Special Report: Heritage

Downtown Property and Business Owners on Gore Demolitions

We will come to regret deeply the narrow short-sightedness that led a developer to decide the buildings aren't worth saving and that led a Council to decide they aren't worth protecting.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 08, 2013

On the weekend, Sean Burak argued that the planned demolition os 24 and 28 King Street East violates the Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan. Burak has bought and renovated an old downtown Hamilton building on John Street near King William, and he operates Downtown Bike Hounds there, so he is not just some "blogger" who doesn't understand the business of heritage preservation and adaptive reuse.

Fencing has gone up around the King Street East streetwall south of Gore Park (Image Credit: Sean Burak)
Fencing has gone up around the King Street East streetwall south of Gore Park (Image Credit: Sean Burak)

A number of other property and small business owners in downtown Hamilton have also weighed in on the issue, and their perspective is important because they have proven by their own efforts that old, narrow buildings like the ones Wilson-Blanchard plans to demolish on Gore Park can be saved, restored, renovated and repurposed for a new economy.

Hollie Pocsai of White Elephant writes:

As a fellow small business owner, whose motivations lie not only in my own enterprise, but who has dedicated much time to promoting the merits of downtown Hamilton, I am in full support of everything that Sean has touched upon.

There is something so inherently unique happening in downtown Hamilton. A momentum happening completely organically to renew the life of this city. Little has to be done, except to stand back and PROTECT this momentum; to make decisions in our city's best interest, not in the best interest of developers. We need heritage buildings preserved to maintain a beautiful, interesting, historical, and distinctive street-scape.

It is absolutely outrageous and embarrassing that these buildings have not been designated as heritage buildings as of yet. This is our city's square. This is where it all began, where our beating heart lies. It is an iconic image of Hamilton's downtown, and it is ridiculous that the debate must go on this long to save it.

Please protect the integrity of city that you were appointed to. The city that you have made (seemingly meaningless) decisions to preserve over and over again.

It is a much easier step for me to walk away from my business today than it was to open it up in a decrepit downtown five years ago. We opened up because we saw the potential of a great city, and it is astonishing the positive changes that we see with each passing year.

But with every decision that you make to destroy our downtown bit by bit, it makes it that much easier to stop fighting this lost cause altogether. If you keep acting in short-sighted interests, it will extinguish the fire of all those desiring to help you build this city up on their own.

You need our help, and we need yours. Let's work together on this matter, for once. I beg you, I don't have much fight left in me anymore.

Jane LaBatte, Pocsai's partner at White Elephant, writes:

To keep this short and sweet, each time something like this happens in our city, it makes it more and more likely that we'll move away from here.

As one half of White Elephant (and I can tell you the other half feels the same way), opening a business in a city like Hamilton isn't just a gamble - it's a conscious undertaking to stay and fight for a city we grew up and in loved. We could be successful elsewhere, but we chose to stay here.

To live in a city where its own government willfully goes against its written objectives over and over again feels like a complete and utter joke.

Dave Kuruc of Mixed Media writes:

Dave here from Mixed Media at the corner of James and Cannon. Our historic building is about the same age as the two in Gore park that Blanchard wants to tear down.

When we bought this place five years ago, it was owned by an absentee landlord from Toronto who pretty much just collected the rent and let this once proud and contributing building degrade.

We are but temporary caretakers in these buildings' long lives. My wife and I are working with the limited resources we have to return dignity and life to this building. When we are all gone, I hope future generations will continue to admire and support these amazing spaces.

Buildings like these are part of the cultural fabric of Hamilton. It's our duty to protect and honour them.

Writer Amy Kenny adds:

I concur with much of what's been said, but want to add this:

In an article in Friday's Spectator, Blanchard suggested the costs of maintaining the buildings make heritage designation unrealistic.

"They're not worth putting money into. There is no sense in leaving them there and letting them rot like the Lister block did for 20 years," he said.

The Lister Block is a prime example of why these buildings should be retained. The Culture and Tourism division (operating out of the Lister) has had a cultural policy and plan in place since 2008. Last I spoke with Patti Tombs, manager of cultural initiatives, they'd identified 2,100 sites as cultural resources. Many of these include built heritage.

This kind of thing makes it look like the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. How is council supporting the demolition of the Gore streetwall while, a block away, an entire division has been tasked with cataloguing and touting the importance of maintaining and celebrating such resources?

