Special Report: Heritage

We Need Better than Demolition for the Sandbar Building

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
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.

View 193 King Street East, Hamilton, ON in a larger map

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.

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.

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 mkuplens (registered) - website | Posted December 17, 2013 at 16:22:28

Oh boy – give me the building and a budget and we can build ourselves a fantastic CSI-type space right in the International Village. Or swap the building with the Sally Army in exchange for the Freeway Coffee building and put a brewpub in there. So many exciting possibilities.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2013 at 16:33:20

The property was apparently abandoned by Hamilton Realty Capital Corporation around two years ago, focusing instead on the Cannon Knitting Mills.


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By jeffreygeoffrey (registered) | Posted December 17, 2013 at 17:00:53 in reply to Comment 96057

From the Spectator article:

Adam Sabbag, part owner of Aarets Jewellers two doors down from the Sandbar, said he “won’t get excited” until a new owner makes an obvious effort to fix up the dilapidated, boarded-up building.

“The big improvement was getting rid of the Sandbar,” he said.

If police decide against using 193 King St. E., Norton believes the city can still auction it off as surplus, perhaps for retail use.

“What we don’t want is to tear it down. That building is integral to the whole facade of that part of the street.”

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By DM (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2013 at 16:41:48

Note on "Demolition Park" - 33 King William building inspected and found to be in a condition of severe deterioration and may be structurally deficient. Source: http://www.hamilton.ca/nr/rdonlyres/c484680f-f92c-4a56-b3f3-36d4402df5cf/0/may12cm08017.pdf

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By jeffreygeoffrey (registered) | Posted December 17, 2013 at 17:06:03

Parkette seems to be code for: We have no idea what to do with this space.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 17, 2013 at 17:30:25

I was fine with the proposal to demolish this building when the plan was to build a Victorian replica that matches the streetwall, and would have been one of two major entrances to a grocery store and large mixed-use complex on the empty lot behind it. Scroll through the images here:


That plan was killed by Public Health moving to the 'Education Square' proposal back in the day, which then turned into the scaled down McMaster Downtown Campus with public health ending up??? I think in the Right House? Lister? If anyone knows for sure where public health is ending up after all is said done, pass it on.

But to propose demolishing a piece of this streetwall for an ugly parkette makes no sense IMO.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2013 at 18:05:02 in reply to Comment 96061

HRCC seems to be unable to conceive of a repurposing that doesn't involve long-term public sector investment (Knitting Mills was much the same formulation, which is to say the same basic model of downtown development favoured by the City for the last 50 years).

The replica street wall on the upper storeys is fine, but I could do without the invocation of the brain dead York Boulevard-style signature phrase -- hermetic glass curtain wall, generic, anodyne labelling of building contents in meter-wide all-caps -- which signals nothing so much as utter indifference to context.

Public Health will be split between the Health Campus & Robert Thomson Building, AFAIK.


In about 4 months, they begin a 20-year lease for 52,300 sf in 110 King Street West:


The department will be departing from the Right House (whose upper floors will become nearly vacant as a result).

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2013 at 15:09:03

I wonder if the city could float the idea of "heritage bonds" to the BIA, to fund any adaptive reuse or teardown/replacement? With the idea being the amount would be repaid, if possible, to the bondholders over the next X years out of the revenue that the renovated/new building will generate.

It would be a good way for the BIA to get their wish without looking to city hall to foot the bill for the upfront costs.

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By Balance (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2013 at 00:55:12

Don't move forward with a park. Re-use the building or take it down and rebuild. A park would be silly. I'd rather give it away for free to a developer than turn it into a park that nobody would use. I don't have any respect for Keesmat and she doesn't have touch with Hamilton. Repurpose or rebuild don't create a parkette here.

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By Greg (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2013 at 20:06:33

It would be nice if the Sandbar building got redeveloped. I must say though that the parkette in that picture doesn't look that bad! if there was a couple of tables or benches and a garbage can, maybe some annual flowers in the summer it would be a nice place to relax with a beverage or maybe even have lunch. It's not as if there is a shortage of commercial space in the core these days... when that day comes the city could easily sell the green space to a developer with guarantees in place. The bottom line in my opinion is that something should be done with the Sandbar building sooner than later, in it's present state it is just an eyesore!

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By Boyd (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2013 at 23:30:37

Shame Thier + Curran Architects couldn't have a go with this property as they did with 95 King Street East Arts Centre and Lofts.. With more of the same concept in mind! Better to work with a shell than nothing at all..


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