Special Report: Heritage

City Has Power to Save Gore Buildings - If Council Chooses to Act

If this demolition occurs on the most important block in the city, the message to property owners will be clear: neglect and demolition is rewarded.

By Sean Burak
Published June 20, 2013

Let me make this clear: The city holds all of the cards in any negotiation with Wilson-Blanchard, the company that owns 22-28 King Street East and plans to demolish 24 and 28.

24 and 28 King Street East, left, will be demolished. The facade of 22, right, might be preserved under a deal with the City (RTH file photo)
24 and 28 King Street East, left, will be demolished. The facade of 22, right, might be preserved under a deal with the City (RTH file photo)

We have the power, and indeed the responsibility, to respect and protect our built heritage. Yet we are bending to Wilson-Blanchard as if we do not.

The Heritage Act gives us a fantastic set of tools for dealing with these threats, if we choose to use them.

Adding buildings to the city's "inventory" is a toothless, borderline useless tool. It does not protect from demolition, it just lengthens the wait time.

What we need to do is to vote a motion for "intent to designate" under the Act. This immediately cancels pending demolitions, yet does not require a follow-through in terms of eventual designation.

In other words, it sends a message to the owner that they cannot remove the buildings and that the city won't stand for playing games. But if the developer plays nice, the actual designation does not have to occur if they do not want it.

What's the worst that can happen if we do this? There are two possible outcomes: he sells to someone who knows they have to deal with the heritage nature of the buildings appropriately, or he deals with it properly himself.

It is up to the municipality to designate. So can Council please muster up support for a proper motion that actually protects the buildings? I mean all of the buildings.

If Wilson-Blanchard wants to build a tower, they can do it on an empty lot. They already own a bunch of them.

Who does Council work for? The citizens or the developers? What benefit is it to our city to have these buildings come down before there is anything remotely resembling a plan in place?

Just to be clear, Wilson-Blanchard has no architectural drawings, no money, no investors, no tenants. They have nothing planned other than immediate removal of the buildings (and I assume, an associated tax break).

We can barely afford to let speculative demolition happen on our side streets. If it occurs on the most important block in the city, the message to property owners will be clear: neglect and demolition is rewarded. Are we prepared to risk a domino effect of falling buildings on King?

Will Council stop this needless destruction of our downtown?

Residents, business owners, tourists, families, visitors, heritage supporters, taxpayers and our very future are all depending on you taking action. The only entity that depends on Council not taking action is Wilson-Blanchard.

Sean Burak was born in Hamilton but raised elsewhere in Ontario. He returned to his birth town at the turn of the century and has never looked back. Sean is the owner of Downtown Bike Hounds.

42 Comments

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By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 09:54:22

There is a petition asking Council to intervene immediately. http://bit.ly/194Nqqd

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By Cooler heads (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 10:21:39

I’m all for heritage preservation, but let’s not resort to completely demonizing this developer. This article ignores several key facts: first, Blanchard has a proven track record of preserving historical buildings (three out of four properties at the corner of James and Main are his properties, including the Piggott building).

Second, Blanchard has repeatedly said he would be willing to preserve the buildings if he had the money to do so. He has asked council to help him out financially, but so far, that hasn’t happened.

Third, let’s not forget that Blanchard has already shown he’s willing to compromise when it comes to preserving these properties. Original plans called for all four of these buildings to be knocked down, but after he heard the community outcry, he agreed to keep some of the heritage elements intact.

Finally, I actually think this development will be good for downtown. The last time a developer promised to spend this much on a downtown project was in the 60s and 70s. Thriving downtowns need a mix of old and new.

I’m not being an apologist for Blanchard, but the riled-up handwringing demonstrated in this article isn’t productive. I love Hamilton’s built heritage, and yes, preserving it is extremely important. But it’s naive and unhelpful to cast stones instead of working towards meaningful dialogue and compromise. Instead of working ourselves into an angry frenzy, why not get in touch with Brian McHattie, who is working on beefing up the registry of Hamilton’s heritage properties?

