Special Report: Heritage

Trading Real Value for a Pipe Dream

Thanks to decades of block-busting demolitions, downtown Hamilton is already oversupplied with vacant, paved and gravel-filled lots. We don't need any more.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 29, 2013

Sean Burak's interview with David Blanchard of Wilson-Blanchard clarifies what is actually going on with 18-28 King Street East. Here are some choice quotes:

To summarize: Blanchard wants to demolish the buildings now because interest rates are low, not because he has a plan. He does not actually have a development plan, and does not know what a potential new development would comprise.

He wants a small number of large tenants because it's easier to manage, not because the market demands it. In fact, his own market research indicates that there is a relatively strong market for adaptive reuse of existing buildings and a weak market for the kind of high-cost, large-footprint commercial development he proposes for the Gore.

He claims the buildings "have had it" and are "done" and "shot", but there is no evidence that these claims are anything other than the things every property speculator says when he wants to demolish an old building. If Blanchard's engineering report found that the buildings are structurally unsound, we would have heard about it immediately.

He wants to take the buildings down now so that if he does manage to pull together a plan to develop the land, he will no longer have to worry about securing a demolition permit.

Revitalization on a Human Scale

The city's Downtown Secondary Plan notes:

A desire for quick and simple solutions often nurtures "big project" responses to Downtown decline. In fact, experience across North America suggests that Downtown revitalization most often results from a collection of seemingly modest actions by individuals, small businesses and community organizations.

The renewed vibrancy downtown Hamilton is enjoying has come from the small-scale rehabilitation and reuse of existing old buildings, not from ill-conceived megaprojects that are destroying the core's chief value proposition.

Heritage has real, well-proven economic value. People will pay a premium to live in urban places with a) the distinctiveness that comes from over a century of various uses and b) the solid construction and adornment that Victorians put into their buildings.

There is, for example, a reason James Street is thriving more than John Street, and it has to do with the fact that the buildings on James survived intact to be restored and reused, whereas much of John was demolished by property owners who claimed their buildings were "shot".

Thanks to decades of block-busting demolitions, downtown Hamilton is already oversupplied with vacant, paved and gravel-filled lots. We don't need any more.

Yet Council is about to make the same mistake all over again by sitting back and allowing yet another piece of the city's irreplaceable built heritage to disappear.

That's the worst part: Council and the Province actually have the power to save these buildings right now by designating them under the Ontario Heritage Act, yet so far have chosen not to, despite the fact that there is no plan to replace them.

Please, Council and Minister Chan, make the right choice. Make the smart choice. Make the economically responsible choice. Do not allow the demolition of Hamilton's heritage - of Ontario's heritage - in exchange for some hand-wavy ideas inspired by low interest rates.

Do not be the city caretakers who oversaw the demolition of the walls of Gore Park, buildings that were hand-built in the 1840s and 1870s and constitute exactly the kind of asset that has proven to generate new vitality in Hamilton's core.

This is your opportunity to stand up for Hamilton and leave a legacy for which future generations will look back and be grateful for your courage and vision.

Tell Council and the Province to designate the Gore and protect these buildings from demolition:

mtrmclco@ontario.ca, mchan.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org>, Bob.Bratina@hamilton.ca, Brian.McHattie@hamilton.ca, Jason.Farr@hamilton.ca, Bernie.Morelli@hamilton.ca, Sam.Merulla@hamilton.ca, Chad.Collins@hamilton.ca, Tom.Jackson@hamilton.ca, Scott.Duvall@hamilton.ca, Terry.Whitehead@hamilton.ca, Brad.Clark@hamilton.ca, Maria.Pearson@hamilton.ca, Brenda.Johnson@hamilton.ca, Lloyd.Ferguson@hamilton.ca, Russ.Powers@hamilton.ca, Robert.Pasuta@hamilton.ca, Judi.Partridge@hamilton.ca, kevin.finnerty@ontario.ca, Peter.armstrong@ontario.ca, tamara.ansoncartwright@ontario.ca, tmcMeekin.mpp@liberal.ola.org, ahorwath-co@ndp.on.ca

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 lawrence (registered) - website | Posted July 29, 2013 at 15:57:18

A Target (Big Box) or whatever. Oh boy. Love the vision.

We are picking on Burrito Boys and various other great downtown establishments and yet this guy just admitted to basically not giving a rats behind about our downtown.

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By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted July 30, 2013 at 12:39:05 in reply to Comment 90539

I'm fairly new to Hamilton. The more I explore this city, the more I understand why it is the way it is - there are real estate signs all over downtown that have the word "Blanchard" plastered on them. Guy's trying to become a slumlord or something. That way he can say his building is a slum, let's fix it and put a Wal-Mart in!

