Once again, the fact of LIUNA's own responsibility for the fate of the Lister Block falls outside the pale of mainstream political discourse in Hamilton.
In today's editorial, the Hamilton Spectator notes, "The Lister Block is a private property. LIUNA has no obligation to risk more of its members' money on historical preservation."
Not mentioned is the fact that LIUNA does have an obligation to secure its property from the elements and maintain minimum property standards, an obligation it has neglected since buying the already vacant property from Metrus in 1999.
Let's be perfectly clear on one thing: the Lister - and the downtown neighbourhood it girdles - is in a crisis because LIUNA allowed it to deteriorate in the first place.
LIUNA finally boarded up the windows in late 2006, seven years after buying the property, during negotiations with the city to lease office space in a replicated Lister.
It's more than a bit disingenuous for LIUNA to neglect the building for seven years and then claim that the state of decay is pushing up the price of restoration.
Granted, the city is by no means innocent in this sordid business either.
For years the city abrogated its own responsibility to enforce its property standards by-laws with regards to the Lister. It's hard to blame LIUNA for not caring when the city didn't seem to care either.
Further, demonstrating anew its trademark refusal to consider options, City Council backed out of the tentative deal it made with LIUNA without waiting to compare an independent assessment of the cost to restore the building with LIUNA's new lease price.
With Council acting like a gaggle of bumbling amateurs, it's hard to blame LIUNA for playing hardball.
The editorial argues, "There is no business case for preserving the Lister Block. No one wants to invest or lease there at a time when downtown space is going begging."
Correction: there is no business case for preserving the Lister Block as an office building, especially as its relatively low ceilings make it difficult to build modern office infrastructure; but there is potentially a strong business case for preserving the Lister Block as a residential building with commercial space on the main floor.
The success of other projects downtown has demonstrated a strong latent demand for urban condos, and the Lister, which is still structurally sound, would make a great candidate for adaptive reuse.
The Spec does make an important point near the end:
LIUNA says the building is not for sale, but business is business. It's time for those who say the Lister can be preserved to put their money on the table and make their case.
I've made a similar argument in the past. In a related vein, such developers and architects as Darko Vranich, Eberhard Zeidler and, more recently, Harry Stinson have expressed interest in the Lister Block.
LIUNA clearly does not want to risk its own money redeveloping the Lister - either through restoration or demolition. Indeed, LIUNA bought the building in 1999 when it looked as though the federal government was going to move 1,200 office employees into it.
The feds ended up building the office at Bay and Market St. instead, and the Lister sat empty and untended.
If LIUNA wishes to demonstrate that it is acting in good faith and not simply holding the city ransom, it should signal that it is willing to sell the building to another developer for a fair market price.
Finally, the city could still play a role in facilitating such a transfer. The city could buy the Lister from LIUNA at a price high enough to make it worth LIUNA's time and sell it at a discount to another developer in exchange for a promise of timely restoration.
Considering the premium rates Council was willing to pay for office space, this could still turn out to be a bargain.
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