Special Report: Heritage

Interview with James Street Baptist Church Owner

Louie Santaguida, President of Stanton Renaissance, answers questions about the plan to demolish most of James Street Baptist Church and incorporate the east facade and tower into a new structure.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 28, 2013

this article has been updated

After the news emerged that the new owner of James Street Baptist Church had applied for a partial demolition permit, RTH asked Louie Santaguida, President of Stanton Renaissance, for an email interview.

James Street Baptist Church (RTH file photo)
James Street Baptist Church (RTH file photo)

Santaguida agreed, and we sent a list of questions. We followed up after a few days without any response. Finally, a week later, a spokesperson replied to say that Santaguida would not be responding to any media until after the follow-up meeting on October 10.

After that meeting, we resubmitted our questions. On October 23, a representative from Kaiser Lachance, a public relations company Stanton Renaissance has retained, contacted us and advised that Santaguida would be willing to answer five questions. We narrowed down our list of questions and resubmitted them.

On October 24, the Municipal Heritage Permit Review Subcommittee met again and voted to approve the demolition permit with some conditions.

The next day, we received Santaguida's responses to our questions. Following are his responses.

Interview Questions

Raise the Hammer (RTH): What is the estimated cost to heat and stabilize the building to prevent collapse until there are firm plans and financing for the new development?

Louie Santaguida (LS): As a privately-held company, we do not typically disclose details on revenues and costs, but I can say that we since we purchased the property earlier we have maintained the site safely and will continue to do so. We are also committed to preserving as much of this heritage asset as possible and we have made considerable investments to date that demonstrate this.

RTH: What is the estimated cost to stabilize the building permanently for preservation and adaptive reuse? Why was this cost not included in the report, and why do you consider it to be prohibitively expensive?

LS: We have worked with our architectural and engineering partners to thoroughly evaluate the site, with a goal of preserving as much of the Church as we could safely. The extent of the damage to the building's structural integrity was not known at the time of purchase, and after engineers completed an intrusive investigation, the structure was deemed unsound. Once this determination was made, we focused our plans, including budgeting, on preserving the unique historical and aesthetic elements of the building.

RTH: The submitted report states that the east towers are also structurally compromised. How will you ensure they remain stable and do not collapse due to the partial demolition of the building?

We will both preserve the iconic elements of the building and operate with an uncompromising commitment to safety. We work with best-in-industry partners, including the local Hamilton architectural firm McCallum Sather Architects to ensure the successful transformation of this property. I have a 25-year history of working in Hamilton and other parts of Ontario and Canada, including working on a number of Portlands projects for the City of Hamilton and companies like Dofasco, Stelco and Westinghouse. I also supported the renovation efforts of the historic Royal Connaught Hotel.

RTH: How long will it take to complete the market analysis, develop a more specific proposal and secure financing for the site?

LS: Right now we are focused on working with the Subcommittee members and the public to ensure our plans reflect the best option for honouring the history and heritage of the James Street Baptist Church. Our aim is for the market analysis to happen concurrently with the site planning process.

RTH: How will you fulfill your responsibilities under the Heritage Act if Council does not approve your demolition request?

LS: At Stanton Renaissance, we take a holistic view of all of our developments, including the James Street Church project. We have considered the social, environmental and economic benefits this development can bring to the Hamilton community. We are looking to preserve the iconic entrance and east tower as well as repurpose elements of the Jackson Street wall. No matter what the Council outcome, we are resolute in our commitment to preserving the history, heritage and cultural elements of the site for the benefit of all members of the community.


Update: this article originally identified Louie Santaguida as President and CEO of Stanton Renaissance. His actual title is President. RTH regrets the error. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

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 Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 28, 2013 at 14:37:16

Well, at the very least it was good to get the eventual response from them. Obviously it's very much the same promises we've already heard and little concrete new information.

Basically it sounds like they're committing to this demolition regardless of whether they have a plan. I hope they get investors fast, then.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted October 29, 2013 at 08:37:50

I want to thank Kaiser Lachance for their thoughtful responses, and to thank Mr. Santaguida for approving them. Already I'm feeling better.

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By Johnny Velvet (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2013 at 13:38:05 in reply to Comment 93880

At least this PR firm has done their research into Hamilton and named relevant projects. HSR what?

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2013 at 11:28:58

"I also supported the renovation efforts of the historic Royal Connaught Hotel."

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2013 at 11:30:03 in reply to Comment 93896

To continue my interrupted comment, what does that even mean?

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted October 29, 2013 at 15:37:15

I think what RTH really needs is a Big Organ, such as the Baptist Church's Casavant. Surely we could provide a good home for it.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted October 29, 2013 at 15:51:49

"We will both preserve the iconic elements of the building and operate with an uncompromising commitment to safety."

Read: "If it's loose and not attached to the eastern facade, it is available to cobble your drainage ditch or driveway."

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