Lister Block

June 23 Deadline for Provincial Lister Deal

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 20, 2008

At a June 23 committee of the whole (COW) meeting, city councillors will be asked to vote on a proposal from Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) to convert the Lister building into office space and then sell it to the city for $25 million.

The provincial offer of $7 million to help finance the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Lister building is due to expire at the end of the month, after the deadline was extended earlier this year.

The provincial government made the offer to help seal a compromise between LIUNA, the property owner, and local heritage advocates. LIUNA had previously made a deal with the city to demolish the historic building and construct a "replicated" office building on the site. The city would pay double the going rate to rent some of the office space for municipal workers.

Heritage advocates, led by councillor Brian McHattie, argued that the city should not be subsidizing LIUNA for demolishing a building that was still structurally sound and had heritage value.

In a last-ditch effort to stop the demolition, McHattie appealed to Caroline Di Cocco, the Ontario Minister of Culture, to intervene and designate the Lister as a provincial heritage building. The Ontario government had recently amended the Heritage Act to make it much harder for property owners to demolish designated buildings.

Provincial Heritage Value

The Ontario Ministry of Culture asked the Ontario Heritage Trust to prepare a recommendation on the heritage value of the Lister Block buildings.

That report was not made public, but was just released under a freedom of information request by Kieran Dickson. The report confirmed the Lister's provincial heritage value and recommended that the province intervene, if necessary, to preserve the building from demolition.

After receiving the report, the Ontario government proposed an ad hoc committee to try and find a compromise between LIUNA's desire to demolish the building and heritage advocates' desire to see it restored and adaptively reused.

Council voted to grant LIUNA the demolition permit but not before a cooling-off period to study the heritage impacts of destroying the building and give the ad hoc committee a chance to work something out.

Volatile Negotiations

That committee worked out a deal to convert the existing Lister building into office space, which the city would rent at a higher premium for a longer term. The province offered the $7 million to help pay for the city board of health to move into the restored Lister.

That deal fell apart this past January when Hi Rise Group, LIUNA's partner in restoring the Lister, stated that the building would cost $37 per square foot, far higher than originally proposed. Council panicked and backed out without waiting for an independent assessment of the cost.

LIUNA vice-president Joe Mancinelli insisted that the $37/square foot price was not realistic, but the damage was already done.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger then tried once more to work out an agreement, and those meetings generated a new proposal to add a seniors' residence and a condo, but would require the demolition of the Balfour building on King William.

The Balfour ended up partially collapsing in the meantime, and LIUNA quickly demolished it in April without preserving any of its heritage facade, despite having promised to do so.

At the June 23 COW, councillors will be asked to decide whether to recommend accepting the new Lister deal to full council.

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 James Beulah (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2008 at 11:04:06

Did the Lister Block all of a sudden land in downtown Toronto?!?!?

Where the heck are they getting a pricetag of $25 million from? You can buy similar types of properties in downtown Toronto for that kind of money.

Totally nuts.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 22, 2008 at 22:43:03

it's a brilliant money-making sceme that will see LIUNA's pocket's fattened beyond belief with taxpayer money. Definitely in Hamilton, with Hamilton 'developers'.

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By Listless (anonymous) | Posted June 24, 2008 at 09:00:08

Mayor Fred is always a day late and a dollar short. He lost the grass cutting vote, the Airport lands vote and the Lister vote.

He's racking them up isn't he?

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By forworkersrights (anonymous) | Posted June 24, 2008 at 13:41:09

On principle I just wish that we could stop calling LIUNA a UNION. UNIONS hold a place of honour in Hamilton.

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By councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 15:13:29

forworkersrights..I sense your frustation and I share your feeling for REAL unions but I believ that most Hamiltonians know the difference.

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