisis highlights, once again, the necessity to designate the buildings under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Kieran Dickson, Vice-President of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO), appealed to Councillor Farr on Saturday:

[T]he events of the past 24 hours have highlighted the volatility of the situation and the immediacy of the threat of demolition. [...] Heritage designation of these buildings under the Ontario Heritage Act is long overdue and I will ask that you please support the requests for Minister Chan to take the appropriate steps in this regard.

Dickson also noted that Wilson-Blanchard had agreed to revoke the demolition permit for 18-22 King Street East under an original compromise agreement in Janury, but still has not done so.

Richard Longley, president of the (ACO), stressed the point that the developer does not need to choose between heritage preservation and profitability:

Far from being detrimental to the as yet undetermined plans of Wilson Blanchard or to the economy, culture and creativity of Gore Park (or to Gore Park's much needed revitalization) ACO is convinced that saving these buildings will prove to be a tremendous asset to both, the city and those who would develop it, in all respects.

Provincial Intervention Requested

Council has not taken any steps to designate the buildings, and heritage advocates continue to appeal to Michael Chan, Ontario Minister of Tourism and Culture, to intervene to protect the buildings. On Friday Afternoon, Councillor Sam Merulla added his voice to the call in an email:

Minister Chan;

We in the City of Hamilton, are urgently requesting your intervention on the Hamilton Gore Park demolition.

I implore you to take sage action in an attempt to help City Council help assist in a plan to preserve the building in question at the Gore.

I trust you will act accordingly and I thank you in advance.

So far, Minister Chan has refused to get involved, noting that Council already has the legislative tools it needs to designate the buildings municipally.

In an email response to a call for Provincial intvolvement, Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale wrote, "The province is looking to the city to resolve the issues ... which, as noted, it has the authority to do."

McMeekin expressed deep reluctance to "bypass City Council and all of its authorities" under the Heritage Act, but the Heritage Act grants distinct powers to both the City and the Province to designate a building as a municipal or provincial property. The Act defines a separate list of criteria to determine whether a building qualifies for provincial designation.

If the Province intervenes, it will not "supersede specific and set out municipal authority", as McMeekin wrote. Far from it: the Province will be acting entirely within its rights under the Act to defend an important piece of unquestionable provincial heritage from the threat of demolition that still hangs over it.

It is certainly not the case that the Province should be absolved of its responsibility to protect heritage simply because Council has not carried out its responsibility either. The Act defines two tiers of legislative powers precisely to forestall the threat of cascading neglect.

There is even a local precedent for politicians asking the Province to step in and act where Council will not. After Council voted to grant a demolition permit for the Lister Building in 2006, Councillor McHattie appealed to then-Minister Caroline Di Cocco to save the building.

The Province did not designate the building under the Act despite a report recommending designation, but it did intervene to establish a last-ditch working group and contribute $7 million toward an agreement to save the building.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. Ryan also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2013 at 14:10:31

Mr. Dickson should've buttonholed Minister Chan when he was here to celebrate our "ideal" stadium...

http://www.panam2015.gov.on.ca/en/minister.asp

http://www.hamiltonnews.com/news/hamiltons-ideal-stadium-receives-blessing/

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By Annon (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2013 at 15:57:43

Why is Farr talking about these being designated in the 70's and 80's?
He had the opportunity to put them on the register Dec 4th 2012 and instead chose to table the items for a report. Shortly thereafter the application for demolition was submitted. During a timeframe that made it impossible for the Heritage committee to meet and make recommendation.
Farr can blame whomever he would like but I will be setting blame solely where it belongs and that is in the hands of the Developer and Councillor who allow it to slip through their fingers and into a pit of rubble.
You cannot blame those in the 70's and 80's for demolition's of today. Why haven't we designated anything in the last 5 years? It's not something you can blame on anyone but those currently sitting in the office.

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By screencarp (registered) | Posted July 22, 2013 at 23:13:24 in reply to Comment 90357

Why is Farr talking about these being designated in the 70's and 80's?

Because that's when they started to go downhill in a big way. That's when they needed help and designation. 1980-2000, no one cared about these buildings. And yes, you can blame past negligence for today's structural issues. Buildings that are open to the elements for years suffer badly. Especially when they're made of wood and have limestone foundations. If we demand the developer take a blood bath because we think these buildings look nice it will have a chilling effect on future development. I think we're all painfully aware of the horrific buildings that has gone up in this neighbourhood as other buildings have fallen or burnt down and sure any building can be saved or rebuilt given enough money, but when does it become folly? It is business after all and is supposed to be profitable in the end.

