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