Special Report: Heritage

Shared Assets at Stake in Gore Building Demolition

The purpose of the Ontario Heritage Act is to bridge the gap between the public interest and a property owner without vision, who is driven to destroy for short-term gain.

By Ned Nolan
Published April 25, 2016

On April 21, Wilson-Blanchard made a delegation to the Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee with respect to their plans for 18-30 King Street East. Thanks to Joey Coleman and The Public Record, you can watch a video of the meeting.

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

The property owner proposes demolishing everything but the facade to 18-22, which was designed by William Thomas and built in 1840, and incorporating it into a new a building.

We're told that saving the facades of some of these - some of Hamilton's first buildings - is a good compromise. But look at the backs of these solid beauties. Look at the potential! Look how this block contributes to the character of the downtown fabric - yes even from the back.

Rear of 18-28 King Street East (Image Credit: Ned Nolan)
Rear of 18-28 King Street East (Image Credit: Ned Nolan)

Now, where are the windows? The south-facing flower-boxes? The imagination? Why hasn't the owner aspired to do great things with these unique and valuable assets?

That's just it: If these buildings are derelict, vacant, or "held up by scaffolding" it is nobody's fault but the owner's - a property management company which has obviously failed to responsibly steward what it inherited from the founders of our City.

It is a gross arrogance to acquire historic properties and allow them to lie vacant and to crumble under your watch - to shrug, 'they're mine now and I can do what I want with them!'

Paradoxically, it is also a kind of sad insecurity to fail to see the greatness under your nose, to think that our heritage is not important - "that's why we travel to Europe."

More is at stake here than property rights, than a developer's bottom dollar. This is about shared assets, hundreds of years of craftsmanship, history, myth, and collective consciousness. And that is what the Ontario Heritage Act is for: To bridge the gap between the public interest and a property owner without vision, who is driven to destroy for short-term gain.

Originally, David Blanchard said he wanted to tear these buildings down and put "maybe a Target" there on our City square - that was before Target failed the test of time. You know what doesn't fail the test of time? Escarpment limestone, Hamilton bricks and mortar.

The most important thing we must do with the space that we've inherited from previous generations is to care for it, to steward it for future generations, to do something good with it. We don't improve as a society when our city builders only care about the present.

I'll leave you with a photograph I took a few summers ago in Amsterdam of a few nondescript brick building built c.1745.

Amsterdam building, 1745 (Image Credit: Ned Nolan)
Amsterdam building, 1745 (Image Credit: Ned Nolan)

With files from Ryan McGreal

Ned Nolan lives with his family near the Pearl Street bridge and is a lawyer with the downtown firm Nolan Ciarlo, LLP.


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By DavidHamilton (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 14:03:04

Yeah, I guess. But it's been years of this back and forth. In a perfect world, all of the buildings would be restored and a new gap filled in and all would be well and dandy, but I'd rather see a new and useful building in our core than wait another 10 years of people fighting change. Sometimes you've got to lose something in order to gain even more. In the case of these buildings, I'd say the city as a collective is ready to move on.

"It is a gross arrogance to acquire historic properties and allow them to lie vacant and to crumble under your watch - to shrug, 'they're mine now and I can do what I want with them!'"

Maybe, but it's their money. If they're willing to spend cash on rebuilding the lot into something that not only is a useful and modern property, but puts this chapter to rest, I'm happy.

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 14:47:45 in reply to Comment 117890

I agree completely and think the arrogance lies with a lawyer whose only investment is to criticize those with vision he does not share. Staking a claim to a "shared asset" will require more than just throwing stones.

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 15:49:47 in reply to Comment 117891

what vision has blanchard presented? if he had his way the whole building would be bulldozed for a parking lot. it's not arrogant to desire maintaining a building designed by a famous architect that could not be rivaled with modern building techniques. these buildings give cities charm and remind us of the rich history that brought us to this point.

people in this city know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

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By goodneighbour (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 15:34:26

My neighbor complained about an addition I was doing. I had permits etc but she constantly complained and the city sent inspector after inspector. Her main complaint was aesthetic which the city really had no jurisdiction over. She claimed I was building too close to the lot line in one complaint and so I had the property surveyed and found out that part of her kitchen was on my land. Ho, ho! got enough money to pay for the whole thing.

Want a say. Get some skin in the game and stop hiding behind "heritage" legislation.

Also, one man's antique is another man's garbage.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 15:51:57 in reply to Comment 117893

This is a BS argument, lots of people who value heritage have tried to buy these buildings but Wilson-Blanchard refuses to sell. We have Heritage legislation (no scare quotes) to protect our built heritage from speculators and people who put short term profit ahead of long term value.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted April 26, 2016 at 00:35:05 in reply to Comment 117895

Has he quoted a minimum price/offer?

If not and this is a truly refuse-to-sell-at-any-price, are there past precedents for expropriating on heritage grounds, or forcing/compelling a sale, when heritage status is under threat and there are other buyers more willing to preserve heritage status?

