Lister Block

LIUNA Still Obstructing Progress

By Adrian Duyzer
Published January 07, 2008

If it wasn't for the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), the deal to restore the Lister Block would likely be sealed by now and we'd be a giant step along the way to a newly energized downtown core.

Instead, it seems like LIUNA, which owns the Lister, will do anything it can to obstruct progress on this important project.

Now they're asking the City of Hamilton to pay an exorbitant $37 per square foot to lease office space in the building instead of the $24 per square foot that was originally proposed.

They say this is necessary because restoring the building will drive up costs by millions, even though a provincial study group concluded restoration should not cost more than demolition and rebuilding.

The City is meant to be the anchor tenant when the building is restored. $24 per square foot is already much higher than the average rental rates for "good" office space in the core, which is $18 to $20 per square foot according to the City, but this additional cost was deemed worth it by Hamilton's last city council because of the Lister's importance to downtown revitalization.

LIUNA is simply intent on demolishing the building and won't let anything stand in it's way. $7 million from the province and a generous rental agreement from the City at $24 per square foot apparently aren't good enough.

Perhaps the problem is that owning a decrepit building in the core is not hurting LIUNA enough. Owning a dilapidated pile of garbage in the downtown of a city should be financially draining not to mention embarrassing. Apparently not.

I don't know where LIUNA's Joe Mancinelli lives, but I wonder if there's any abandoned homes rotting near his house. If his next-door neighbour's house was a decaying hulk, I imagine Mr. Mancinelli would not be terribly pleased.

Guess what, Mr. Mancinelli: many of us live downtown, and we're not too pleased.

If LIUNA isn't capable of maintaining its properties, perhaps it should get out of the property business.

Thankfully, the province is reviewing LIUNA's analysis. But don't get your hopes up if the province finds fault with LIUNA, because LIUNA has shown no sign there's any limit to the number of excuses it can come up with.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz


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By jason (registered) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 11:33:36

it's just another money grab. trying to hold the entire downtown hostage until they steal millions in tax-payer dollars that will simply go into their pockets. thankfully, the city can end this nonsense right here. it's a designated heritage site which means it can't be demolished. more will come in future weeks, but the provincial money was requested by LIUNA in order to 'feasibly' do the project. The province and now yank that back. City hall can get around to enacting the previously-defeated 'demolition by neglect' bylaw and start fining these guys every month for the buildings they own and are trying to demolish by neglect. Lister and Connaught. Eventually they'll tire of the whole thing and sell to someone. There are a few interested parties, patiently waiting for that day. it can't come soon enough.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 14:11:48

If McHattie hadn't interfered with all this "heritage" nonsense LIUNA could be building a modern replica as we speak. Instead we all know what is going to happen to the Lister now - collapse. And you guys wonder why people don't want to invest in downtown Hamilton.

Get rid of this stupid heritage designation, tear the building down, and lets get someone to build some modern condos on that site.

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By hmag (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 14:15:01

you do understand that they want to build a replica of the exact same building that stands and make it class a office space and rent it for huge dollars to to the city in a downtown core with TONS of vacant office space. It would make sense to put condos on that site - but preferably in that same building. They would be gorgeous!

I thought you were a "Capitalist" - isn't that go something to do with making money? The plan I just spoke of would do that...

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 07, 2008 at 14:33:21

Capitalist, a few points:

  1. The building is not at or near collapse. Despite LIUNA's best efforts, the building remains structurally sound.

  2. The reconstruction deal stinks. The city assumes the risk and pays a huge premium so LIUNA can make guaranteed profit on a building they have systematically - and illegally - neglected for nearly a decade.

LIUNA is acting like a slumlord by refusing to maintain its own building but expecting to earn fat rents on it, and the backroom deal that would have seen the building demolished and rebuilt on the public dime was cronyism of the worst order.

  1. Every architect - including those brought in by LIUNA - who has inspected the building has agreed that it is a good candidate for restoration and adaptive reuse.

  2. Several outside developers and architects have expressed interest in buying and redeveloping the building. LIUNA is the group blocking progress, not McHattie or anyone else.