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/2550343-heritage-advocates-call-for-political-action/

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By PigottSun (registered) | Posted June 23, 2013 at 12:28:56 in reply to Comment 89637

Just to set the record straight ...

Contrary to a number of inaccurate reports in the past by the local media, David Blanchard is not, in fact, responsible for the preservation of the Pigott Building. The truth is that he had nothing to do with either the original restoration of the building or its subsequent condo redevelopment in the mid-90s, both of which were conducted by Toronto firms.

His only connection to the Pigott/Sunlife complex --- and it's a fairly recent one --- is that his company, Wilson Blanchard, took over the management of the building a few years ago. It currently owns the main floor commercial area and has made some improvements to the interior office space for clients it leases space to.

Last year, an extensive exterior facelift of the Pigott Building was undertaken at a cost of over $800,000, and it was completely financed by the condo owners through a special assessment. Again, Mr. Blanchard made no financial contribution to this recent preservation project.

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By demo crew (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 07:39:07 in reply to Comment 89637

Thanks for youer input, Wilson

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By Difference of opinion (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 10:35:03 in reply to Comment 89671

Riiight - because no one other than Wilson/Blanchard could possibly have a different take on this issue.

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By hamilton's death = BBS profit (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2013 at 00:01:44 in reply to Comment 89680

Wilson/Blanchard are in fact the only ones who have a "take" in this game. Got a valid argument otherwise? Please explain how this demolition benefits ANYONE else...

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 11:06:37 in reply to Comment 89680

This is the developer who's already knocked down other important historic buildings in the heart of the downtown core and replaced them with parking lots. Now he's going to knock down these even more important historic buildings right on Gore Park - and he doesn't even have a plan to replace them! All he's offered is that he might decide to save the front third of one of them but no guarantees.

How the hell did he (and you) expect people to react? Don't be surprised by a bit of snark along with the outrage. Your "take" isn't just "different", it's insulting to the intelligence of anyone who's been paying attention to this crapshow.

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By Fatcs (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2013 at 10:08:59 in reply to Comment 89681

Don't assume people haven't been following the issue if they happen to have a difference of opinion. That's the issue I have with heritage advocacy in Hamilton: it's emotional, knee-jerk, and often condescending. You'd get further if you were a little gentler with those who have other points of view.

And yes, Blanchard knocked down one historical building in the core around 2000. (The Canada Permanent Building). Since then, he's restored three more (all on the corner of Main and James). Please, don't ignore the facts in favour of your righteous indignation.

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By PigottSun (registered) | Posted June 30, 2013 at 10:44:06 in reply to Comment 89714

No, Blanchard didn't "restore three" buildings at the corner of Main and James. He had nothing to do with the restoration of the Pigott Building. See my previous comment (above).

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 12:17:17 in reply to Comment 89637

Instead of working ourselves into an angry frenzy, why not get in touch with Brian McHattie, who is working on beefing up the registry of Hamilton’s heritage properties?

Soaked Heads has already done a pretty thorough job countering your other points, but I have to call you on this. Why do you think Blanchard is in such a hurry to demolish these buildings? Someone at the city tipped him off that McHattie was looking at getting these buildings designated, so he scurried to get the permit before that could happen despite having even the remotest plans for the space.

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By Clear Heads5 (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 15:33:14 in reply to Comment 89646

Blanchard has owned those buildings for the past ten years. How much of a hurry can he be in to demolish them if they’ve sat there that long? The truth is, they just weren’t on anyone’s radar until they were in danger.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 07:42:19 in reply to Comment 89653

This comment makes no sense. You imply that since no one protested a potential demolition of these buildings before an actual demolition plan was announced, everyone should just accept the demolition?

So people need to constantly be protesting the demolition of every building in the city, all the time, in order to prove that they cared about them for a minimum amount of time?

I get that you're being the devil's advocate, but it's not really helping. Do you support a huge gap in the gore?

