By Ryan McGreal
Published June 13, 2006
Dear Minister Di Cocco (email@example.com),
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.
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