Special Report: Heritage

Heritage Committee Tables James Baptist Demolition Request Again

Committee members were not prepared to take a leap of faith and trust that they will do the right thing in the absence of any legally-binding commitment to do so, or even a plan for what that might look like.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 10, 2013

After a site tour and a two-and-a-half hour meeting, the Municipal Heritage Permit Review Subcommittee tabled a partial demolition request for James Street Baptist Church for a second time.

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

Property owner Louie Santaguida, flanked by architect Drew Hauser of McCallum Sather Architects and engineer Grant Milligan of Quinn Dressel Architects, fielded tough questions from skeptical committee members but were not able to persuade the committee to approve their request to demolish 80 percent of the church and leave only the east (James Street facing) wall and towers.

Their message to the committee was as consistent as it was troubling: Trust us. We'll save as many heritage features as we can. No, we don't know how many features we can save or what it will look like. We don't have a development plan yet. But trust us.

One awkward exchange summed up the conflict. A committee member pleaded, "It's so easy to tear down something and put something else in its place. That's easy. I'm challenging you to try to see something a little more creative, to be more creative, to use as much of what is there as possible, other than just that chunk in the front."

Milligan replied, "What I can tell you is that two projects have come to my mind where we have actually, stone-by-stone, dismantled - a different word than the word 'demolished' - dismantled the building and re-erected it."

The committee member shot back, "You're asking for a demolition permit, though."

Milligan replied, "Let's not get lost in the wording here."

The Wording Matters

Of course, the wording is exactly what the Committee needs to consider.

A partial demolition permit - or rather, a "building alteration" permit as it was euphemistically called - is a permit to demolish part of the building. It implies no commitment to dismantle, catalogue, save or re-attach any given heritage features.

The property owner insists that their objective is to save as much heritage value as they can, but since they have not made a plan for their proposed new development, they cannot say how much that will be.

We are asked to take a leap of faith and trust that they will do the right thing in the absence of any legally-binding commitment to do so, or even a plan for what that might look like.

The property owner insists that after standing for 130 years, the building is ready to collapse and that they can't wait to put together a plan before undertaking the demolition.

Santaguida pleaded that he "inherited this issue" with the church, but the fact is that he bought the issue this summer when he decided to purchase the property at the fire-sale price of $610,000 - only 40 percent of the assessed value of $1.5 million.

He knew the building is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and that he has a legal responsibility to preserve that heritage value.

Credibility Gap

Santaguida and his team have a big credibility gap to hurdle. First, they are saying what all property owners say when they want to demolish a building: It's structurally unsound, it could collapse any time, it would be prohibitively expensive and/or difficult to repair.

We hear the same dire warnings about every building that is eventually saved from demolition, so the committee is right to adopt an initial posture of skepticism.

The owner supplied a 129-page report, but the report was missing some important information, including:

We are merely told that the latter would be prohibitively expensive.

The subcommittee was clearly uncomfortable with approving the demolition permit without actually knowing how much it would cost either to prop up the building temporarily or restore it permanently - especially in the absence of a redevelopment plan, let alone a timeline or financing arrangement.

Santaguida has another credibility hurdle: in the past two years, two major divisions of his other company, Terrasan Corp., have gone bankrupt and taken down major redevelopment projects with them. His current company, Stanton Renaissance, hasn't completed any development projects yet.

After the demolition permit request first materialized, RTH asked Santaguida if he would be willing to conduct an email interview, explaining that the questions would be tough but we would publish his responses in full. He agreed, and we sent a list of questions that were tough but fair.

We followed up after a few days without any response. Finally, a week later, a spokesperson replied to say that Santaguida would not be responding to any media until after today's meeting. We have resubmitted our questions and will publish them in a follow-up article if he decides to respond.

We Want to Believe

To be sure, the presence of Hauser and Milligan serves to shrink the credibility gap. They are both respected professionals who are dedicated to heritage preservation and have encouraging track records.

However, until they actually provide an independent heritage engineer's report, a realistic cost estimate to shore up the building - temporarily or permanently - and a much more detailed plan for how they intend to keep their commitment to save as much of the heritage value as possible, their personal credibility is not enough by itself.