  3. As HMag notes, it makes a lot more sense to redevelop Lister as mixed use commercial/residential. This would be consistent with the rest of the James North renaissance and would get people into the core at night, not just during office hours.

  4. Finally, it's worth noting that there's a reason LIUNA can demolish and rebuild for much less money than restoring it: the reconstructed building would be far inferior, architecturally and structurally, to the original. In fact, studies have indicated that a reconstructed building would start deteriorating faster than a restored building.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 14:57:54


From what I have heard, the ceilings on the Lister are two low for it to be converted into Class A office space and modern condos.

Calling LIUNA greedy just is not fair, they have done some nice projects in the city and they are taking a major risk with this project. For that they should be commended. I don't see anybody else taking a serious interest in this building. They are in the construction business and until I hear a different assessment from the city, I will believe their cost estimates.

Further, the city (i.e. taxpayers) should not be entering into any subsidized lease arrangement with this project (or any other project). People will not invest in Hamilton if some developers get sweet contracts while others have to compete in the marketplace.

As I said, the best solution is to get rid of the heritage designation and seek to build some new modern condos in that location.

Please tell me what good is your "heritage designation" if all it does is stalls projects? The Lister will end up like the Tivoli Theater and collapse. So much for "heritage".

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By hmag (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 15:11:19

hey capitalist -

I am all for LIUNA going it alone on this one (without gov handouts) and building some nice units for folks to live in with amazing retail options on the ground floor. That just sounds logical and in my opinion a pretty solid business plan. You would think LIUNA and the other developers in the city who rely on government handouts would be all ready to invest some of their own money after reading in The Star what we all have been saying now for years - Hamilton is ready to shine and folks WANT to live here. Notice the two big building projects in the core right now are government money involved - what is it going to take to have these "business" folks start doing some business with their own cash. Leave my money alone!

The City should be standing firm on this one - because LIUNA has nothing to lose - because they can step aside and let Mr. Stinson have a shot at it. The city has lots of options to lease and shouldn't be strongarmed into an agreement.

Also Cap - the only way the Lister is coming down is if a bulldozer runs through it - solid steel construction. Gotta love it.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 15:51:53


Interesting points, although I don't think thigs are that simple.

This location would be great for residential with ground floor commercial. Although I am not sure how economically viable it is with the present building. I am not an expert, so I will have to take LIUNA's word on it until I hear from someone else who is willing to risk money on this project.

Hmag, of coarse lots of people want to live here, in fact, over half a million already do and growing!
Although, a big problem with this project (and other downtown projects) is the city/provincial involvement. When the government announces that they would like to assist in a project the developers see this as a way for them to get easy money without having to meet the competitive demands of the marketplace (i.e. quality, cost-effectiveness). But what happens is that it distorts the downtown rental market. If the city pays $24 (or $37) per sq foot for space downtown, when good space is available at $10-20, what new developer is going to build downtown office space down the road? The city is basically saying to people "don't bother risking you money on downtown, if you wait long enough the taxpayers will do it for you". But that is only if you are connected politically, if not, then you are building elsewhere. In the meantime nothing gets done.

As long as there is a heritage designation to this project, the taxpayers will have a noose around their neck. Lets get rid of the designation and let LIUNA (or someone else) build something at this site without any money from the taxpayers.

As for this building collapsing, I admit that I am exaggerating. Although you have to admit that a building that remains unoccupied and open to the elements will cost more to re-develop. Also there is the threat of vagrants going in there and starting fires in the winter (I remember there being a news story on a minor fire at the Lister about a year ago).

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 16:31:58

is this what capitalism has come to?? an elected official tries to uphold the law and he's scolded for 'interfering'?? maybe we should just find all the true 'capitalists' and elect them to political office so they can make the rules, and change them as often as they like, to suit their own bank accounts' needs.
Capitalist, you might not feel the same way if your neighbour decided to demolish his house and build an 80 storey hotel, casino, strip club and amusement park. Breaking news flash here: we live in a thing called society. EVERYONE has to obey the rules and treat each other with respect. The rich don't get to skirt the law. sorry.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 07, 2008 at 17:11:08

Capitalist, LIUNA knew it was getting a historic heritage building when they bought it. Stop feeling sorry for them. You seem to be completely against gov't aid to these developers. So am I. And so is the city. but LIUNA is holding Lister over the city's head because they know of its historical and emotional value to the community, and they know that it won't go down without a fight. This is akin to blackmail and I for one am sick of it.

