Special Report: Heritage

Bold Plans for James Street Baptist Church

The Toronto-based buyer is committed to preserving the building's heritage and marrying it with high quality modern design to create a valuable space that enriches the community.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 08, 2013

Last summer, James Street Baptist Church on James Street South went for sale, listed for $1.1 million. Now the building is sold and the new owner is partnering with Hamilton firm McCallum Sather Architects to redevelop the property.

Sold sign in front of James Street Baptist Church
Sold sign in front of James Street Baptist Church

The redevelopment plan is in the earliest stages and few details are available, but MSA principal Drew Hauser agreed to an interview with RTH to discuss the project.

The good news is that the buyer, a Toronto-based developer, is passionate about architecture and specifically bought the building to leverage its heritage value.

The Gothic Revival-style church was designed by Joseph Connolly and built in 1882, and it has a heritage designation under the Ontario Heritage Act for its gorgeous rough hammer-dressed stone exterior, stained glass, pink granite arcade columns and other architectural features.

Unlike some developers, the buyer regards the building's heritage as a source of value rather than a burden.

James Street Baptist Church (RTH file photo)
James Street Baptist Church (RTH file photo)

The Church retained a structural engineer to assess the building before listing it. With the cooperation of Maggie Steele, the real estate agent selling the building, the buyer met with the engineer and the same team is now working on a solution.

Hauser was very positive about the experience. "We went to the property a few times, and Maggie Steele helped us assemble the information. It was really nice working With Maggie - she's great."

Committed to Heritage

Hauser, who is an intern with the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals, is confident that all the partners on this project are fully committed to the heritage value of the building. "The client did not buy the property to tear the building down - absolutely not. They could buy property anywhere and develop it. They bought it with the intent of using this special part of Hamilton's cultural urban fabric."

The buyer does not yet wish to be identified, but Hauser said, "They pride themselves on adaptive reuse of heritage buildings. It's part of how they like to identify themselves."

The biggest challenge is that the building has a number of structural issues, some of them major - including the north exterior wall, which is structurally unsound and may need to be replaced.

"Clearly there are problems. The structural engineer the church hired is the one we're working with, and they have a lot of experience working with heritage buildings on adaptive reuse."

The owner does not intend to demolish the building, but dealing with the structural issues is expected to entail making "bold changes to the site."

Hauser stressed that the planning is still in its earliest stages, but his goal is that the final plan "will make this even more of a landmark in Hamilton and set a possible precedent in how we can deal with heritage structures in the city."

Old and New

He envisions a solution that combines the old with the new. "There definitely will be very modern components to differentiate from the heritage and what we're building today."

Even where parts of the building envelope need to be replaced, Hauser maintains, the owner wants to save and incorporate portions into the design. "We architecturally - and the client as well - are interested in saving as many fragments as we can and incorporating them in however we would be redeveloping the north wall."

The goal is "positive layering" in a highly valuable space that "would definitely be some combination of commercial, residential (more than likely condo) and potentially hotel. We're looking at many different strategies right now."

Some other community organizations have already approached the team about using the space as a venue for various uses. It's still early days, but Hauser's approach is, "Maybe we can layer that into the project and really look at the space differently."

The site "comes with huge challenges," but the buyer took it on because "it's such a unique building. They want to work with the bones that are there and make it sustainable, so we have this part of our history in Hamilton or another 100 years."

Working With the City

The development team will have to work closely with the City of Hamilton to put a workable plan together and get all the approvals that will be needed. "This will truly be a test on how open they are for business."

So far, their interactions have been encouraging. "Our initial meetings with the city have been fantastic." Hauser gave special praise to Ed VanderWindt, the recently-appointed director of building services and chief building official in the planning and economic development department. "He's amazing - a real class act."

Still, the project has some serious hurdles to jump. The redevelopment plan has to satisfy heritage preservation requirements, and the building will have to accommodate all the usual requirements.

"Parking is always a challenge. We also need to make sure we achieve density. If we don't achieve enough density on the site, it will be challenging to develop it. You need to be able to have density" so the investment can pay for itself.

Hauser understands some people still see density as a dirty word. He believes the solution comes from "good quality design and planning.

"I personally would have a hard time supporting density unless the project is showing design strength and enhancing our urban environment."

Again, so far so good with City staff. "The city's been very receptive - not just economic development but other departments too. People have been patient and take the time to help." Hauser also makes sure he arrives at City Hall ready to go through the process and make any necessary changes.

Sustainable Heritage Preservation

Hauser is committed to heritage preservation but believes that the best way to protect heritage is to come up with a workable plan that is financially sustainable. That means the building must be designed to pay for itself over time.

He stresses the importance of a business plan that will cover the operational and maintenance costs. "If there's not a good business plan you sink a lot of money into it to fix it, but what happens next? Are you just paying operating costs to maintain it?"