We need more and better information, and the committee has asked them to provide some of it between now and the next meeting in two weeks.

It's not enough for the developer to say they will do the right thing. It needs to be spelled out in clear wording as part of the agreement. Verbal promises are no replacement for signed commitments.

Until the developers can tell us what heritage elements they will be able to save and how they're going to do it, they are simply not ready to demolish yet. The committee is right to send them back to do more homework on this important file so they can include some actionable commitments.

If and when they do provide the detailed numbers and a real redevelopment plan that details all the heritage elements they will promise to retain, I strongly expect the heritage committee will approve their request.

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 Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 09, 2013 at 21:32:28

There's an obvious question: who assessed this building at $1.5 mill? Will they come out and defend that number? Since claiming the building is unsalvageable is kind of an attack on the credibility of whoever says it's worth over a million.

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By MD (anonymous) | Posted October 11, 2013 at 08:55:47 in reply to Comment 93080

Are you kidding me? It is a beautiful structure. 1 million is market fair value. Go to Toronto and see what something like this would go for. Pxtl I assume is a long time Hamilton resident who is blind to the potential of this great city. Negative mentality is rampant here in Hamilton. Well keep thinking this way. By the time you wake up Pxtl you wont be able to afford to buy in this city. People are moving to Hamilton in droves from all over the G.T.A. Wake up HAMILTON!

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By Dm (anonymous) | Posted October 09, 2013 at 22:49:44 in reply to Comment 93080


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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted October 09, 2013 at 22:45:03 in reply to Comment 93080

The land its sitting on is probably worth that much, never mind the building. The cynic in me is telling me this guy has just been watching what is going on in Hamilton and gambling that he'll get to do what he wants on the cheap side. I'd like to see him not be able to do that. I'm all for redevelopment, but this is a property that could be spectacular as part of a restoration/redevelopment incorporating as much of the old church as possible. Yes it is expensive to do, but with that address, there are people who would pay big dollars to live there.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 05:58:48

This is issue is getting to be old save this and that , this is my last words for these topics have fun triying to save them guys

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By finally (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 08:04:56 in reply to Comment 93090

This is the best news I have heard all week

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By Joseph Conrad You Ain't (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 06:16:37 in reply to Comment 93090

"this is my last words for these topics" Promise?

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By Skeptic (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 07:54:26

They have now closed the road. If the building falls while we wait for the Heritage gurus to do their due diligence, they should each be held liable for the damage, injury or worse. Save the front. Demolish the rest and get on with it.

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By mkuplens (registered) - website | Posted October 10, 2013 at 09:11:19 in reply to Comment 93092

The closure is for the building down the street, being torn down by our other famed anti-preservationist, Blanchard.

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By plaskett (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 08:05:51

deny, deny, deny

No demolition permit to speculators. Enough. The guy can sell it if he doesn't like it.

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By DM (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 13:59:10 in reply to Comment 93095

It'd be better to watch it crumble?

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By MaggieSteele (registered) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 17:39:03