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By granny2 (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 23:48:19 in reply to Comment 89653

Perhaps like me, most people never expected that either a developer or city council would even consider destroying the Gore Park streetscape !

If city councillors fail to designate all of these buildings and prevent demolition, they'll be facing election with a visible and desecrated Gore Park to their 'credit, another Hamilton travesty.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 16:22:00 in reply to Comment 89653

No. He made a sudden move to apply for a demolition permit just before Christmas when he knew council wouldn't be meeting again until the new year, because a little bird told him that the heritage committee was looking at designating them.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 11:12:26 in reply to Comment 89637

AFAIK, the last major new build downtown that came out of the private sector was Commerce Place, opened in 1987/1990 on the former site of a century building.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2013 at 20:16:29 in reply to Comment 89642

I always think Commerce Place has a hilariously ironic name, since it has no ground-floor retail. I know, I know, it's the other kind of commerce.

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By Soaked Heads (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 10:27:31 in reply to Comment 89637

> first, Blanchard has a proven track record of preserving historical buildings

He also has a proven track record of knocking down historical buildings. There's a by-law that you can't demolish a building and turn it into a parking lot that was written because of Blanchard.

> Second, Blanchard has repeatedly said he would be willing to preserve the buildings if he had the money to do so.

Other property owners who have preserved buildings in worse shape than the Gore buildings didn't need handouts to do it.

> Third, let’s not forget that Blanchard has already shown he’s willing to compromise when it comes to preserving these properties.

His "compromise" is he still knocks down 2 of the 3 buildings and maybe keeps the front 1/3 of the third building. But only if it makes sense and he can change his mind any time. Some compromise.

> Finally, I actually think this development will be good for downtown.

Except there's no development. No plan. No money. No business case. Just a rushed demolition and then years of empty lots while WB decides what to do with the land. No thanks.

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By Cooler Heads (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 15:40:31 in reply to Comment 89638


Yes, Blanchard did demolish the Canada Permanent Building in 1999. But he’s also had a hand in developing/restoring three other heritage buildings on that corner. Let’s be fair here.

In terms of the compromise, wouldn’t you agree that preserving some of the buildings is better than nothing?

And your claim that other developers in the Gore have done so without city money is factually incorrect. Just take a look at the dozens and dozens of incentive programs (loans/grants) the city offers to downtown developers:

http://www.investinhamilton.ca/downtown/financial-incentive-programs/

I’m not saying I agree with all of Blanchard’s actions – I’m just saying this issue is many shades of grey and it’s being treated as black and white.


I’m not saying I agree with all of Blanchard’s actions – I’m just saying this issue is many shades of grey and it’s being treated as black and white.

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By PigottSun (registered) | Posted July 03, 2013 at 16:32:29 in reply to Comment 89654

AGAIN ... Blanchard did not have "a hand in developing/restoring three other heritage buildings on that corner"! He had nothing to do with the restoration of the Pigott Building. Please see my previous comments (above).

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 11:00:13 in reply to Comment 89638

Hamilton tradition dictates that the building remain vacant for about a decade except for squatter-arsonists. Only at that point does the speculator gain access to public money.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 10:46:21 in reply to Comment 89638

If Hamiltoians are so worried about thoese biulding tell City Hall that the tax payers in Hamilton whant to reno thoese properties buy it with our tax money like we did with the Lisner block

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By granny2 (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 22:44:52 in reply to Comment 89639

The taxpayers don't want to pay for private profits.
There are plenty of developers who'd jump at the chance to preserve historic buildings in the most important piece of real estate in Hamilton.
There's more profit in that.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 12:24:36 in reply to Comment 89639

Lets not forget that Wilson-Blanchard stands to profit from developing this land. Its not to much to ask them to do it in a way that makes sense for other stakeholders, and to stop them from taking advantage our our city's downtown core.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 14:09:46 in reply to Comment 89648