I'm not familiar, but I am genuinely curious. There are mechanisms available when the owner is being deceptive, intentionaly blighting the landscape, as in the case of the "scaffolding lie" and continual misleading info. Cities expropriate troubled/blighted buildings from bad/sleazy/absentee/etc owners. Is it just a matter of lawyer out-lawyering each other at this stage?

We can tolerate facodomy but getting rid of all of this heritage wouldn't do, given their significance, and the city's interest/incentivization in saving them.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-04-26 00:41:49

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 26, 2016 at 06:48:58 in reply to Comment 117905

The owners have stated publicly that the buildings are "not for sale". And they have certainly not been listed as for sale since the current owners assembled the properties or since the city voted an intention to designate.

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By JOHNLOCKE (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 16:53:20 in reply to Comment 117895

"lots of people who value heritage" The value of any thing . . . is its price. John Locke

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By rightprice (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 16:48:00 in reply to Comment 117895

Everything has a price. Offer him what he wants. That is not BS.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted April 26, 2016 at 08:26:41

Ugh, the scaffolding lie. I was genuinely cringing for David Premi as he was up there with Blanchard's lawyer at Council. Never a good sign when the guy who's name is on the development can't even condescend to show up to council, and sends the sales team instead.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted April 26, 2016 at 08:55:47

I agree that a owner should be able to do what he or she wants with their land however, the rules under the Planning Act make it difficult for certain types of land owners. The type whom buys the land on the belief that what is coming will be better than what is there now. Or put more simply, A owner or ownership group that believes the building as is, is worth far less than the cost of the land and has no belief in the extra value or earning potential of the building, to actually want to maintain it.

The owner looks for an out and finds an answer to it under the Planning Act, if you tear down the building you can get an interm use bylaw that allows certain types of narrow uses, parking lots are one of them. Golf Courses or Mini Put facilities are another popular choice. This has led to a over supply of downtown parking lots in Hamilton. I guess the owner of this stretch of King Street believes that, some revenue as a parking lot is better than none. Don't get me wrong I'm not cheering for the owner here.

What the building owner or ownership group is not seeing here is the multiplier effect that a well maintained historic look can do for a property or a whole neighborhood. One of my favorite Toronto neighborhoods has no subway, very little streetcar/LRT access except in rush hour and along its northerly extreme yet, when I'm in Toronto with my family or working, one of the first downtown neighborhoods I go to is the St. Lawrence Neighborhood. They managed to save enough old buildings and add enough good new ones that it makes what I think as a planner, as a person who spent a good part of his life in Toronto and now as a person/tourist, one of the best places to be in the city. Its not a living museum like some old neighborhoods are which have a tendency to stagnate over time. Its not overly modern/weird in a strange way that some developments have turned into. Its comfortable, friendly and a very inviting place that you want to spend as much time in as possible.

This picture shows adaptive reuse of 19th century industrial and commercial warehouse space and how a well maintained buildings create a revenue multiplier which drastically increases the value of the property.


A nice mix of old and new in an exciting and inviting place. There is wonderfully restful park behind the Gooderham Flatiron Building.


I still think this is one of the best murals I have ever seen as well as being the cover of my 7th grade spelling book. It shows just because the building is very old it doesn't have to boring. My only complaint is that the area has become far more touristy than it use to be.


My point is that the area of King Street in Hamilton around these buildings has as much potential as the St. Lawrence neighborhood did probably more, just the right kind of owners with a little vision and a willingness to embrace the potential multiplier effect that is already there.

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By stone (registered) | Posted April 26, 2016 at 09:14:14

This whole thing happened during a weird transition period for downtown, purchased when nobody cared what was going on but not developed until EVERYONE cared what was going on. I'm sure Blanchard was shocked when people actually gave a shit what was going to go in there. This is obviously more about location than anything else, and honestly more likely about the parking lot behind these buildings.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:39:44

Why not run some numbers and make a business case for why keeping the buildings intact is more profitable than tearing them down?

Alternatively, start a gofundme page and raise the money to hold these buildings in trust.

If you are correct in saying society at large values these buildings, you should have little trouble raising the cash to purchase them.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 27, 2016 at 12:10:07 in reply to Comment 117967

What part of The Owner Refuses To Sell do you not understand?

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By notloyd (anonymous) | Posted April 27, 2016 at 21:04:04 in reply to Comment 117972

Hate to be rude but what part of everything has a price do you not understand. Do you think they are holding it just to keep downtown ugly and poor? Offer him enough and he will sell.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 27, 2016 at 17:28:23

A businessman not interested in making money. That makes sense.

The dude obviously hates heritage buildings, which is likely why he has turned down previous offers and instead wants to lose money by creating a parking lot.

Take this as a life lesson and start buying up buildings, that 30 years from now, will be considered historical.

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By stone (registered) | Posted April 30, 2016 at 10:23:28

If Toronto has taught us anything it's that 40 stories are better than 4 stories. The real gem on this property to the developer is the parking lot facing Main, a 25-30 story building will fit in there easily. Splitting the lot so someone else can fix up the old buildings on King is more trouble than it's worth on many levels(although I'm sure Core Urban would do an awesome job) Developers only make money when the develop, if they are turning something into a parking lot it's so they can avoid paying taxes and they can afford to sit on it.

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