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By higgicd (registered) | Posted July 29, 2013 at 17:27:21

Thanks to Ryan for putting that map together - really shows the extent of the hollowing out of the core. If one was to include all surface parking in addition to large lots it would be ridiculous.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 29, 2013 at 20:06:21 in reply to Comment 90541

Thanks to Ryan for putting that map together

Agreed. Good visual.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 29, 2013 at 20:04:37

So, he really doesn't give a crap, it is all just business... he's not unique.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted July 29, 2013 at 21:24:46

Good letter, Ryan, hopefully Minister Chan takes notice. It's amazing that while every other city in the GTHA is building up their downtown, we get the vision of another empty lot in the heart of the city--an area just begging for density.

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By Jeff Tessier (anonymous) | Posted July 29, 2013 at 21:54:33

Well said.

p.s. The first link directs to Nicholas's article rather than to Sean's interview.

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By SavetheBlight (anonymous) | Posted July 30, 2013 at 00:47:40

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 30, 2013 at 16:32:38 in reply to Comment 90547

I don't think you read the article...

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By Ch02ce (anonymous) | Posted July 30, 2013 at 08:57:01 in reply to Comment 90547

People like you are responsible for the city having 72 empty large parcels downtown. But what's one more!? Just think of all the parking it could provide! Why is it that people here that admit to staying out of downtown simultaneously want to see it systematically torn down bit by bit? Like that is going to solve the social challenges?

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted July 30, 2013 at 02:36:47 in reply to Comment 90547

savetheblight is right,

how dare blanchard (spend 20 years buying up property in the core with no intention of doing anything with it except speculating) creat(ing a blight and preventing) something new and sustainable downtown when these fine old (buildings which through mr. blanchard's own neglect have come to look like) rat traps that no one visits (and) are a nice reminder why (actual property developers) stay away from downtown (because buildings like these are deliberately left to rot creating significant obstacles for real growth to take root as it has in other areas of the city.) raise a glass to raise the hammer (for maintaining a thoughtful and educated discourse on how this city can be improved based on research and experience and not speculation, ignorance, and out dated theory.) they have the right idea for downtown. let it (be renewed and restored and not left to) rot so there is something (for the city to take pride in instead of sitting back and looking at the mess and destruction and deciding that it isn't something to) complain about. now THAT is a vision worth following.

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By Southpaw77 (anonymous) | Posted July 30, 2013 at 20:20:19

Mr Blanchard does not seem to grasp the reality of the situation. For anchor tenants he lists a grocery store. Didn't one just open recently in Jackson Square?. I've been there. Lets hope no one is stupid enough to put another one in the same vicinity so the two compete and drive each other out of business.
The other tenant he desires is Wally Mart. A grocery store in department store clothing. The Wal-Mart business model up until recently is bigger and bigger with loads of parking. Perhaps Mr. Blanchard razed all those other properties so he could have the parking. However a Building large enough to encompass the square footage requirements for this type of tenant would require almost the whole block, are there future buildings to be razed we do not know of?

I am no urban planning expert but the City of Hamilton needs one. The decision to put the entrance to the Courthouse facing Main street instead of King was just wrong. With the buses moved to the MacNab Street alleyway the area transformed into a pedestrian gathering place. The Burrito Boys would become so busy they could afford to comply with a inane by law.
The area of Gore park needs to become a mix of pedestrian friendly shops. The core is expanding its residential base. Any shops, stores and services will need to be catered to people on foot instead of cars. Ever try and carry a weeks worth of shopping home by walking. These places will be visited on a regular basis by people in the central area, now and in the not too distant future.

Hire an expert, have an open competition, do anything but let a misguided idea ruin a great opportunity.


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By Viggaz (anonymous) | Posted August 01, 2013 at 12:09:48

This is a difficult debate, there are multiples sides to the issue. Part of me agrees that Hamilton should strive to preserve it's heritage by maintaining and protecting as many buildings that are left from the late 1800's and early 1900's as possible. I know that for myself, I go through Hamilton and wish I could see and visit the many places that have long been demolished and I would ask that this privilege be something that future Hamiltonians are granted. On the other hand, I think it is an incorrect assumption that people want to live and work in older buildings simply because of their old-world charm. I think young people and upwardly mobiles who would consider living and raising families in the downtown core might prefer something much more modern. Many, many people do not strive to live in an old building or home filled with antique furniture, and making way for buildings that reflect a 21st century aesthetic and the desire for modern amenities is sound. That said, what Hamilton DOESN'T need is a slumlord like Blanchard. This is a man with clearly zero investment or vision for the future of Hamilton on the whole, who clearly doesn't want to participate in a measured and considered plan for the future development of our city.

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