Lister Block

New Lister Deal Looks Good on Hamilton

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 31, 2006

The Globe and Mail noticed Hamilton today in an article about the new deal to break the gridlock between preservationists and demolitionists and replistorecate the Lister Block.

The article opens by mentioning that Lister was used as a setting for hell in a recent film, and goes on to trace its fate from its designation in 1995 to its purchase by LIUNA in 1999 to the city council decision to stay its demolition in favour of provincial mediation.

What has emerged from this process is a plan that satisfies two seemingly irreconcilable factions - those who advocated demolishing the Lister building and those who wanted it preserved. It represents a new approach to dealing with heritage buildings by moving beyond these divisive debates over redevelopment schemes, according to Ottawa architect Julian Smith, a consultant for the provincial working group.

It is an approach that involves rehabilitating old buildings, rather than restoring or reconstructing them, Mr. Smith says. Instead of either knocking the Lister building down or embarking on an expensive attempt to restore it to its former glory, the new plan calls for a marrying of the old with the new - keeping what has survived of the old building, but incorporating it into a new, contemporary design.

How visionary of our city's leaders, including Mayor Larry Di Ianni, quoted near the start of the article, Downtown BIA director Kathy 'Gore Parking Lot' Drewitt, and LIUNA partner Hi Rise Group's Warren Green!

This is a viable approach, according to Mr. Smith, because the 1920s building was very well constructed and is still structurally sound. It was designed as an everyday "working building," not a monument, and it therefore makes sense to adapt it for contemporary use, rather than restore or reconstruct it as if it were a museum piece, he says.

Combining new and old elements in this kind of redevelopment gives communities a way of connecting with their past while still moving forward, he says.

Di Ianni, Greene, LIUNA president Joe Mancinelli, and other power brokers reflexively opposed any efforts to save the Lister Block, insisted that There Is No Alternative to demolition/reconstruction, and demonized Councillors Brian McHattie (Ward 1) and Bob Bratina (Ward 2) for their efforts to find a solution.

Suddenly, after caving to the Ontario government's veiled threat to intervene and block the demolition under the new provincial heritage law, these people look like forward-thinking leaders:
With regard to the Lister building, [Mr. Smith] says, Hamilton and Ontario have been active by developing plans for the city health department to relocate there with the help of provincial subsidies.

Our national newspaper may be impressed with Hamilton's visionary leadership. Let's hope Hamilton's own voters remember the real leaders of the Lister saga: McHattie, Bratina, and Ontario Heritage Minister Caroline Di Cocco.

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 jason (registered) | Posted October 31, 2006 at 21:44:07

Did LIUNA ever end up following through on their 'typically-Hamilton' threat to sue Bratina for trying to save the old beauty?

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