It can sometimes be easier to get capital dollars to restore a building, "but the maintenance dollars are just as expensive and they go on and on. So figuring out how to work with these places is crucial."

For Hauser, heritage preservation sometimes means "we need to make big bold changes that can create a fantastic space - combining heritage with recent architecture that shows great design."

Working with heritage also entails "updating the building to meet current building standards and current technology infrastructure so the building remains relevant."

He mentioned Auchmar as a site that needs to become relevant to Hamilton again. "I love Auchmar and want to see it remain a part of Hamilton, but somehow we need to come up with a plan to make it relevant and an exciting place to go to, not just once a year on a field trip."

He also hopes the solution will be able to maintain some of the building's grounds. "Imagine Dundurn Castle if it had townhouses all around it."

Local Architectural Expertise

For the past three years, Hauser has been the chair of the Hamilton-Burlington Society of Architects. "It's been exciting to watch as we have consistently grown and had more participation. A voice has started to emerge there - we're all busy. It's great that these projects are starting to go ahead."

He noted that Rick Lintack, another Hamilton architect, has been hired to design one of the planned towers being built by Darko Vranich. "More and more, small and medium-sized firms are picking up projects and being given the freedom to explore and value design."

This is part of a broader shift. "Normally developers would go out of town, but now that knowledge and expertise is happening in Hamilton, which will enable us to compete with firms across Ontario and beyond."

Other Projects

He's also working on a redevelopment project connected to the Tivoli on James North. That project is being led by Dominic Diamante, a local developer who has mostly done work in Kitchener-Waterloo. "It's a swan song project for him. He really wants to see the site become something great."

Another project is Harry Stinson's Hamilton Grand, which is in for preliminary review. As recently as this past December, the building was planned as a six-storey that could go as high as 15. Right now the plan going to the City is for a 10 storey development.

Property at Main and John where the Hamilton Grand will be located (RTH file photo)
Property at Main and John where the Hamilton Grand will be located (RTH file photo)

The building will add much-needed high quality density. "They're investment properties. It will work like rentals but managed rentals - continental breakfast with your room. It's great for an interning doctor or a young professional who wants to be downtown but is in transition or isn't ready to own."

Hauser noted that the building is not being constructed on the cheap. "I was very proud of Harry because he's using good quality materials for the base and the rest is masonry. It's very traditional looking but fits the local vernacular of the neighbourhood, with the nearby courthouse and other buildings."

He added, "I like the quality of good materials. We don't want to build it out of foam."

This is a recurring theme in the interview: Hauser believes that people are willing to pay for value. He noted that Newman's Menswear on King Street East has seen a significant improvement in business since its owner, Aaron Newman, decided to renovate it a couple of years ago. "He wanted to move, but I said you're a destination already - why don't you keep what you've had for the past three generations and reinvest it?"

The investment is paying off. "His sales have gone up considerably since his renovation. He's picked up new clothing lines that wouldn't sell to him when the store looked less cutting edge."

Building Momentum

Hauser owns an old bank at the corner of Barton and Westinghouse. Currently the building is all residential, but he is changing the ground floor back to commercial. "Everyone's telling me I'm crazy, but I've got these young entrepreneurs who want to open an indie coffee shop to attract local customers and artists."

Investing in Barton Street seems crazy, but it seemed crazy to invest in James North a few years ago or Locke Street a decade ago. But things are changing, and the change seems to be accelerating.

"People talk about that 'momentum' in the city, and there is that momentum here. We've hired five new people in the last year - pretty good for an architecture firm. We're over 20 people now."

Another change is that it's getting easier to attract qualified candidates. "It used to be difficult to find people who actually wanted to move here, and we're finding that people want to move here now - there's been a shift. We get people emailing or phoning us from places like Richmond Hill and Toronto, and they want to move here. They want to be part of the culture they see here."

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. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By hammy hampster (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 14:00:50

Love 99% of this article. The part that bothers me is:

"He's also working on the redevelopment of the Tivoli on James North. That project is being led by Dominic Diamante, a local developer who has mostly done work in Kitchener-Waterloo. "It's a swan song project for him. He really wants to see the site become something great."

This means the CBYE got a building for $2 from the City, Sneidermans got $700K in taxes forgiven, now the charitable organization has sold the building the Presidents husband?

Has this fact been made public before?

This makes me a little sick.

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By foam (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 14:35:25

"We don't want to build it out of foam." Love it! Looking at you, Vrancor.

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 14:59:09

This is a wonderful building and adds so much to Hamilton's heritage. I had the opportunity to attend a concert there by many excellent musicians performing the songs of Nick Drake. A super evening in an enchanted setting.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2013 at 15:08:36

Someone should wallpaper Blanchard's office with this article

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By Nooz Googler (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 15:27:44






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By Nooz Googler (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 15:39:53 in reply to Comment 86089


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By jason (registered) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 16:15:20

Great article, and great architect. Drew- I for one, am itching for a great indie coffee shop on Barton Street. Can't wait to see it happen.

