Vrancor plan is to partially demolish 150 Main Street West and incorporate the southwest corner into a new condo development.
By Ryan McGreal
Published August 17, 2011
this article has been updated
Demolished northeast corner of Revenue Canada building
Before the Ministry of the Environment halted demolition yesterday over concerns about the amount of dust being generated, local heritage advocates were caught off-guard by the demolition, for which building owner Vrancor had given no advance notice.
Last night, Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr issued a public statement that provided some background on the issue and answered a number of questions forwarded by constituents. He confirmed that the bas-relief sculptures by Elizabeth Bradford Holbrook will be preserved, even though they have not been removed prior to the demolition.
Vrancor originally planned to demolish the building entirely and construct a new condo/hotel complex. In June, they proposed revising the plan to partially restore the west side of the building, which houses the bas-relief sculptures.
According to Farr, "it is no longer the intent of the developer to demolish that portion of the building in which the sculptures are located. In addition, the works will be restored and remain in place as originally intended when Dr. Holbrook was commissioned to do the work."
Vrancor will issue updated drawings of the revised plan "in the next few weeks".
Farr also reiterated his support for the Vrancor plan:
For our beautiful Hamilton, this is a major and positive downtown transformation. The developer (who has in the last five years invested $200 million on developments outside of Hamilton) is making a local five-phase, $140 million development investment. Ten of thousands of man hours will result in this development and millions will be added to the tax base upon the completion of the five phases, not to mention the hundreds of future full-time local jobs. In addition, we (Council) did not know it then, but this precinct will also greatly complement the $80 million McMaster Family Medicine Campus.
The Spectator reports that City staff say the original demolition permit issued in February will be violated if Vrancor does not demolish the entire building. In that case, Vrancor will need to produce an engineer's report ensuring that the remaining wing is structurally sound.
Pre-demolition: Revenue Canada building view from behind (RTH file photo)
Vrancor originally bought the property from the Federal Government in 2004 for $1.2 million. Since then, the developer has proposed several plans to renovate the existing building into condos but never followed through. A 2004 loan offer from the city under the Downtown Residential Loan program was canceled in 2008 "due to the owner not proceeding with the residential development project."
In 2009, Vranich applied for a grant through the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program 2009 Extension to build affordable housing in the old Revenue Canada building, but the application did not pass the program's eligibility criteria.
In May 2008, the OPP filed criminal charges against Gord Moodie, the head of the City's Downtown Residential Loan Program, for allegedly accepting a $5,000 bribe from Darko's son Denis on behalf of the elder Vranich.
The alleged bribe was in the form of a check dated November 11, 2005 from the Gown and Gavel Restaurant, a Hess Village pub that Vranich co-owned. The OPP indicated their belief that the cheque was a kickback for considering the municipal loan for the Revenue Canada building.
In September 2009, Superior Court Justice James Ramsay dismissed the charge against Moodie, concluding Moodie did not qualify as a "municipal official" under the Criminal Code but was merely a municipal employee.
Meanwhile, 150 Main Street West has been on the radar of the Municipal Heritage Committee (LACAC), identified as a Building of Concern.
In 2008, the building served as an illegal storage facility for hotel mattresses and furniture. In August 2009, the City levied a $10,500 fine against Vrancor for violating the Ontario Fire Code.
Since 2004, the company has assembled a large, contiguous package of land between Hess, Main, Bay and King Streets - including the site of the former Hamilton Motor Products (HMP) automobile dealership, which was demolished in November 2007.
(Note: the HMP site, at 132 Main Street West, is an L-shaped lot that wraps to the east and north of the parking lot right at the corner or Main and Bay, which is at 114 Main Street West and is not owned by Vrancor.)
Early this year, controversy erupted around Vrancor's plan to demolish 150 Main Street West to make room for a 140 unit, 20-storey condominium on the site.
At the February 1, 2011 Planning Committee meeting that considered Vrancor's request for a demolition permit, Councillor Terry Whitehead pointed out that the Federal Government sold the property to Vrancor along with a covenant [PDF] committing the owner to "conserve, protect and maintain the heritage features and characteristics" of the building and "not to raze to the ground or otherwise demolish the entire building located on the lands."
Vrancor president Darko Vranich signed the covenant when he bought the property.
Tim McCabe, General Manager of Planning and Economic Development, argued that it was not the City's job to enforce the covenant, as that was a matter between Vrancor and the Federal Government.
Also at the meeting, the Municipal Heritage Committee submitted a recommendation [PDF] to designate 150 Main Street West as a Municipal Heritage building. The committee identified the following heritage criteria:
Tim McCabe noted that the recommendation was "done as a rush to stop a demolition permit that is before us" and argued that issuing a notice to designate "at the ninth hour" would provide "uncertainty to our investment community".
The committee voted against the Heritage Committee's recommendation and granted the demolition permit. (You can read a full transcript of the committee meeting on the CATCH website.
The next day, Government Services Canada sent a letter to Vrancor stating that the building must not be demolished. The letter reads in part:
Please be reminded that the Government of Canada sold the property with a covenant that runs with the land in perpetuity which, in addition to protecting certain designated features and facades, requires that you and subsequent purchasers not 'raze to the ground or otherwise demolish the entire building'.
On February 11, Councillor Farr held a joint press conference with Vranich in which he announced that Vrancor intended to remove and preserve Bradford's bas-relief friezes.
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