Lister Block

Letter to Caroline Di Cocco, Ontario Minister of Culture

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 13, 2006

Dear Minister Di Cocco (cdicocco.mpp@liberal.ola.org),

Tonight, Hamilton City Council votes on whether to grant a demolition permit to the Labourers International Union of North America (LIUNA) and Hi-Rise Group to demolish and replicate the historic Lister Block.

I implore you to recognize the Lister Block as a Provincial Heritage Building and prevent its demolition. This stopped being "a local issue" when the local government demonstrated that it is unwilling to uphold its own laws and policies or provincial law regarding either downtown revitalization or the preservation of heritage buidings.

I'm sure you've been briefed on the history of the Lister, its status as a municipal heritage building, and the many reports from architects and engineers asserting that the building is still structurally sound and a good candidate for restoration. Some architects, including the internationally renowned Eberhard Ziedler, have even offered to volunteer their time and effort to help restore the building.

Hamilton's Municipal Heritage Committee voted by a large majority to recommend that the city deny the demolition request on the grounds that the proposal is contrary to the Ontario Heritage Act, Hamilton's Official Plan, and the Downtown Secondary Plan, and that LIUNA did not prepare an adequate heritage impact assessment or demonstrate that restoration and adaptive re-use are not economically viable.

The proposal also violates the City's King William Master Plan, which states in part that Lister "ranks among the city's best surviving examples of the decorative use of terra cotta" and "With its solid steel framed construction the Lister Block is a prime candidate for adaptive re-use. The resurrection of this significant building will promise a vibrant street life at the corner of King William and James."

I believe further that the relationship between LIUNA and Mayor Larry Di Ianni constitutes a clear conflict of interest, considering that LIUNA over-contributed to the Mayor's electoral campaign and has hosted fundraising dinners to help with his legal costs, and that LIUNA and the mayor's office negotiated an agreement behind closed doors for the city to lease office space in the rebuilt Lister Block at far above the going rate. That deal was approved tentatively by City Council last year before many details had been made public.

I understand that the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce supports LIUNA's plan, and claims to speak on behalf of Hamilton business owners, but opinions are sharply divided among neighbouring residents and business owners. Most people who support demolition do so because they are tired of waiting for something to be done with the building and see this as an improvement on the alternative of doing nothing.

Unfortunately, the prospect of restoration and adaptive re-use has not been explored properly by the owners or by City Council. As a result, the city is being strong-armed into a false alternative between demolition and further decay. Since the city cannot seem to do right by this building, I implore the province to step in and save us from our own myopia.

Respectfully,
Ryan McGreal

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 MattM (registered) | Posted June 14, 2006 at 00:37:09

Thanks Ryan. Lets hope it's not too late.

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By Ed P. (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2006 at 11:24:32

Very well written Ryan. It's a shame when the people elected into office seem to be above those who elected them in the first place and think they can do as they please. The Mayor of Hamilton seems to be abusing his power by electing to destroy a part of Hamilton's heritage regardless of what the people say.

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By king james (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2006 at 16:08:42

That's not really a fair statement Ed. The delegations who presented on Monday were split fairly evenly along the pro/con line. It's not as though the community is overwhelmingly against the proposal and council is ramming it through regardless. The downtown BIA is fully supportive.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 14, 2006 at 17:50:57

They may have been split evenly, but I didn't hear the mayor refer to comments by the Chamber or LIUNA as "somewhat intelligent", as he did to a speaker who was against the project. Everyone needs to send a letter to that email address above. I just posted a new blog here on the site (you'll see it shortly, or whenever Ryan gets around to posting it) and sent it to the Minister.

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By gary (registered) | Posted June 14, 2006 at 18:20:15

as the speaker who received the comment from the mayor as being "somewhat intellegent" (better than larry is doing i should add) i can say that the reason for the even split between supporters and detractors for the proposed demolition is that the issue being addressed was unclear to many proponents. i would suggest that most of those who were there to support the plan would have seen the issue as not whether to restore or destroy the lister but whether to proceed with anything or leave the lister the way it stands now. the arguements put forth by those for the demolition are the same for both sides. and of course it must be noted that, of those who were for the demolition, most had a direct financial interest in seeing SOMETHING done. of course Paul Reardon wants the lister to move forward. of Course Paul from Nutrisource wants the project expediated. they dont care in which way it happens they just want it done. i note that the opposition to the permit have nothing to gain directly financially. it is a lot easier to modivate people to spend seven hours in a council meeting to make money than to protect the built heritage of a city, selflessly, for its own sake.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted June 14, 2006 at 22:55:25

I guess this is too little too late now... apparently they voted 10-4 in favour of granting the demolition permit.

Bye-bye Lister. :(

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By Ed P. (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2006 at 23:26:21

It's a shame really. I had a family connection to the Lister Block. My grandfather was one of the men who did the plastering in there back in the 30's or so. That's why I hated to see it go.

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By seek (anonymous) | Posted June 15, 2006 at 00:31:44

It wasn't as bad as "bye-bye" right away ... not for 60 days. The province has time to prove it should be restored.

In the meantime, HUG THE LISTER

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By King James (anonymous) | Posted June 15, 2006 at 16:15:40

Gary, the final point of your presentation was that no councillor who had received campaign donations from LIUNA should be voting on this issue due to conflict of interest.

This idea doesn't fly when one thinks about it. If that were city policy, then private interests would be able to donate small amounts of money to councillors for the specific purpose of disqualifying them from voting on various issues.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 15, 2006 at 22:06:57

Good point, King James, but the upside is that if Councillors have to state their conflict of interest and recuse themselves publicly, then voters will get a better sense of who really runs the show at City Hall.

Also, if a business tries to donate money to a councillor to poison the well, so to speak, the councillor can always refuse it. Margaret McCarthy, for example, doesn't accept campaign donations. I generally don't like how she votes, especially on matters related to sprawl development, but she's not just voting through her pocketbook.

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By King James (anonymous) | Posted June 16, 2006 at 13:55:40

McCarthy doesn't need to fundraise for the campaigns that she runs in flamborough against historically weak competition. Try running a campaign in any of the urban or mountain wards on a similar budget and there's no way you could win.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 21, 2006 at 10:26:28

and that's the point....what a sad day it is for democracy when ideas, vision and passion are left in the background and the almighty dollar rules. And for the record, I can sympathize with Paul Reardon. The guy has an amazing family business next door to Lister. I'd want it fixed up too. His 'making money' is his means of living. The big developers are going to make money either way, but greedily, choose to demolish instead of restore because probably pockets them an extra few million. I have no sympathy for that. They're getting millions anyways. Do what's right for our city and our future. Especially when I'm paying for it.

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