If you are going to call out a culprit, call out the right one. The current state of affairs is almost 100% LIUNA's fault. For all we know, the higher price tag for renovations is due partly to the more recent withering of the building which has gone on completely due to LIUNA's lack of maintenance of their own property. None of the rest of us left the building open to the elements for the last few years, LIUNA did! If Lister is such a burden on them, then why don't they put it up for sale? I'll tell you why they don't: GREED. I'm sure some TRUE capitalist developers would be chomping at the bit to get their hands on it for fair market value and turn it into a moneymaking machine. Stinson showed an interest in it and was told sternly that it's not for sale.


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By peter (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 19:56:38


if only what you said were true.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 07, 2008 at 20:17:59


I sympathize with your point of view. On January 12, 2006, I wrote, "There's no question that the Lister Block is a tired, crumbling old shitheap that should probably be torn down."

However, I was wrong. As I've learned more about the building, I've discovered that it's actually extremely well built, structurally sound, and very well-suited to restoration. A number of architects have been through it and they all agree on these facts.

A number of architects and developers, including Eberhard Ziedler -

  • and, briefly, Darko Vranich -

  • and, more recently, Harry Stinson.

Further, there's a social, cultural and even economic value to preserving historic buildings that are simply not captured in the short-term reckoning of property speculators. Downtown Hamilton's best buildings and best neighbourhoods are those that have been restored, not demolished and "renewed".

LIUNA has allowed the Lister to be exposed to the elements since it bought the building in 1999 and the city has never enforced existing by-laws mandating that the owner secure the building.

Further, LIUNA negotiated with the city in a cozy backroom crony deal that was short on details and violated the city's heritage designation, the recommendation of the city's heritage committee, and the King William secondary plan. LIUNA was essentially being rewarded for over half a decade of negligent stewardship.

The technical argument for demolition only makes sense in the context of the proposal to build office space, which the city has to lease at a huge premium over market rates. The office use, in turn, only makes sense in the context of a big public subsidy to LIUNA in the form of guaranteed tenancy at the aforementioned premium price.

It makes a lot more basic sense to convert the building to commercial (main floor) and residential (upper levels) use, with the possibility of a new attached construction in the rear courtyard.

This doesn't require taller ceilings, and it would take a real incompetent not to be able to sell condos in a restored Lister - so the argument for demolition falls apart (so to speak).

LIUNA opposes adaptive reuse because the local government previously offered it a sweetheart deal where the city would assume the risk, LIUNA would be guaranteed generous profits, and the legal obstacles to demolishing an already identified heritage building would be brushed aside.

Widespread opposition to this crappy plan forced the matter into the provincial jurisdiction and changed the rules: it was no longer a false alternative between demolishing and doing nothing.

Now LIUNA is essentially holding the city hostage. Because it owns the building and has received loud and clear the message that it will not be held accountable to the law, it is trying to squeeze every penny of public money it can get.

In response to this, I'd like to see the city order LIUNA to:

a) Secure the building immediately from the elements or start receiving daily cumulative fines; and

b) Redevelop the building in a manner consistent with its municipal and provincial Heritage designation in a timely fashion - or else put it up for sale to someone who will do it.

I'm confident that if LIUNA offers a fair market price, developers will be lining up to buy and restore it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 21:41:51

peter....please elaborate a little. Unless I'm missing something, there's nothing untrue in my statement.

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By Baystreeter (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 21:53:59

This Council blew it again. Ryan, if as you say LIUNA was offered such a sweetheart deal previously and that deal was spiked by $7M by the province, why are they not grabbing the bucks?
Something is wrong with that thinking.
And don't tell me its because they want more. Its just too easy to find LIUNA as the culprit when they had all that cash in hand. Could it be. Coulc it just be that their numbers are right?
I know I know I'm naive, but it is a possibility. Now who's got egg on its face?
Council? The Mayor? LIuna?

