Special Report: Heritage

Update From Councillor McHattie on Gore Properties

Under the current deal with Wilson-Blanchard, they will demolish 18-28 King Street East, construct a new building and re-attach heritage elements from the current facades.

By Brian McHattie
Published August 06, 2013

It's important to know the results of meetings that Councillor Jason Farr and I have had with the Blanchard group. This represents my belief in what will transpire - and I say belief, as there still needs to be a legal commitment on the part of the developer to ensure the way forward.

Fencing around 18-28 King Street East (RTH file photo)
Fencing around 18-28 King Street East (RTH file photo)

The developer has held demolition permits since December 2012 for 18-22, 24 and 28 King Street East. The demolition permits were issued following the process as described in the Building Code Act, wherein a permit application must be granted by the Chief Building Official with 20 working days (subject to minor clarifications).

There is no requirement under the Act for anyone to know about such permit requests, including City Councillors.

That is not the case for buildings that are on the Register of Buildings of Historic Interest or those that are designated under the Act.

It's important to note that Municipal Heritage Committee made a recommendation in November 2012 that 18-28 King Street East be added to the Register. That recommendation was denied by Planning Committee and Council.

In January 2013, Councillor Farr and I met with the Blanchard group and a subsequent Council motion confirmed an agreement that three of the five King Street East properties (the Thomas buildings) would be preserved in some way and two of the buildings would be fully demolished.

On a Friday in July 2012, the Blanchard group decided to threaten demolition of the buildings by lining up equipment behind the buildings.

Councillor Farr and I met with them that afternoon and via subsequent discussions, have agreed: to dismantle the facades of all five buildings; demolish the buildings themselves; construct new buildings and re-attach the heritage building facades; and that the buildings would be designated so the developer could take advantage of the downtown heritage grant program.

Councillor Farr, municipal heritage staff and other staff continue to meet with the Blanchard group to make this agreement into a legal arrangement, and to develop a plan for the dismantlement and re-attachment of the facades, with the proper heritage guidance.

Part of these discussions is for the Blanchard group to submit a development application to the City of Hamilton so we all know what the new development will consist of. My current understanding is a four-storey residential condo, with comments about a higher development built further back toward Main Street.

I should add that I've spoken with Provincial officials several times in the last months and they have made it very clear that they will not intervene, and consider this a municipal issue only.

Is this a good heritage outcome? No. The Gore area should have been designated as a Conservation District many years ago. A look back reveals how many City Councils (not just this City Council) had information on the importance of the Gore, yet did not act.

So, where do we stand in this imperfect situation?

  1. The agreement with the Blanchard group will go ahead as described above. As noted, this is not a desirable outcome, but the best possible political outcome, given the circumstances (demolition permits issued and partially enacted on the interior of the buildings).

  2. Councillor Farr moved to add all other Gore addresses to the Register, allowing a 60 day review should any additional demolition permit applications come in. All of those properties are now on the Register.

  3. Via a presentation to the Municipal Heritage Committee, the Royal Connaught redevelopment will respect the reasons for designation, and that property should be designated by City Council shortly, either as a stand-alone act or via the development application.

  4. Once the above has transpired, it is my view that the Gore District should be designated a Heritage Conservation District.

Lastly, there remains a list of 6,000 properties on the city's Inventory of Buildings of Architectural and/or Historical Interest (there were 7,000 but a current staff project is examining the 1,000 properties in downtown Hamilton).

None of them have any heritage protection associated with them, and all of them would be subject to the same treatment as 18-28 King Street East should someone wish to apply for a demolition permit.

In April 2013, we held the first Citizens Forum on Cultural Heritage Protection. The goal was to explain the "list of 6,000" and begin assembling volunteers and a citizen-driven protocol to inventory them to the point where as many as qualify can be added to the Register and eventually be evaluated for full heritage designation.

We are still seeking finalization of the inventory protocol and hope to train volunteers this fall to get out into the neighbourhoods to conduct this inventory. I invite your assistance.

I look forward to working with people who have a passion for cultural heritage to ensure we find ourselves in a proactive heritage protection position in the years to come.