If this demolition goes ahead - and right now we have nothing more than the building owner's qualified promise not to demolish 18-22 King Street East as well - we will come to regret deeply the narrow short-sightedness that led a developer to decide the buildings aren't worth saving and that led a Council to decide they aren't worth protecting.

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 writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By DowntownAdvocate (registered) | Posted July 08, 2013 at 11:13:49

You can't compare the Lister Block to these buildings. The Lister Block is a concrete construction, therefore much easier to renovate, whereas these buildings along the Gore are of wood construction. Also, the Lister Block ended up costing a mere $30 million of Governemnt money to make it the space that is there today. This is why it would be "unrealistic" to retain these buildings by private investment. I am looking forward to a new development that hopefully can mimic some of the old one, while adding some modern elements.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted July 09, 2013 at 11:04:57 in reply to Comment 90010

You don't have a friggen clue what you're talking about.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 08, 2013 at 14:41:23 in reply to Comment 90010

Those buildings are not wood. They are masonry, like the majority of the buildings downtown. Blanchard paid something like 400,000 for those buildings, and there are people who would easily pay double that for all of them - and then restore the buildings using private money, just as you say is not possible.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 08, 2013 at 14:13:22 in reply to Comment 90010

Then ignore the heritage argument and simply consider the fact that the buildings were in use until winter. They were functional, active buildings.

Blanchard does not have a concrete plan for the lot, and likely is planning on waiting until he can acquire more adjacent properties before he'll develop one... this could mean many, many years before we see that vacant lot developed.

If the buildings were brand new stucco-and-styrofoam abominations, their demolition would still set off alarm bells because you can't have a yawning demolition hole facing the core of the city for the better part of a decade while a property speculator waits for the perfect deal.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted July 08, 2013 at 12:31:08 in reply to Comment 90010

Can you compare 19 John St N to these buildings? Can you compare 154 James St N to these buildings? Can you compare all the other tall, narrow Victorian buildings in the downtown core that people bought and took care of, instead of buying and neglecting, to these buildings? No more excuses please. Stop making excuses for speculators when real investors, real entrepreneurs, real Hamilton champions are proving them wrong day by day.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted July 08, 2013 at 13:21:59

Like Graham said erlier today lets make a 3 way deal Blanchard the city BIA and the peoples of Hamilton all chep in one thired each poeples from the ward 2 and any-other who wants to put the money were there mouth is .

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By Connie (registered) | Posted July 09, 2013 at 10:33:24 in reply to Comment 90017

YOU put YOUR money where your mouth is "conrad"!! You're threatening to demolish prime valuable heritage property trying to blackmail the people of Hamilton into padding your profits because you don't know how to profit from high-value historic loft properties in THE best location in this city.

Step aside before you do more damage. Step aside for others who DO know how to profit from the gold mine YOU are about to tear down!!!!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 08, 2013 at 13:31:07 in reply to Comment 90017

Stop with the ridiculous 'money where your mouth is' meme, as though only people who have enough to buy these buildings have a right to speak on the issue.

But even if that were the case, the fact is people who would like to renovate these buildings have offered to buy them from Blanchard and he has refused to sell, so your silly notion doesn't apply here anyway.

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By Conrad664 (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2013 at 13:46:59 in reply to Comment 90018

Are you seriouse about someone who tried to bye Blancrad out and he said NO ..LOL

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 08, 2013 at 14:42:50 in reply to Comment 90021

Yes, this happened.

He told the buyer they are not for sale because they are p[art of a 20 year plan to assemble the entire block. That is the very definition of land assembly and speculation.

Those 20 years cost each and every one of us. Enough is enough.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted July 09, 2013 at 10:42:42

There oughta be a law ...! What was it they used to do to scallywags and con men and carpetbaggers? Run them out of town on a rail? Better boogie! Cos after that the tar and feathers come out! I'll bet the spirits inhabiting those old buildings will chuckle. :)

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By Connie (registered) | Posted July 09, 2013 at 18:05:47

" ... the narrow short-sightedness that led a developer to decide the buildings aren't worth saving and that led a Council to decide they aren't worth protecting."

... That misled the people of Hamilton into voting for them.

And here's the developer's 'vision' that some of our councillors voted for: " When asked about his vision for what would face Gore Park: Potentially a grocery store, or a Target, or whatever. I don't know." "

Dave Blanchard is right ... He doesn't know ... anything of value to Hamilton at all.

DEMOLITION HALTED!!! :D

http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/news/story/20...

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