I think the real answer is Hamilton and my downtown!!!

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 22:20:07

how you can lay the blame at the feet of council?? should they pay $200.00 a sq. foot? should we raise the city taxes by an extra 15% this year and put the money directly in LIUNA's account?? even if LIUNA's numbers are correct, tough. They bought an historically designated building. grow up and deal with it.
And Mayor Fred isn't really hitting a home run on this one either. Now saying he'll entertain a proposal that involves tearing it down. Why don't we knock it down for them if we're going roll over that easily.

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By Council Watch (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 23:12:13

I can remember when Nellie Whitley and a few other up-market business owners attempted to encourage restoration of the Lister Block but the city at the time was hell bent on the developmebnt of the "New" City Hall and subsequently the slashing and bulldozing of a Heritage Community to erect Jackson Square. Now take a good look around that whole area. The preservation of the Lister block is a lost cause and the revitalization of the downtown core will never happen just as long as we continue piece-meal planning without any spirit of pride and ownership from Hamiltonians who have long ago given up their First Class Market to a low class bazaar, given up pride in their Library and replaced it with a doss house and let's not even talk about Barton Street, Cannon Street, King Street and the squalor thereof. Locke Street is the model to look to and further develop with low-rise mixed commercial/residential buildings. LIUNA is in the business of making money and not from beautification.

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By Beatle4 (registered) | Posted January 07, 2008 at 23:46:59

I was quite saddened when I heard McHattie say the Lister Block was a dead deal. Although I guess I should have expected that from a city council whose main theme is "Hurry up and wait". Let's face it, since the original plans were drawn up for the Red Hill Expressway, it has always been one argument or another untill the thing was actually completed and at an exorbitant cost (It would have been easier and cheaper if it had been built when originally planned). Same goes for the Lister Block. If the city had done something 25 years ago when it was first brought foreward, we Hamiltonians may have had a historic city building we could be proud of. A little late for that now though. I can almost see the last piece of work my Grandfather did for this city disappear in a pile of rubble in the not-so-distant future. It almost amazes me that the city of Hamilton has been able to hang on to Dundurn Castle as long as it has. The way this city likes to tear down any type of historic link to the past is horrific.

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By rake (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 03:57:59

not much more to add here, just that we should remember that liuna needs government help to turn the lister into office space because downtown does not need more office space. with vacancy rates around 40% it would be crazy to spend serious cash on a project without a signed lease.

but where is the real harm in securing the building and letting it sit there till someone can or will do something with it. there are quite a few parking lots on which to build a new building, hell, there is one spitting distance from the lister. perhaps liuna should go talk to the owner. maybe that speculative developer will be as accomodating as liuna is when it comes to sharing for the betterment of the city.

a prophecy for the new year. if the lister comes down, so will mayor fred in the next election. don't forget who voted for you, fred, we haven't.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2008 at 08:46:31

The quotes in the spec today from Mancinelli (LIUNA) are unreal... "For them to want to step out of this Lister deal and keep the money is pretty unethical. It smacks of some political manoeuvering that's been going on behind the scenes and that's pretty distasteful"

The only distasteful manoeuvering that's been going on behind the scenes is on the part of LIUNA. They have already roped the city in for more than they deserve, and managed to rope the province in and now they want more money at the last minute! Give me a break LIUNA, we aren't stupid.


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By baystreeter (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 09:19:28

Mchattie was hailed as the $7m dollar man a few months ago. Congratulations Councillor. You are now the $7M sham!!!

And now Fred wants to save the deal by tearing the building down. Too little too late, Mayor Fred. Where have you been for the past year while the clock's been ticking?
Isn't it time to tell Hamilton that the Mayor has no clothes?

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 09:33:39

$7M sham??
so, because LIUNA is lying about numbers and trying to squirm out of a deal that makes McHattie a sham?? Must have been quite a journey you went on to connect those dots.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 10:04:35

Council just voted not to lease space in the Lister. LIUNA surely would have known that lease rates at $37 would likely cause the deal to be de-railed. If LIUNA was being greedy then in a couple of weeks we should hear them say that they could do the deal at a lower lease rate to restart the project. If LIUNA doesn't say anything, then that means they were telling the truth.