Brian McHattie is the Councillor for Ward 1.


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By KieranC.Dickson (registered) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 08:55:35

Councillor McHattie, we can do much better than this.

You are telling us that the product of the behind-closed-doors meetings is a scheme to get taxpayer money to the property owner, through heritage grants, while allowing demolition of the buildings. You describe this as “not a desirable outcome.” I will describe it as perverse.

It is time that we shift the focus away from the interests of the property owner and towards the interests of Hamilton and Hamiltonians.

Council has the ability to bring about a desirable outcome. Designation of the buildings will void the demolition permits. Please follow the advice of the Municipal Heritage Committee and designate the buildings now.

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 13:25:23 in reply to Comment 90631

Hi Kieran, it's me Brodie!

So it's been about two years since I've had an income that allows to frequent some of the same establishments as you do. I miss our chats. I don't really go downtown much anymore because there isn't much for me. I've tried getting jobs that pay me the same as I used to make but mostly I need to commute far distances. It's really crappy for a lot of Hamiltonians that way not just in terms of finding employment but also spending their money. Realistically there is nowhere downtown where I'd like to or can afford to spend on pretty basic items like clothing, furniture or electronics. Let alone the sort of niche businesses most thriving downtowns cater to like instruments or scientific equipment.

I'm not willing to shop local if it means getting inferior products. Few people admit it but most people do it.

When you say things like "towards the interests of Hamilton and Hamiltonians" I become instantly suspicious. You're a professional and homeowner, for instance. I am neither of those things. You have interest in preserving small business because you are also a landlord. I, like many Hamiltonians, have no tenants or properties for lease.

I've come to the conclusion more recently, as an advocate of heritage, that the term doesn't really mean that anymore in a municipal politics context. I think it's more about barring large business out of downtown while sending lower income dollars to the suburbs in search of the goods and services they need or want. I think people of your class and higher have adopted a neo-bourgeois attitude that paints all large and successful retail businesses, and associated development, as entirely bad. Interest groups of heritage and downtown have managed to convince many young people and students still supported by their parents or debt that this is good for them. I think it does a great disservice to our economy and livability for all strata of incomes and lifestyles.

So many people are more concerned about projecting their ideal lifestyle for the observation of others rather than observing their real behaviours and interactions with their local economy, including suburban big boxes. And as jobs are concerned, small and medium-sized businesses can be the worst performers in terms of job security, pay, benefits and workplace safety because there is less scrutiny. Logical fallacies of "Mom & Pop" businesses with maternal and paternal figures at the helm oftentimes dominate discussion. Anyone who's worked in these situations realizes how silly and out-of-touch that notion can be.

Speaking specifically to the heritage provenance of the King St. East properties on Gore Park I'm somewhat unconvinced. Nobody is able to explain to me why those buildings are of note despite their egregiously ugly stucco facades. I can be easily satiated however nobody has been able to qualify this beyond "It's a pre-confederate building". Much like Hammer In The News points out, so are open sewers. Could somebody tell me if a person of note had custody of or was a tenant in these buildings? Did anyone or anything of note reside there, ever? Was there an historical event in any way related to these buildings?

Does that mean I think we should tear down and replace it with somebody cheap and crappy? No. But it can be an alienating position in this town, sometimes, to admit that you live in the 21st century and wouldn't mind seeing some architecture that was drafted in the last 100 years take centre stage. I think the mix-up between Burrito Boys and glazing requirement quite deftly illustrates how out of step the priorities of activist citizens and city staff are with the spirit of businesses and people at large. Despite Burrito Boy's wanton disregard people at large find the requirements frivolous and I tend to agree with them.

On that note I really respect a lot the work you and others have done to elevate our community in the last decade. But I fear we are a victim of our own success and maybe a bit too concerned about our aesthetics over the hardship and livelihoods of Hamiltonians. So when you speak about us to government and invoke our names please, consider who you really speak for.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2013 at 09:46:58 in reply to Comment 90645


I'm not sure how I will be able to get through your bitterness. You have taken direct shots at several people over the last year, most of whom are working very long hours on projects which they hope will develop into bright futures for themselves and the city they live in and love. Most are barely making a living wage doing this, and must support themselves with other work. I'd like you to know that I do not get paid for the hours spent at the bike shop. Every dollar that comes in goes either back into the shop, to taxes, or to the few employees that I can (barely) afford - whom I need so that I can keep the doors open while I work at my second job.