I am the Realtor for the Church and Louie Santaguida of Stanton Renaissance. Check the City of Hamilton - Property/Tax Information, its their assessment. The Church had it was appraised for sale purposes with the appraiser having read the building condition assessment report and it came in just over half that. That appraisal is without the 3 engineer's findings. Besides the building condition report which called for 3 millions in only repairs to the exterior slate and stone, there have been 3 different engineers all with Heritage experience give the same report/assessment. How many reports do we need stating the same facts. The church has been trying to get financial assistance from the City for years. They took their condition report to several staff members with no help offered. The north and west walls are unstable. The building was not constructed correctly in the first place. A hundred years of water getting inside the roof and stone and the frost thaw affect has the walls bulging and the mortar that was once in between the exterior walls is now sand and has been sliding in for years. The Church has put a lot of money into the building trying to keep up with its needs but simply couldn't any longer. Their money was going into the building and not to their ministries. Speak to the Pastor Don Berry-Graham, Music Director Christopher Clause, the trustees, the janitor, the congregation members and they will all say the same thing - they have been picking up debris and rocks and bagging sand for years. It became apparent in January that things had worsened and the Pastor called in an engineer who told them that the north west tower is unstable and could come down next week or next year but that it was coming down for sure and with it the north and west unstable walls. What are we waiting for? The engineer told them they should never go in the tower ever again and they cordoned it off. They decided to vacate the building for their safety. I called in the City as I felt the building was unsaleable in its condition with the Heritage Designation. Two city officials came in and agreed with their decision to vacate and said they would come back and make sure they were vacating and that within a week they would order the church to provide an engineer's report and post the front and driveway doors restricting public access to the building. That same day Drew Hauser brings Louie Santaguida to the building and he instructs me to prepare an offer. A crew of city hall officials came back thru January 24th and tell me they will get back to me with their decision. The church lowers their price to hopefully stimulate an offer. Louie's and another offer are presented on the weekend and the church specifically chose Louie's based on past projects and the reputation of Drew Hauser and McCallum Sather and the fact that they believed he would be proactive in his process for partial demolition and not let the building sit for years causing a safety issue to the public. The Pastor and the Music Director liked Louie's idea to keep what he could but felt that its an unsafe decision and that the whole building should come down. On Monday January 28th, I leave a message with City Hall officials that the building has sold and we never hear from them again. If Louie had not bought the building, the church was ready to walk away and hand it over to the City. There are no pockets deep enough to save this building and make it an economically viable investment. On yesterday's site inspection we saw two more areas where large amounts of sand had poured in thru the walls and large stones fallen in the sanctuary. This time, we need to believe, trust and listen.

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By unbelievable (anonymous) | Posted October 13, 2013 at 12:09:27 in reply to Comment 93120

so the congregation let the building rot over the last how many years and then walks away? shame.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted October 11, 2013 at 09:23:26 in reply to Comment 93120

There are no pockets deep enough to save this building and make it an economically viable investment.

That is not a quantitative statement, its pure conjecture. For you to know this in a way that is actually valuable to the discussion, you would have to have at least some viable estimate for how much it would cost.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 12, 2013 at 11:15:33 in reply to Comment 93138

Who needs quantitative analysis?

How much sand is in the mortar that holds these walls together? sand

How much have they swept up? sandbox

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted October 11, 2013 at 06:25:32 in reply to Comment 93120

Thanks Maggie for the detailed description of what's wrong with the building.

May I ask that you ask "Louie" (your client) and "Drew" (his architect) for as much detail as to what they have in mind going forward. I think this only fair since, according to you, they knew of the problems before they even bought the place, which has given them plenty of time to develop some specific plans. Not only that, but given your own profession, presumably you have some sense for what they've hired you to sell beyond just boxes in the sky on a good street near local and regional transit.

I'd encourage the owners and their contracted suppliers not to blame heritage advocates too loudly for their concerns and for their skepticism. The same things were said about the Lister Block in terms of its danger to pedestrians. Oddly enough, it's not only still standing, they didn't do any remedial structural work to it at all when they restored it. I'm not saying the engineers reports are inaccurate, but I am most certainly saying that Hamiltonians have plenty of examples of the being played. Empathy and details about the future plans for this project are likely a winning combination here. Both of which, I might add, seem to be in short supply at the moment. Simply stated, "Given this, we plan to do this . . ." versus "Given this, we plan to do something."

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By Narthex (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 18:04:19

So the need for 3M *in exterior repair alone* was a pre-existing wrinkle all parties were aware of prior to the deal closing?

That the congregation sold hurriedly after evacuating for fear of the building collapsing, Omen-style?

Fascinating heritage!

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 19:23:14

August 4, 2012: "It's such a beautiful building... we really want to see it kept intact."

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted October 11, 2013 at 08:32:15 in reply to Comment 93122

Feb 13 2013: “The developer values the cultural heritage and significance of the building."

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 20:30:40 in reply to Comment 93122

October 10, 2012: "There are no pockets deep enough to save this building and make it an economically viable investment."

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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted October 10, 2013 at 22:05:10

Gotta love realtors who work both sides of the deal. That`s what I call smooth negotiating.