The usual suspects will scream and yell and fill our twitter feeds when the plans for James St Baptist are released, but I like the sound of what Drew is saying - modern mixed with the heritage aspects of the building. Economically this is necessary to restore old churches like this as we've seen in many other cities. They simply aren't viable as huge, open buildings designed for church use anymore. I could picture a condo tower soaring from the centre of the building or on one side. Will be interesting to watch this great landmark brought back to life.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 17:06:22

Thanks Ryan, I saw the SOLD sign the other day and was wondering what was up. Good news, such a beautiful building.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 17:53:23

This article made me feel all warm and fuzzzy inside, especially the end part about the bank building on Barton. I've been waiting years now to see some investment on Barton and it makes me excited as hell to see this finally happen. The whole stretch of Barton from Victoria to Sherman has an almost unbroken, excellent streetwall. So many possibilities.

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By GoGo (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 22:35:08 in reply to Comment 86098

Oh, I hope this happens... It would be great to have somewhere to hang out and have coffee! I can't wait!

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 19:36:16

I'm going to assume this is the old bank he owns. Wow. Beautiful. http://goo.gl/maps/6q6lC

A stone's throw from the old Westinghouse Building and Sanford School. 2 great old buildings that have had huge interest from residential developers and from the creative community for new studios/lofts etc.... sadly, our city and education institution would rather leave them empty and demolished instead of help bring new life back to these great old spaces.

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By hammy hampster (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 19:52:45

Thanks for the update Jason. To be clear I think that Drew is connected to the James Street project is great - solid architect, good guy. I'm just concerned about the appropriateness of a charity partnering with a spouse.

Love that our city has architects that are thinking of how to make modern with heritage to create a city that appreciates the old and new.

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By hammy hampster (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 19:53:24

Oops. Thanks Ryan...

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 21:03:11

On a related note...


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By erskinec (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2013 at 16:54:59

It sounds positive (better than what is happening on Gore Park) but it will likely mean a 20 or 30 floor condo and parking garage complex sitting on top of the Church property. Remember, they are only promising to respect the heritage site. This is not a purely preservation effort. So, the density issue will be critical to how successful the project is for both the developer and the heritage community. It will be interesting to see how this new structure fits into the local area, particularly with St. Paul's just across the street.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2013 at 17:58:25 in reply to Comment 86145

The existing zoning along that strip tops out at 22 meters, or roughly eight storeys. That would put it in the same ballpark as the Sun Life Building a couple of doors north, and marginally taller its eastern/western neighbours Bell and the YMCA.


It will be interesting to see if this inspires any fresh thinking and new growth atop JSB's southern neighbour, 100/110 James South, which was apparently constructed to eventually accommodate an additional six storeys above its current two-storey structure.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 10, 2013 at 18:09:45 in reply to Comment 86146

I'm amazed at the arbitrary height restrictions we have in downtown Hamilton. Suburban Burlington you can build 20-25 storey buildings, but downtown, surrounded by 20-35 storey buildings, you max out at 8??
I'd be shocked if 8 floors is enough to make preserving this church viable. We've swung so far in the wrong direction in an attempt to 'preserve our neighbourhoods'. If an 8 or 28 storey building is built on James South it won't ruin anyone's neighbourhood.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2013 at 18:30:26 in reply to Comment 86147

Those dedicated to a cause can get a variance. The guidelines are just that for the most part. You just have to make your case.

That said, I don't know if you can blame "arbitrary height restrictions" for the fact that there have only a handful of new private-sector builds in downtown Hamilton in the last 40 years. I think it's more complicated than that.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 10, 2013 at 19:02:32 in reply to Comment 86148

without a doubt. Didn't mean to imply that was the cause for our multi-decade malaise. Having said that, you bring up a good point. I can't count the number of reputable developers and architects I've spoken with who could rattle off project after project that was stopped by Hamilton's intense red tape and height restrictions. I never realized how obstructive the height restrictions were until hearing it near the top of the list over and over.

Many folks are of the belief that the restriction is there simply to gain thousands in variance applications for the city. Not the way I would suggest we promote ourselves as being open for urban business.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2013 at 20:31:14 in reply to Comment 86149

On red tape, licensing and land use designation, Hamilton is certainly far from pristine. It would be folly to argue otherwise. The fact that City Hall distinguishes itself as being labyrinthine is especially notable if you've ever attempted to read the Ontario Building Code. We're definitely not leveraging our strengths or clearing a space for innovation.

That said, there are few new buildings I can think of anywhere in the city that would have been vastly improved by being made substantially taller. In most cases, they are sufficiently modest that their aspirations were not being squashed by height restrictions.