Council did the right thing dropping the lease on this deal and the only person obstructing progress is McHattie. Had he not gone crying to the province a replica (or something else) could be under construction now, instead of this "heritage building".

Also, I agree that LIUNA should sell the building if someone else comes along, but this new developer may not use LIUNA union members in the new construction. Perhaps that is a factor in LIUNA not selling? Just a thought.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2008 at 10:11:52

They can build a new building on any of the vacant lots or parking lots downtown. But then they won't get exorbitant lease rate buy in from the city. They are using Lister as leverage for getting money for nothing and it's time we held them accountable. THEY are the ones who have let the lister deteriorate further since 1999. Why should the city now be expected to bail them out?

"If LIUNA doesn't say anything, then that means they were telling the truth."

I hope that you do not hold any influential position within our justice system because this is the most ludicrous idea of proving truth that I've ever heard.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 10:16:52

again, McHattie and the province were simply upholding the law. I realize groups like LIUNA feel that the law shouldn't apply to them, but they do. They're doing the same thing over at Connaught. We need to start taxing the death out of groups who sit on empty downtown buildings so they actually have some incentive to sell or fix.
Sadly, LIUNA refuses to do either...they are fixated on breaking the law and demolishing a perfectly sound building.

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By Larry Di Ianni (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 11:59:59

What a sad turn of events. I feel badly for our downtown core and the many citizens who were hoping for an improvement at this corner. I did write on the topic in this week's blog. and follow my link.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2008 at 12:21:59

Hi Larry,

Thanks for sharing your informative and often insightful perspectives on the Lister saga. From reading it, a few things come to mind, but I'll limit my response to the following:

"If one walks past its crumbling façade in the summertime, one is overcome by the stench of pigeon excrement wafting into your nostrils from the sides of the building and the sidewalk below. And this was the least of the problems. Vandals repeatedly broke into the building by crashing through the plywood sheets used to impede access. People spoke of drug and alcohol binges as well as fires being lit inside for the interlopers to keep warm. These were problems that had to be addressed."

These problems are all evidence of LIUNA's failure to adhere to municipal law and maintain its own property, as well as the city's failure to hold LIUNA accountable to the law for its neglect of the building. In all the discussion and commentary on the Lister in mainstream channels, this straightforward neglect is practically unmentioned.

LIUNA allowed the building to become decrepit and then, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, argued that it needed to be demolished because it's too decrepit to restore. When independent assessments confirmed that despite LIUNA's negligence, the building is still structurally sound and a good candidate for restoration, LIUNA changed track just enough to continue pressing for demolition on the grounds that the low ceilings of the original building don't allow for modern office infrastructure.

In other words, the economics of replication vs. adaptive reuse rest on the city's commitment to sink public money - at a significant premium over market rates - into a use that does not otherwise make much economic sense.

Why on earth can't LIUNA figure out how to renovate this into a mixed commercial/residential building that it can sell profitably to condo-buyers? Other condo projects downtown have demonstrated strong latent demand and the Lister's location and historic cachet would make a restoration particularly attractive as high-quality urban real estate.

Alternately, if LIUNA isn't prepared to do this, why on earth don't they simply sell the building to someone who is? A couple of years ago, Councillor Bratina suggested the city could buy the Lister from LIUNA for $5 million (they bought it in 1999 for $1.6 million) and sell it to another developer to restore. Even if the city gave the building away, it would still cost less than the office space deal with LIUNA.

Could the city force LIUNA to sell the Lister through some form of eminent domain?

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 12:25:54

you won't hear me say this too often, but it's time to expropriate.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2008 at 13:05:14

Yes this has gone on long enough and it's sad to see LIUNA trying to make the city look so bad after the city and province tried so hard to help them with their "plight".

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By Moose (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 15:37:15

Capitalist -

In the interest of capitalism:

Hamilton's Old City Hall across from Lister was demolihsed so Eatons could expand. We know how that turned out. By contrast, Toronto's Old City Hall (same architecture)flourishes nightly as a lit-up gem.