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By J (registered) | Posted October 13, 2013 at 14:04:37

"we want to believe"

The thing is, too many heritage advocates see conspiracies around every dark corner. If they produced a fourth engineer's report stating it was unsound and accompanied this with the price for taking apart every stone in the building and repointing, there would still be 15 people here who would cry that speculators, moneyed interests, and crooked congregations are behind this travesty. It's always the same thing around here: we want facts-based policy, but they have to be our facts.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted October 14, 2013 at 10:08:34

The limestone that was used to build that church is now worth a small fortune. I'm not an architect but do have experience in contruction and heritage buildings. The stone could certainly be salvaged and utilized in elements of any new construction.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 15, 2013 at 10:20:56 in reply to Comment 93211

Or it could line a ditch in Ancaster.

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By DiIanni (registered) | Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:18:54

With all due respect to all concerned. I interviewed Pastor Don on my Cable show Hamilton Talks and he invited in to film some of the collapsing walls. I was shocked at the disrepair. The Pastor also gave me a history on what had been done by the congregation to keep the building together. When I interviewed Don the building hadn't been sold yet, but a sale was pending. It would be great if the building could be saved in its entirety. It is an iconic Hamilton landmark. However, if there are legitimate engineering reports outlining the damage, and if it is beyond repair, then it should be allowed to be redeveloped, saving as much of the building as possible.

And with regards to my friend Graham's point about the Lister. No one ever said the building was about to collapse. All reports I saw was that the structure was sound, but the cost for a private developer was prohibitive. That is why the city and the province stepped up.

Do the right thing for the downtown and let's not discourage private investment.

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By Dane (registered) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 03:46:24 in reply to Comment 93214

... wow ... thats... wow...

grab your eraser folks its time to rewrite history.

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By DiIanni (registered) | Posted October 14, 2013 at 11:20:07

Apologies for grammar and syntax above. I hope the points are made though.

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By BytheBay (registered) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 12:38:18

I recognize that the congregation couldn't afford the necessary repairs but I'm bitterly, bitterly disappointed that they sold to a repeated bankrupt with a trail of failed projects - There could not have been any good-faith hope for a good outcome in that deal.

Santaguida has had time to forward a plan to the City. I’d suggest he doesn't have one because it was NEVER his intention to make that kind of investment (Although the architects may well have had some hope.)

IMO he was looking to steal a huge footprint of downtown real estate, flatten it for parking and use the proceeds to help with the taxes until a developer who didn't want the hassle of dealing with heritage issues came along to buy it.

If I'm wrong and he genuinely thought he could buy an undervalued piece of real estate and re-purpose it without spending millions, well, that certainly explains his previous development disasters and bankruptcies. Any competent developer would know that massive, aged structures typically require equally massive inputs of cash for successful rehab - Only a fool or a charlatan would think otherwise.

Communities, developers and private buyers invest in their heritage structures all over the world and it adds value to the area. http://convertedchurches.wordpress.com/a... The fact that we seem to be incapable of understanding this in Hamilton remains a mystery to me.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted October 18, 2013 at 17:13:25

Alright, I get that the building is collapsing, however the developer knew well in advance that this chruch was on the heritage register, and I have no doubt that he knew there were massive strucutural issues with the building. This is why he was given a massive discount on the sale of the building, going from the 1.5 million that it was worth went down to $610,000.

They didn't inherit this problem, these guys knew full well what they were getting into, and they can certainly do better then what they've provided thus far.

This is one of the buildings worth saving and no quarter being offered on it. The building is not only old, it boasts unique architecture that isn't duplicated anywhere in the city if not the country, it is made of materials that are unlikely to ever been used in construction again using methods that make duplicating it next to impossible, it sits next to similarly architecurally unique buildings and most of all, it's designated by the province as such.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2013-10-18 17:18:36

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By HamCity (anonymous) | Posted October 21, 2013 at 13:39:58

I dont know why people keep saying the Developer got a deal on this building...as if the price was lowered for him. For anyone that has been looking this was up for grabs for just over 600k for anyone...list price on icx. I agree with everyone wanting to see clear facts of costs associated with repair and detailed description of all elements of building and interior to be salvaged. The developer isnt saying much for a reason...before you know it the building will be down.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 21, 2013 at 16:15:50 in reply to Comment 93468

Because the price - open to everyone - included the understanding that the cost to use this property would probably be higher due to it being a heritage property. If it was a non designated property, the price - open to everyone - would likely have been higher.

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