In the case of 110 James South, the property owner's horizontal-is-the-new-vertical world view is arguably more of a hurdle than anything.


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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2013 at 19:45:08 in reply to Comment 86149

Burlington works trades as well, under Section 37 of the Planning Act.


So yes, Burlington can also be sticky about density and height restrictions. It's just that you can make more for the same headaches because the market will bear it. Consider the serendipity of location. Burlington's downtown is basically a 1.5 km square right on Lake Ontario; Hamilton's downtown is basically a 1.5 km square 2km from Lake Ontario. The real estate is some of the most valuable in the CMA. That impacts what you can get for your product.

Even so, there is pushback. The Strata's revision from 25 to 21 storeys a few years back was one example. The most recent example of this would be the OMB battle over the development of Old Lakeshore Road, once limited to six storeys and now apparently destined to house a 22-storey hotel at some future date.


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By jason (registered) | Posted February 11, 2013 at 19:52:01 in reply to Comment 86150

I only brought this up because it brought back all the conversations I've had with builders, condo developers and TO architects who have consistently brought it up as a huge obstacle to development in Hamilton. Obviously we don't want 70 storey buildings in Rosedale, but downtown?? It's ridiculous that Molinaro had to sell the old Thistle Club site because their 20ish storey plans were rejected. Now they are building 25 storey condos on Farview Street in Burlington, which is comparable to Upper James or Upper Wentworth.

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 22:52:05 in reply to Comment 86167

The condos on Fairview Street in Burlington are right next to the Burlington GO Station on their east side and the Wal-Mart on the west side. The intent is that this will be car-optional transit oriented development.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 11, 2013 at 12:54:21

Hmmm what whould someone whant to reno a church for , what can they do with a church , anyone with exemples

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2013 at 15:28:59 in reply to Comment 86162



There are less highfalutin residential conversion options for churches as well.


Doesn't necessarily have to be residential, of course. Churches have great acoustics (Cowboy Junkies' single-day Trinity Session being but one example) and they often recommend themselves as soundstages. Fenian Films is located in a former church on Locke. Catharine North Studios is located in a century-old converted church. And so on.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 05:48:57 in reply to Comment 86166

Thanks for the info Mal :)

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By LoveIt (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2013 at 14:53:11 in reply to Comment 86162

THE ABBEY, 384 SUNNYSIDE AVE in Toronto Roncesvalles
is one of them.
James Street Baptist Church can be a hotel, as it's in the city core.
Then if you stay there people will say "You live in what ?"

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2013 at 15:09:54

Good article.

I saw the sold sign the other day and was curious who bought it.

Hamilton hasn't been getting this kind of attention in decades. An exciting time to be a Hamiltonian.


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By jason (registered) | Posted February 14, 2013 at 17:14:31

Just another example of the lunacy of our height restrictions. This is suburban Burlington. Upper Middle Rd...almost to the 407 for crying out loud: http://www.ironstonecondominiums.com

Yet, we've had developers sell property and leave because they were told they couldn't go higher than 9-12 floors at Thistle Club in the heart of downtown Hamilton.
It's time to end the red tape parade. Nobody is celebrating.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:36:25 in reply to Comment 86329


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By Ruth Morehouse, Sales Representative, Ro (anonymous) | Posted August 08, 2013 at 07:51:48

It's great to see projects like Harry Stinson's lofts condos and the revitalization of areas in transition in Hamilton. With reports out about Hamilton being a good place to invest in real estate and the trend of more people from the GTA area discovering and becoming interested in Hamilton (re: affordability and what this community has to offer) it is no wonder there is a trend of prices continuing to rise and areas of the city especially those areas in transition. Many of the younger adults that I meet prefer to live in a vibrant, downtown area, with cultural significance, stores, restaurants, etc. within walking distance. They are leading the trend to revitalize downtown areas along with people wanting to invest in Hamilton who are building and purchasing rental properties. There are great opportunities in Hamilton especially if purchasing in areas of transition. Also if you are near the B-line bus service (from MacMaster University to Eastgate Mall) it makes bus travel much quicker. Students love to live in Central Hamilton. With the west end of Hamilton being close to the 403 Highway, and the east end close to the Red Hill Creek Expressway - commuting to the GTA is much easier from these locations and being discovered by people who cannot afford to purchase a home any closer to GTA. The opening of the new GO Station prior to the Pan Am games, off Centennial Parkway near the QEW and beside the newer Walmart store, is also great news for commuters and investors. Many people are still unaware that it is under construction. I'm Hamilton born & raised and my appreciation for the city keeps growing the longer I live here. I especially enjoy the scenery (escarpment/lake/bay/waterfalls/Bruce Trail/view looking over the city from the Mountain/etc.), the diversity, character, culture, and all of the benefits of Hamilton.
Hamilton is a great city!

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