The old farmers market dating back to 1839 was torn down. The Farmer's Market today looks like a concrete bunker and does lousy business. But the St. Lawrence Market on Front Street in TO (1850) is an architectural marvel raking in millions. Toronto decided NOT to tear it down in 1971.

The Tivoli Theatre (1924) in Hamilton was allowed to sit til it fell. The Eglinton Theatre in TO (1936) has been beautifully restored and is the proud gem of its area.

The entirety of Jackson Square was built on land expropriated by the municipality in the early 1960s so they could tear down and throw off the yoke of old Victorian Hamilton. They decided to promote business via a giant mall. We know how that one turned out. A dead mall no one goes to.

So Mr. Capitalist, I suggest you be careful what you ask for in the name of progress from our municipality. They have an absolutely rotten history of doing the wrong thing, making the wrong decision, and heeding the prognostications of the wrong development trends.

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 15:40:15

It's time to put the heat on LIUNA. There is no excuse for the way they've handled business with Lister. There is every indication they've intended all along to take from the public purse. Without even regard to the actual cost of renovation it is clear the building is of value to the public. Let's get all those big brains in city hall and provincial and federal government to preserve our heritage. From there we need to close up the public purse and get a really interested developer to use the best techniques for both construction and financing of this property.

At this point I do not consider by concession with the City and LIUNA to be a sign of matters improving for downtown. Even if a renovated structure is completed. It would be in fact a continuation of the status quo where Hamiltonians entice developers with poor business practices like LIUNA to continue to lap from the proverbial public teat.

Hamilton, you're worth it girl! You can do better than these cronyistic mobsters.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2008 at 15:57:57

please write your councillors and the mayor. i am working on gathering contact info for appropriate people at the provincial level. let them know that the demolition of lister will indeed affect your vote next time around ;-)

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By another capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 16:37:02

What a sad day.

I live downtown and I was really hoping this was finally going to happen.

Where are all these other developers that will help downtown? LIUNA is being vilified. They have restored the Station, they've done a great job with their own office. Who else has done this?

Here is the bottom line....any building can be restored BUT at what cost? I agree with the city not agreeing to these new costs. It was too much.

But I completely disagree with this "Heritage" issue. A lease was agreed to, it was $24/sq ft (still too much I think, but to get the project going I could stand it) and then they were told you have to restore it. Of course the costs will skyrocket. Look at the joke at 71 Main Street West (City Hall)...first it was $35 million, then $45 million now I'm hearing $70 million.

I think it's time that we elect councillors at large. The ward system does not work. I think the Mayor and the Councillors should be elected by the majority of the whole city. The overall good would be the main focus of council and not the special interests of the few!

Just my 2 cents

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By hmag (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 17:44:59

Another Capitalist said "They have restored the Station, they've done a great job with their own office. Who else has done this? "

I am doing this. My nieghbours on James North are doing this and so are a bunch of other small business folks in the downtown core.

Just look around - we are taking our own initiative and money to do what LIUNA will not. Invest in Hamilton and the downtown core.

We may not be doing massive buildings like CN or Lister - but they all count and that is what it will take to turn this city around.

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By statius (registered) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 23:23:54


You ask: "Could the city force LIUNA to sell the Lister through some form of eminent domain? "

The answer is actually no, but it could theoretically expropriate the property.

To be pedantic, eminent domain is actually an American, not a Canadian legal concept, and you can't really force a person to sell his property ... but Canadian municipalities, by way of various provincial statutes, do indeed possess some considerable expropriation powers, although these are far from plenary.

Presuming that the Lister meets the relevant statutory preconditions, s.36(2) of the Ontario Heritage Act (RSO 1990) would seem to obtain here. That section provides: "Subject to the Expropriations Act, the council of every municipality may pass by-laws providing for the expropriation of any property designated under this Part and required for the purposes of this Part and may sell, lease or otherwise dispose of the property, when no longer so required, upon such terms and conditions as the council considers necessary for the purposes of this Part [...]".

