Special Report: Heritage

Decision Day: Where Does the James Street Baptist Church Demolition Permit Stand?

Today, the Municipal Heritage Permit Review Subcommittee will meet to decide the fate of the 130-year-old James Street Baptist Church.

By Joey Coleman
Published October 09, 2013

Today, the Municipal Heritage Permit Review Subcommittee will meet to decide the fate of the 130-year-old James Street Baptist Church. The owner of the building, who purchased it in June for $610,000, is asking demolish 80% of the structure and retain the front two towers.

Join us at 12:00 noon for live coverage including video, as the Subcommittee makes a decision to recommend or deny the demolition permit request.

The Building

James Street Baptist Church was built between 1878 and 1882 in the Gothic Revival style. A designated heritage building under the Ontario Heritage Act, it is the only non-Roman Catholic Church designed by architect Joseph Connolly). Connolly designed Hamilton's St. Patrick Church as well.

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

James Baptist's heritage designation protects the slate roof and exterior walls of the building.

It served its congregation for 130 years and helped to spawn other Baptist churches across Hamilton. James Baptist played a major role in bring University of Toronto's Baptist college, McMaster College, to Hamilton. Today, that college is known as McMaster University.

As with many other downtown parishes across North American, as the size of the congregation decreased and the average age increased, the cost of maintaining an old building grew to be too large for its membership.

James Baptist was sold to Stanton Renaissance in June 2013 for $610,000. Its assessed value is $1.5 million, and it was originally listed for $1.1 million.

Developer, Architect and Engineer

Louie Santaguida is the president of Stanton Renaissance, a Toronto-based development company. Stanton Renaissance's website states they are "planning a 22-30-storey mixed-use building, including retail, commercial space, a boutique hotel and residences" for the site.

There are no plans for the site, and Santaguida told the Subcommittee two weeks ago the company needs to do market research before developing one.

"It's easy for me to say demolish it," said Santaguida two weeks ago. "I don't want to do that. We want to keep as much of the building as possible."

"Others were going to demo the building," he said. "I thought it could be saved ... the unfortunate part is it is not structurally sound."

Santaguida is also president of Terrasan Corp. Two of Terrasan's divisions filed for bankruptcy in 2011 - its cleanup division, Terrasan Environmental Solutions, and Terrasan Metal Fabricators.

Drew Hauser is a well-respected Hamilton architect with an extensive portfolio of successful adaptive reuses of heritage properties. He is a principal with McCallum Sather Architects Inc..

He stated to the subcommittee that Mr. Santaguida's plan is the best option for preservation of some of the church, stating many others would demolition the entire structure due to its poor condition.

Grant Milligan of Quinn Dressel Associates is the engineer who helped produce the 129 page report that states James Street Baptist Church cannot be economically be saved.

The firm was engineers for one of the most famous heritage projects in Canadian history, the work on Montreal's Christ Church Cathedral that saw the building stabilized for the construction of an underground mall and foundation improvements.

City of Hamilton Planning Division

The City of Hamilton's Planning withheld the 129 page report from the subcommittee until the beginning of the meeting two weeks ago. This led to the subcommittee tabling the matter until a special meeting.

Heritage isn't a major priority for the division, considering that there has not been a heritage designation under the Ontario Heritage Act in Hamilton since 2008.

There is no unsafe order from the City for the church building.

Heritage Subcommittee

The committee is comprised of citizen volunteers, all of whom have a passion for heritage.

It's a committee that doesn't normally see any public coverage.

Its monthly meetings at held at the same time as City Council meetings. Until a recent settlement with the City of Hamilton that sees the City release public agendas to the public, the subcommittee's agendas were not available.

The subcommittee is extremely skeptical of the developer's report and request. Chair Michael Adkins said he has "heard these stories of doom before."

The subcommittee will conduct a site visit of the church prior to their meeting.

State of the Building

Santaguida, Hauser and Richard Ramos, president and CEO of Stanton Renaissance, all say the building is structurally unsound and that most of it cannot be salvaged. Under their request, only the front towers and front wall will remain.

Four separate professional reports independently confirm that the building has very serious foundation/structure issues.

Milligan says church use is hard on buildings, due to factors such as inconsistent heating, which is "cranked up Sunday morning" and then turned down for the rest of the week. He said temperature variations, such as freeze-thaw cycles, are especially damaging upon stone buildings. The north side of the church, with no sun exposure, is especially damaged.

Hauser said they reviewed all options, but there are "significant problems with the interior and foundation" of the building.

Milligan said the interior walls are bulging up to 6.5 inches at chest level in some places. He warned that the building is in danger of partial collapse due to the deteriorating condition of the walls.

Hauser added that the mortar is collapsing in multple parts of the fountain. He said that to fix it, the whole building would have to be taken down anyway.

Next Steps

The Committee is expected to request an independent structural assessment by an engineer be done on the church before making any recommendation on the demolition permit.

If they choose to make a recommendation, as a designated heritage building, the final decision will be made by City Council.

The recommendation will first go to the full Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee on October 17, followed by Planning Committee on November 5, and then City Council on November 13.

First published on Joey's website

Joey Coleman covers Hamilton Civic Affairs.

Read more of his work at The Public Record, or follow him on Twitter @JoeyColeman.


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[ - ]

By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted October 09, 2013 at 12:08:33

There touring the church hope there brought some hard hats .. lol

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[ - ]

By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted October 09, 2013 at 13:59:26

Moral of the story: Never buy real estate on good faith.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 09, 2013 at 14:12:00 in reply to Comment 93068

Buying real estate in bad faith on the other hand...

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[ - ]

By Narthex (anonymous) | Posted October 09, 2013 at 14:59:29

If only the buyer had talked to the prior owner.

Or just read the news.

"The congregation just recently finished paying off the 3.2M it spent on repairs, upgrades and wheelchair accessibility 20 years ago. That bill was supposed to have been 1.5M."


3.2M in 1992 would be something like 4.7M today.

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