He did and he will just give him a chanc did anyone heard from the hores mouth what he is going to do , last time i herd Wilsom talk he said he will lisent to what the poeples had to say and the drawing he had was just a prop to give an idea what MITE go up but he whould hear us out

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By granny2 (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 23:06:18 in reply to Comment 89652

I hope you're right, but I'm afraid they're just making a play for public money by threatening demolition. I don't think that shows much good faith.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 05:45:50 in reply to Comment 89667

Well if Hamilton is soo desprate to save thosos builting why not put some TAX payers money with it , like the old saying gosos talk to talk walk to walk put up or shut up in other words .. lol

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 12:36:55 in reply to Comment 89648

Amen to that. In other cities, developers are willing to spend a bit more to preserve heritage features that will ultimately add more value to their properties in the long run. Only in Hamilton are we pitifully grateful for the most pedestrian development notions; Pan Am, Centre Mall, you name it. We are about to sacrifice our most important urban space to the butt end of a glass and stucco tower, and that's if we're lucky. I can't for the life of me understand why Blanchard wants this to be his legacy, and why he can't see the long term value of preserving the history and character of the space his properties front on.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 13:35:52 in reply to Comment 89649

There seems to be a misconception that we have to accept sub-par designs because developers need to make money somehow, but I think its more likely that developers are just cutting these corners because it makes the profits more lucrative.

E.G. the new condos at Aberdeen and Dundern - every time I mention this example, people tell me that obviously the developers would not have put the parking garage at ground level if they could afford to put it underground, but I say why not? If no one is forcing you to spend the money and do a proper job, why not just build it cheap and pocket the extra cash?

We don't owe anything to developers - they profit off the investments that we as a community make in our neighborhoods when they develop and market properties in those regions. Its time we leverage our investment and get our part of the profits: adaptable, valuable building stock that honours the architectural heritage that is present and contributes to our urban neighborhoods!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2013 at 13:50:12 in reply to Comment 89650

It's also important to note that there is not just one optimum equilibrium point for profitability. A project can be profitable at several different intersections of spending and revenue.

In Hamilton, we tend to give developers a pass to aim for the rock-bottom lowest cost intersection of profitability, no matter the damage to the surroundings or the opportunity cost of various higher quality developments that didn't happen.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-06-20 13:52:13

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2013 at 11:57:26

After having spent the afternoon in The Gore yesterday with my 6 year old who had a blast and ate like a queen (and all yummy local fare from Meatball Shoppe balls, Reardon's dogs, Sweetness Bakery cupcakes, to yummy frozen fruit pops), it's saddening to imagine sitting in the bright, warm, afternoon sun, overlooking a demolished lot and as others in our community have alluded to, an empty lot that could remain that way for years.

We just recently started this wonderful pilot project within this historic area of our city, and soon thereafter a large chunk of that history is to be brought down which would take away so much from the feel that exists while enjoying these festivities.

We talk so much about tax payer funding but with the invention and popularity of online crowd funding and the innovative and vast types of projects that are funded in this matter, but what about seeing what heritage preservation could bring in the way of alternate means to fund these types of projects in a city that although it needs to preserve it's heritage, it needs to fix people first.

I understand heritage preservation can have a ripple affect on our economy through attractiveness of these areas and the tourism these sites draw, but saving a few million now could help our cities hardest hit now.

Perhaps if we as a city could say that monies raised for city-building projects by the citizens through means such as crowd funding, that an equal amount or some percentage, would be directed into a fund that works towards taking some serious steps to bridge the gaps between those scraping by, and those that are far from barely surviving.

What if there was a plaque on the walls of all these buildings, stating that these facades were owned by the people? Protected forever under citizen heritage preservation. It also means we are in charge of repairs and upkeep, but I have often wondered how we might be able to use crowd funding for city building.

Is this such a project?

Comment edited by lawrence on 2013-06-20 11:57:59

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2013 at 12:22:51 in reply to Comment 89645

And thanks to a tweet from Gorilla Cheese, I found the name of the vendor selling those awesome fruit pops. My picky eater daughter loved them Rudy! Thank you.