The Expropriations Act, which qualifies s.36(2) supra, is geared (it must be kept in mind) largely towards ensuring that those parties subject to expropriation receive fair recompense for their expropriated property. Consequently, the Act provides numerous avenues through which the litigiously-minded expropriatee (which LIUNA would surely be) can make the expropriation process extremely costly and difficult for the expropriating municipality. For instance, it is a common misconception that expropriation need only entail the payment of fair market value for the property of the expropriatee. In fact, the amount to be paid by the expropriating power is determined by a host of complicated factors, of which FMV is only one. For instance, s.13(2) provides:

"Where the land of an owner is expropriated, the compensation payable to the owner shall be based upon,

(a) the market value of the land;

(b) the damages attributable to disturbance;

(c) damages for injurious affection; and

(d) any special difficulties in relocation"

LIUNA would surely (and quite rightly) make claims for many if not all of these elements. Further, as was done by the expropriatee in a recent case involving the attempted expropriation of some long dormant property in Winsdor, LIUNA would very likely bring an allegation of what is called "bad faith expropriation". Given (amongst other considerations) that the city has long had publicized personal designs on the use of the Lister property, and given that the expropriation could, at least prima facie, be seen to arise out of a dispute over leasing costs between LIUNA and the city, it is just as likely as not that a court would find a hint of bad faith in the city's dealings with the Lister property, even if the procedures required by the Expropriations Act had been followed to the tee.

Further, you have to keep in mind that while litigation is underway, development on the Lister will almost assuredly be frozen. Given the absurdly slow process of justice in this province, and given the fact that LIUNA would almost assuredly resort to appeal upon appeal, expropriation would probably mean that the Lister will sit and decay for an even longer time than if LIUNA had simply been allowed to dispose of the property as it wished. Expropriation, to put it succintly, is simply not a good means of effecting rapid change by a municipality, particularly when the expropriatee is a wealthy and (no doubt) well-advised organization like LIUNA.

You can probably appreciate, then, that the costs of expropriating the Lister would be exorbitantly high for the city, both in monetary and opportunity terms. If LIUNA wants to hold onto the Lister, it will be able to do so for a very long time, whether the city pursues the heavy-handed path of expropriation or not.

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By statius (registered) | Posted January 08, 2008 at 23:56:14


While I question the long term viability of a number of the new small businesses which have sprouted up downtown, I have to commend you when you write:

"I am doing this. My nieghbours on James North are doing this and so are a bunch of other small business folks in the downtown core.

Just look around - we are taking our own initiative and money to do what LIUNA will not. Invest in Hamilton and the downtown core."

A city's fortunes can be reversed either from above or below, but ultimately I think you need both elements to really succeed. So far, I think we've witnessed an impressive groundswell of grassroots support for urban revitalization in the core, both from consumer-residents and business people, even if major developers have thus far been shamefully timid about investing downtown. I think this widespread support is lacking in a city like Detroit, where small businesses do often appear in the still decrepit core of that city, but then often fail embarrassingly soon after because of a lack of popular support for the downtown. That city has had the benefit of recent major investment in the core, but that has failed to keep the small businesses going, as the integral grassroots desire to kickstart the once truly "world-class" downtown is too evanescent. Thankfully, Hamilton is a city which never deurbanized to the extent of Detroit (although arguably it has come close), and thankfully it still has a wealth of residents and business people who feel a natural attraction to the core and a revulsion at its currently sorry state. Kudos.

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By woodster (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2008 at 05:07:30

Legitimate trade unions must be mad as hell as this mafiosa style organization LIUNA calls itself a union.My father was a strong and proud member of the Labour Council and who held great respect for men like Sam Lawrence and Harry Greenwood and others of their times. No doubt all long gone and we are left with this scum.

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By another capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2008 at 11:11:39


You should be commended. If it sounded like I was criticizing you, it was not my intention.

I also have a consulting type business downtown. I constantly get people coming in to my office with grandiose schemes on buying properties, renovating, etc. They always claim they have the resources but when push comes to shove, they never have any money (or they are not willing to use it)

There are many properties that are in horrible shape (The Lyric on John St for example) and I never see anyone actually using their own money to buy the properties, never mind renovating. They are always looking for hand outs.