You are being very selective in what you take from this Gore demolition discussion. This is not about keeping Target out, or trying to force expensive boutiques into a neighbourhood that can't afford to spend there. This is about supporting organic growth that will create more businesses (employers), and attract more residents (customers) who will support more businesses still - generating a healthier more diverse economy downtown so that there are more local jobs for those who might otherwise be forced to commute to work.

In terms of "large and successful retail businesses", there is plenty of space in downtown Hamilton for these establishments to put down roots - without having to tear any buildings down. But we need to achieve critical mass in residents (customers) before this happens. Are you trying to argue that the demolition of these buildings will somehow speed up the inflow of larger employers? I don't see how this is possible. If it was a lack of space holding them back, we would have no vacant lots downtown.

In regards to reasonably priced amenities, I find your shopping list a little odd. Furniture - I have lived with hand-me-down furniture for most of my life. Is this a basic item you shop for often? Electronics - this is a basic necessity? Clothing? There are numerous places downtown to buy inexpensive clothes. How about food and shelter - our grocery options were just blown wide open by Nations, and affordable rent is still one of the hallmarks of Downtown Hamilton. But imagine if the city stopped encouraging speculators to hollow out the upper floors of their buildings for tax breaks - the increase in available housing would be good for everyone, regardless of income level.

Heritage - this word has many meanings to many people. For some, it means museum-like preservation of the most architecturally significant structures in a city. Keeping the intact ones from falling into disrepair, and rebuilding the broken ones using historically accurate materials and techniques. But when it comes to the Gore buildings, we know that they have been changed over the years and that they are not museum-worthy structures. Their heritage value lies in the embodied energy of their built form and past uses. They have supported dozens of uses over generations and can continue to do so if our city council had the guts to enforce heritage preservation in this town.

The value of these buildings is in the jobs and living spaces they could support in the future if they were in the right hands, versus what an empty gravel lot will support - nothing.

We have tried blockbusting demolition and development in this city for decades and it is clearly not working. Organic growth starting on a small scale is proven to work, and our only chance to bring a diverse collection of employers, employees and customers to the downtown as permanent fixtures (not drive in and drive out commuters) is to follow this organic model.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 11:00:09 in reply to Comment 90631

not a desirable outcome, but the best possible political outcome,

i.e., No one has the intestinal fortitude to play hardball with a developer in a city desperate for development.

If they move to designate, Blanchard knocks the buildings down before the ink is dry on the paper work. Perverse? Ya, sure, but when dealing with a guy who obviously doesn't give a crap and under current conditions can do pretty much do whatever the heck he wants with those buildings I don't see this "agreement" as surprising.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 11:07:09

With that being said , the city of Hamilton should have a by-law officer to visit all the heritage building every 4 months and make sure the owners to keep up maintenance to the building, so when it comes on selling the building the new owner dose not have to try to bring bake the building to its former glory and to spend millions to make us fell good

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted August 06, 2013 at 11:49:34

Can we also perhaps ensure that big box is kept of the core. Ie former statements by developer that he suspects a Target or whatever.

We'd all rather these buildings saved but can we at least push a little harder to make sure development in the core supports small to medium sized business?

Also hope the 'whatever' isn't a Casino.

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By screencarp (registered) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 20:28:56 in reply to Comment 90640

There are lot's of poor people downtown who would love a Walmart or a Target within walking distance. We could keep big boxes out without keeping big box out, but I think there's room for big stores downtown even if there isn't a business case. Once there were a number of "big" department stores downtown. The old Eaton's was awesome, you could buy a tailored suit, a watch, a TV or a grand piano. I mean the elevator had an attendant, how cool is that.

In theory, the cost per square foot should keep most big retail stores out of the core.