Rudy's - http://twiter.com/rudyspaletas

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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 15:41:20

Three quick questions...

1. Does Hamilton have the right incentives in place for developers to restore and repurpose heritage buildings? Something seems off if it's more lucrative to raze a building and leave a vacant lot. Developers are in it to make money, and if restoring buildings offers the best returns, that's what they'll do.

2. Are 24 & 28 King St.in a condition that they can be restored. Seems to be conflicting accounts.

3. And is there a long-term plan for downtown that addresses restoring and repurposing heritage buildings? My favourite quote of the week might apply here - "vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare."

Gore Park could be the heart / front porch of downtown Hamilton - the core needs a vibrant public space that brings folks together. My hometown of London, ON has Victoria Park - Hamilton needs something similar.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2013 at 16:37:21 in reply to Comment 89655

Does Hamilton have the right incentives in place for developers to restore and repurpose heritage buildings?

No. We have a system of perverse incentives to neglect and demolish heritage buildings.

Are 24 & 28 King St.in a condition that they can be restored.

Probably. I've seen buildings on James North that were in appallingly bad shape but were restored effectively and affordably by owners with relatively modest means. Developers who want to demolish always claim the buildings are beyond repair.

And is there a long-term plan for downtown that addresses restoring and repurposing heritage buildings?

No. City Council doesn't see the value in our built heritage and has no strategy to protect it. Council won't even use the legislative tools it already has.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-06-20 16:40:42

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By James (registered) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 17:51:25

If Council allows this, they should be sacked, each and every one of them.

Demolition should not be allowed unless the developer has a clear plan for the use of the space. With blueprints and everything!

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By In My Travels (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 18:41:00

Sean (Bike Hounds) has fixed my fixed gear bike many times and kept me rolling. His building on Jon is an example of brilliant adaptive reuse of an old storefront being used as a bike shop. I don't want to assume about his finances, but I am guessing he isn't an eccentric millionaire who owns this building as some vanity project (not that anything is wrong with that Jeff Feswick, but I will guess he is doing it out of belief in his city. I've met the architect David Premi who was in the Gore buildings as the last tenant. On his way out he said he would be very shocked if any of the buildings fell. (What does he know that we don't?) I also met a fellow named Tim, or Tom, at the bike shop who told me that he was looking to move a backpackers hostel into the building beside the bike shop. I wonder whatever became of his dream. Maybe someone knows if they will be moving in there soon. Bike shops, cafes, backpackers, Indian restaurants, etc need old buildings to survive and thrive. Jane Jacobs wrote once: "New ideas need to come out of old buildings."

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 22, 2013 at 07:01:02 in reply to Comment 89660

It's Tim and the "dream" is still pending thanks.

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By Joerover (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 22:51:04

Seems like a no-brainer. These buildings must be saved to preserve our uniqueness. I think keeping them in some form would also prove to be a good business decision.

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 10:20:27

Hey Lawrence - glad to hear you loved the food trucks so much. When these buildings come down - there'll be more room for them. Probably a few extra parking spots too. Driveway to Driveway experience. Enjoy!

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 14:16:34

If Hamilton really wants to keep the buildings protes like what thee doing for the XEL pipe line in Flamborrow

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By RB (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 16:22:36

Just to clear the air a little, Wilson Blanchard is a property management company (condo's) that Dave Blanchard owns 1/3 of. His commercial real estate company is Blair Blanchard Stapleton (BBS) and this is the arm that does all the property acquisitions/development, like this Gore Park issue.

Comment edited by RB on 2013-06-21 16:23:02

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 22, 2013 at 06:59:50

This issue makes me sick to my stomach. I own property in ward 2 and 3 in the city including a heritage building. Almost 99 percent of things old must be saved through private or public money. Check out: www.grandrapids.com for a comparison.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 22, 2013 at 11:45:40

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