Gore is fucked for the next ten years. They need to cut down most/all of the trees due to poor management, they moved the buses out and reduced the foot traffic, so it's an opportune time to shut it down and remake it. Let's be positive and talk about what we want to see, rather than what we're scared of. Have some vision and imagine five or ten years in the future. After all, this should be the heart of our city, let's do it right.

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 10:51:40 in reply to Comment 90363

You should change your name to Screencrap because your comments are full of it. I've been in those buildings in the past year to see the PAYING TENANTS they had until this spring, they're not rotten, they're just neglected. I've seen buildings on James that were way worse than these ones and they're beautiful now, sorry but the burden of proof is on the person who wants us to believe perfectly well built 1840 and 1987 buildings are suddenly going to fall down. The only thing that's going to get a "blood bath" is Gore Park when these buildings come down and nothing replaces them for a decade because the "developer" doesn't actually have a plan or a tenant or an investor. The only cracks are in the foundation of your credibility.

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By eyes open (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 00:48:52 in reply to Comment 90363

There are no structural issues. You are welcome to get fished in by the tall tales of a company whose only business is selling empty lots, but you aren't taking the gore down with you. If you want to play armchair engineer, please go off to Brantford and leave downtown hamilton alone.

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 08:34:11 in reply to Comment 90369

How do you know there are no structural issues. Have you inspected these buildings? Lot's of armchair engineering going on by people who have never set foot inside.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 09:21:54 in reply to Comment 90374

Well, for starters there were tenants and businesses operating out of there until Blanchard kicked them out just a few short weeks ago. Are you suggesting Blanchard is the sort of landlord who would knowingly endanger his tenants by allowing them to stay so long in a structurally unsound building?

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 10:29:42 in reply to Comment 90375

Are you aware of the details of these tenants lease arrangements? How much they were paying in rent? You make a number of leaps of logic. Because these buildings have not fallen down in 150 years, they will never fall down? Because there were tenants the buildings are sound for development?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 12:09:25 in reply to Comment 90378

I see. So apparently you are suggesting that Blanchard was cavalier with the safety of his tenants. Noted.

Comment edited by highwater on 2013-07-23 12:11:42

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 10:47:25 in reply to Comment 90378

Your cheerleading for the people who want to tear these beautiful old buildings down even though they don't have a plan to build something new is sickening. Even Blanchard isn't saying the buildings are structurally unsound, he's saying their "shot" and "relics", i.e. old. i.e. part of our built heritage. PS you can't have tenants in an unsound building, and they didn't suddenly become unsound this spring.

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 14:34:46 in reply to Comment 90379

I don't think they're beautiful. I think the streetwall would look much better if they continued the style of 18-22 King. You don't need to save every building to preserve heritage. Let's not scare 120 million away from the Gore.

As far as it being unsound, I'm happy to wait for an engineering report, but in the owners own words.

And the building is so structurally unstable, his firm would have to build an entirely new structure just to support the facade during construction, Blanchard said.

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/221664...

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 14:49:11 in reply to Comment 90394

Please stop moving the goalposts. You not thinking a building is beautiful is no reason to knock it down. Demolition of old buildings is so harmful and wasteful that the burden of proof should be high for people who want to demolish. Which is why we have a heritage law.

And there's no reason to think the structures are unstable, if the engineering report said they were unstable don't you think Blanchard and co. would be hooting that horn? But they're not. They keep changing their story and doing stuff after agreeing to not do it, they haven't given us much reason to trust them. Your link just says they'd have to prop up the facade if they removed the rest of the building, well DUH. The point is DON'T remove the rest of the building.

As for scaring away $120 million, you're the one using scare tactics around here. There is no $120 million. There is no plan. There is no funding. There is no tenant. There's nothing to scare away. And until there is, there's no reason to kick out the tenants and knock down the buildings. Unless the developer's real goal is just a bigger flat gravel lot, something Blanchard seems good at making.

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 16:03:41 in reply to Comment 90395

Sorry "Gored", but this is just more imagined bullshit. 24 and 28 King are not "beautiful" buildings that just need a little sprucing up. WB are not evil mustache twirling speculators who want to sell an empty lot. For what-ever reason this negative speculation is specific to this site.

If you'd seen the basement or the third floor of these buildings you would have reason to think these structures are unstable. I'm all for saving our buildings, but not at the expense of meaningful investment in the Gore.

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By hyperbolic curve (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 16:27:29 in reply to Comment 90398

The only one who brought up "evil moustache twirling" in this thread is you.