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By Vod Kann (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 14:33:57

Before we jump all over Target they do have the "City Target" stores which fit closer to the footprint on the traditional downtown department store.

I'm not saying that's what would go into here (probably won't)but Target can and does vary from their "big box" format


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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted August 06, 2013 at 15:22:20 in reply to Comment 90647

I don't get that same walking into hell feeling when entering a Target like I do Walmart, but the one time I went in to get dog food, they didn't have one Candian brand. Maybe I missed something, but my point is as long as they are offering Made in Canada options for as much as they can, I would consider shopping for certain things there.

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By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 15:06:33

Once the above has transpired, it is my view that the Gore District should be designated a Heritage Conservation District.

Just in time for all the heritage buildings to be gone and replaced with Money Marts.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 20:46:27

let's at least get some naming rights happening here.

How about "The Money Mart Promenade at the Gore Heritage Conservation District".

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted August 07, 2013 at 15:02:33

I think the most egregious part of this plan is the dangling of taxpayer subsidies in the reverse order in which they should be offered. Instead of designating the core, letting Blanchard & co. apply for the grants, and then ensuring their development plan meets the objectives of the Hamilton Heritage Grant Program, McHattie, Farr & their backroom dealers have apparently seen it fit to allow the developer to determine the conditions in which he will be able to access grant money.

So instead of real conservation, we will have a facsimile of it, at taxpayer expense. A developer who allowed his properties to deteriorate to a state which they are uneconomical to save is seemingly being encouraged by our civic leaders to destroy the properties now to take advantage of good financing terms, then reach into our collective pockets and access monies set aside for the conservation of our city's history and heritage.

Not only does this proposed plan fly in the face of the Heritage Grant Program's objective to to "assist in developing and re-using heritage properties", it will render the entire exercise of heritage conservation meaningless. What next? Civic money to companies who design new-build developments that look like buildings from our city's past?

The point of the HHGP is not to re-imagine the past through development today, but to actually conserve the heritage that still remains in our core.

I sincerely hope Councillors Farr & McHattie take another hard look at the deal they've facilitated here. Hollow words about "imperfect situations" don't obscure the fact that they've jerry-rigged an agreement that pleases no one but the developer, and is certainly more corporate welfare than true heritage conservation.

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By Clara Fication (anonymous) | Posted August 07, 2013 at 16:22:00

I thought that McHattie and Farr were the only councillors available on the day Blanchard rolled the demo equipment up to the back of the buildings....no? I also thought that the rolling of the equipment happened last month and last year.... also no?

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By Connie (registered) | Posted August 09, 2013 at 03:30:30

Absolutely disgusting.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted August 10, 2013 at 10:29:00

"Is this a good heritage outcome? No. The Gore area should have been designated as a Conservation District many years ago. A look back reveals how many City Councils (not just this City Council) had information on the importance of the Gore, yet did not act."

Ah ... but it is THIS CITY COUNCIL that's tearing the buildings down and going to go into an election next year with 6 EMPTY HOLES facing Gore Park where valuable heritage buildings now stand. And it will be THIS CITY COUNCIL that pays the price at the polls.

FARR and MCHATTIE are playing word games with "heritage" to allow the developer to SCAM some taxpayer money to tear the buildings down.

COLLINS CLARK FERGUSON PEARSON and PARTRIDGE refused to designate the buildings, and bear full responsibility for the destruction.

And will these fools finally be satisfied when the whole downtown looks like a mountain plaza? Like the new and horribly pedestrian unfriendly "Centre" with their blank backsides of buildings facing the street?

Hamilton: Acres of ugly topped with stupid, where City Council really knows how to kill the buzz they couldn't create!

The facts: Adaptive reuse of old buildings by small businesses has created a vibrant downtown community. There's a demand for small venues in older buildings in the core, but not for large developments.

City Council: GREAT! Let's capitalize on that! We'll knock down some heritage buildings and BUILD A BIG TARGET STORE ... OR "WHATEVER" !

Words are not enough when intelligence is absent. Obviously direct action will be necessary.


Comment edited by grannysaga on 2013-08-10 10:31:57

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