Let's make the restoration of one of downtown Hamilton's most notorious properties a showcase for adaptive reuse, for reinvigorating old buildings with new energy, and for leading by example.
By Ryan McGreal
Published December 17, 2013
An article posted Friday on CBC Hamilton reports that the International Village BIA wants the city to demolish the site of the former Sandbar Tavern at 193 King Street East between Walnut and Mary Street.
Former Sandbar Tavern, 193 King Street East
The Province shut down the notorious bar in 2006 and seized the property, later handing it over to the City of Hamilton. The building has sat empty ever since.
The BIA says they have run out of patience and just want the city to "do something" with the property, while members of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association say they want the site turned into green space.
Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr says he has asked city staff to look into the feasibility of adaptive reuse for the four-storey building or, failing that, of tearing the building down to make room for a parkette.
I can understand the frustration and impatience of the BIA members and Beasley residents, but demolishing the building and putting a parkette in its place is just about the worst possible outcome.
It would break the consistency of the Victorian streetwall on King and waste a prime retail location on what should be one of the city's best retail centres.
It would squander the embedded materials and energy in a four-storey building, materials and energy that should instead by recovered and put back into productive use through investment into restoration and adaptive reuse.
It would squander the opportunity to increase the density of people and uses in the downtown core and to increase the city's property tax assessments.
Right after Council voted unanimously to protect the streetwall at 18-28 King Street East from demolition, it would also send a dangerous message to property owners that the city is not willing to practice what it preaches.
Finally, to see the futility of this gesture as a call for "greenspace", we need only look at the nearby parkette on King William Street just west of Hughson Street, which some wag has labeled "Demolition Park" on Google Maps: a desolate, pathetic sliver of pavers and weeds flanked sharply by the tall, windowless exterior walls of the adjacent buildings.
This will not be a park. It will not help to meet Beasley's desire for more greenspace. It will merely be yet another flat rectangle in a downtown already riddled with them.
When Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat spoke in Hamilton earlier this month, she left us with the following advice: "Be bold. You have to be bold and choosy. You have to set very high standards and don't settle."
I know the BIA and Beasley are running out of patience (Keesmaat also advised, "Don't be patient."), but to argue that the City should demolish the building is merely to settle.
Far, far too much of the downtown's precious built heritage has already fallen to neglect, negligence, impatience and misplaced hope. We deserve better. The International Village BIA deserves better. Beasley Neighbourhood deserves better.
Instead of settling, let's be bold. Let's be choosy. Let's set very high standards. Let's make the restoration of one of downtown Hamilton's most notorious properties a showcase for adaptive reuse, for reinvigorating old buildings with new energy, and for leading by example.
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