He may not have a moustache, but Blanchard is, indeed, a speculator. His business is large floorplate commercial management and brokering industrial and commercial land deals. Selling empty lots is exactly what he does.

He is not a condo developer, he is not investing 120 million in anything. He has some pretty pictures to show to future prospective condo developers. The 120 million dollar figure is simply his guesstimate at what it would cost someone else to build his pictures into reality.

Will he find a developer? Maybe. but when? And in the meantime, he should be maintaining his buildings and renting them out instead of taking them down.

Why should the surrounding businesses and the city as a whole suffer economically because of his lack of creativity? Empty lots cost us all money.

If there was a developer ready to put a tower in downtown Hamilton, there would be construction underway already. You need to wake up to the reality of this "deal". There is one winner and half a million losers.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 22, 2013 at 22:46:25 in reply to Comment 90357

I wouldn't focus blame on Farr. He's dealing with a council that doesn't care about heritage. This is substantially the same council that voted to approve a demolition permit for the Lister Block - and it was designated.

I still remember when Councillor Lloyd Ferguson was on the City Hall renovation subcommittee. After he happily agreed that Council voting to ignore its own heritage law would encourage other property owners to do the same, the heritage consultant for City Hall resigned in disgust.

Farr is doing the best he can, but he knows he doesn't have many supporters around the table aside from Councillor Brian McHattie.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted July 22, 2013 at 23:20:40 in reply to Comment 90362

I'm not sure how you can say that there are NO supporters around the table (besides McHattie) when the article your commenting on and in fact wrote, includes a letter to the province from Merulla, that is in fact the most support for saving these buildings.

Do you have a letter to the province from MacHattie that I haven't seen?

My prediction .. if that building comes down ... Farr may as well start downloading the forms to apply for EI.

Do you have something against Sam ? please enlighten me Thanks

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 23, 2013 at 05:09:06 in reply to Comment 90364

I'm not sure how you can say that there are NO supporters around the table (besides McHattie)

I actually wrote that there aren't many supporters aside from McHattie, not that there aren't any.

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By Hammer Resident (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 00:05:10

Is there a reason why the story featured on www.theHamiltonian.net on Sunday, July 21 not covered or discussed here? It has to do with preserving these buildings. Something is not right. Am I missing something, or is there more to the politics of demolition in this city than meets the eye? Why is this not even in the Hamilton Spectator or CBC news?

http://www.thehamiltonian.net/2013/07/an-alternative-to-blanchard-block.html

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 09:41:51 in reply to Comment 90368

Well maybe because it's not really a story, just a proposal by a well-meaning resident. For that reason it carries less weight than Blanchard's own non-proposal.

Mahesh does not have the money to buy these buildings, and even if he wanted to Blanchard has flatly rejected any offers to purchase them - offers by people who have experience renovating and maintaining old buildings. He wants to do whatever the hell he wants to, regardless what others want.

If Mahesh can get any traction with Blanchard on his plan, good on him. But honestly it doesn't seem like Blanchard is going to listen to anyone else's suggestions.

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By Mainstreet (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 07:55:31

Maybe a developer with a vision for success and his own money should stand aside for continued rot in the downtown.If we chase him away we will be the losers.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 12:25:16 in reply to Comment 90373

Blanchard is NOT a developer, nor does he have his own money, and he has even less vision than the people who brought us Jackson Square. At least they actually built something, and were motivated by what they thought was best for the city, however misguided it turned out to be. Blanchard just wants to destroy sound, revenue-generating pre-Confederation buildings and leave vacant lots in the heart of our city until a "Target or whatever" comes along. Whatever would we do without this fabulous 'vision for success'?

Comment edited by highwater on 2013-07-23 12:27:29

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2013 at 09:45:17 in reply to Comment 90373

There are many developers with a vision of success and their own money who are investing in the downtown core and fixing up old buildings. Mixed Media was one of the first, Hamilton Bike Hounds and Treble Hall can be added to that list, along with numerous others who I don't know/can't recall names of.

People have offered to buy these buildings and restore them to utiltiy, and Blancahrd has flatly rejected their offers because he has dreams of a mega-development.

Oh, by the way, you do know that development is not imminent right? He has no concrete plans (he'd like it to be a condo, but it probably won't be, or so his partner says), and he has no funding, no investors, not even a design or a start date on the groundbreaking.

But by all means, let's let him tear down these buildings in the meantime, maybe he can use them for surface parking for another ten plus years, like he has done with his long on James, beside the landed banking & loan building, and see what he develops, eventually.

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