I don't know how much the CN Station was to renovate but I can imagine that it was millions of dollars. While I remember reading that there was a few hundred thousand dollar grant from the federal government, I don't remember reading about any other government money. LIUNA must have spent their own money for the majority of the project.

So when I said, "no one else is doing anything", I didn't mean the wonderful small business owners who quite frankly are the only ones keeping downtown going, I mean't these tirekickers who come in the middle of a project and make all of these ridiculous claims and promises.

I live a few blocks from James Street, on one side and I have a business a few blocks on the other side of James Street. I love this area! The potential is huge from an economic & social aspect.

We have to stop this fighting. I've seen words like "thug", "mobster" etc. This is wrong. I don't know JM but he seems genuine to me in his love for this city. I've also seen words like "tree hugger" etc. Again, I don't know BM but he seems to genuinely love this city also.

If you put everyone in a room and leave personal agendas at the door, I'm sure we could find a solution within 30 days.


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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2008 at 12:00:21

Statius wrote: "if LIUNA had simply been allowed to dispose of the property as it wished."

Thanks for an informative take on expropriation law. As for your closing comment, what LIUNA wished was to demolish Lister and build unnecessary office space with the city picking up the tab.

Its main political lever, aside from its connections, was the threat of continued neglect of its own property, which it bought in 1999 on the hope that it could score an earlier government-subsidized restoration.

I don't believe LIUNA has ever been serious about pursuing a business plan that doesn't rely on government largesse.

Another capitalist wrote: "If you put everyone in a room and leave personal agendas at the door, I'm sure we could find a solution within 30 days."

That's exactly what the ad hoc committee was supposed to do. Then LIUNA boosted its price per square foot into the stratosphere and Council panicked and withdrew from the offer before waiting to see the independent assessment.

The bottom line is that Lister is a poor candidate for Class A office space (ceilings too low), but an excellent candidate for residential development with commercial on the main floor.

Again, other developers have expressed plenty of interest in the building and several architects have weighed in, so I think it's safe to conclude this is economically viable.

In the meantime, LIUNA has nothing to lose by hard bargaining. The city refuses to enforce property standards by-laws, and public demand to do something about Lister is a constant pressure on the city to resolve it somehow.

The city has only a few options, none of them very encouraging:

1) Do nothing and let LIUNA do whatever it wants (probably continued neglect).

2) Hold its nose and sign a deal paying way too much money for more office space in a market already glutted by excess vacancy (reconstruction or restoration option).

3) Expropriate the property and sell it to a developer willing to risk the investment in restoring it.

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By statius (registered) | Posted January 09, 2008 at 13:23:42


You write: "Thanks for an informative take on expropriation law. As for your closing comment, what LIUNA wished was to demolish Lister and build unnecessary office space with the city picking up the tab."

Agreed. My concern is simply that demolition might be unavoidable, given that LIUNA could very easily stall any sort of development or preservation of the building through protracted litigation, thus leading to the continued decay of the building, perhaps to such a point that it could no longer be deemed fit for restoration. This is, as I'm sure you know, a common and effective tactic employed by deep-pocketed owners of heritage properties who wish to tear down and build anew. It is a systemic flaw in our heritage protection regime which will not be rectified anytime soon.

Thus it seems to me that LIUNA really can hold the Lister hostage, with very few realistic options open to the city other than to pay the exorbitant ransom. As hard as it may be, it may simply be time to abandon any interest in the site and seek major development elsewhere in the core. A sale or redevelopment of the Lister (in whatever form) would surely follow in due course.

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By Council Watch (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2008 at 14:48:10

WOODSTER your comments on the LIUNA organization, (I too hesitate to call it a Union) are right on. You state that the breed of people like Sam Lawrence and Harry Greenwood are no longer with us, too bad, although I did spot Harry at the showing of the Play Glory Days about a year ago. He is now living out west, either Vancouver or Victoria I think. He was the best president that the Labour Council ever had and my father always claimed he was the best union negotiator.

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