Neglect of Downtown Buildings Could Carry More Than Just Economic Costs

By Adrian Duyzer
Published April 18, 2008

After yesterday's shocking collapse of a King William Street building next to the Lister Block, city officials and LIUNA are scrambling to avoid blame for what could have been a deadly disaster.

City of Hamilton general manager of planning and economic development Tim McCabe said, "It would have been impossible to know that this [collapse] would happen," according to The Spectator, while Joe Mancinelli, vice-president of Liuna, was quoted as saying "It would have been almost impossible to predict".

In fact, the only thing hard to predict is when something like this will happen, not whether it will happen.

It's common sense that if you allow a building to decay, eventually it's going to experience some kind of structural failure. Buildings are not self-repairing organisms. They require regular maintenance to stay attractive, useable, and evidently, standing.

So that no one can claim in the future that predictions of collapse in the core are "impossible", I'm going to go ahead and make one right now:

If the people who own dilapidated, neglected, decaying buildings downtown don't get their act together soon, we're going to see more collapses, fires, and other destructive incidents. We may also see injuries and even deaths.

As Robert Howard put it in today's Spectator editorial, "the next time there's a collapse - and there's nothing to suggest there won't be one - ambulances may be joining police and firefighters at the scene."

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 April 18, 2008 at 14:07:11

gotta love that Spec headline today - "impossible to predict". yea, it's really tough. Certain councillors put forward a 'demolition by neglect' motion recently just for the fun of it.
Get real. It's easy to predict and HAS been predicted for many months and years now by several people in Hamilton and on web forums like this. This has been LIUNA's plan all along.
Call it phase 1. Phase 2 will be another beautiful parking lot gracing downtown Hamilton. Phase 3 (which I hope never happens) is for a seniors apartment acting as the anchor for the citys' "King William Entertainment/Nightlife District".
That'll be one hopping district once the battles rage between seniors looking for peace and quiet alongside clubs, patios and music venues looking to provide entertainment and nightlife. Hamilton-style planning at it's best. And the greatest part is, you and I are paying for the whole mess.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted April 18, 2008 at 14:47:39

By the grace of God a more serious consequence was avoided and it is merely a wake-up call.

The good news for the city is that it will have plenty of public support in a by-law litmus test. We'll have to see if it has any teeth.

The good news for LIUNA is it now has its demolition crew and equipment on site. Something it has wanted all along.

And the only good news for area residents is that the sun might rise a little earlier or set a little later with the absence of that piece of a crumbling ruin.

Maybe the purchase price will now be reduced too. I'll venture to say it has lost half its value already assuming the wrecking ball operator doesn't misjudge any swings...

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 18, 2008 at 16:36:00

anyone want to try to 'predict' if the wrecking ball operator might misjudge any swings? That's almost as impossible to predict as the building collapsing isn't it?

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By Baystreeter (anonymous) | Posted April 18, 2008 at 16:36:19

I agree with Jason that a seniors residence has no place on this site. Hess Street, just up from me is the source of irritation to many seniors who ring that fabulous entertainment district. We don't want to see the same conflict on James.
As for the dilapidated buildings? I've said it before and I'll say it again. Rid my downtown of these eyesores. Knock them down and start over. It is better than seeing the daily rot complicated by the ritualistic collapses!!!

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By realcity (anonymous) | Posted April 19, 2008 at 10:14:23

Tim McCabe was acting more like a LIUNA spokesperson instead of asking the appropriate questions. I guess we know where Tim is working next after he's done with the City.

I wonder how long it will take before City Staff working in the Eaton Center is parking there?

Nice blog Adrian

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2008 at 11:45:52

There's a lot more going on here than simply "demolition by neglect". LIUNA has been eager to knock these buildings down for years, but public pressure has prevented them from acting. After the aborted fiasco involving city offices for the building (let's be realistic, the only thing downtown needs less than new office space is luxury hotels), they've pretty much given up on the public. Unfortunately, there's a large community supporting the Lister, frustrated by decades of demolitions, derelictions and "urban renewal" disasters, who recognized that the small streets and heritage buildings (like what's left of that part of King William or King St between Wellington and Mary) are exactly what we need, not what we need to knock down.

Condos, luxury hotels and high-priced entertainment complexes serve primarily the small class of developers who have been given de-facto control of our city, not the interests of the community downtown. As they buy up buildings and leave them to rot, or better yet, level them outright - The federal building, HMP, the Royal Connaught, Lister Block, etc. - biding their time, often for decades, until the market is right for them to make a spectacular profit, they contribute heavily to the "urban decay" everyone complains about when one mentions downtown. Then downtown's most vulnerable take the blame for that decay- the poor, homeless, immigrants, young, drug addicts or panhandlers - for the actions of Hamilton's most powerful and privileged.

Witnesses at the scene saw a number of youths enter the building in question and proceed to break glass and throw furniture off it. This made the news. What hasn't become public was that employees of one of the nearby businesses saw a number of them leave - well-dressed youngsters - and get into luxury cars. Later, when the block was originally shut down, it was for reasons of a "gas leak", which then led to the building crumbling. Who's kids were these, and was it only a coincidence that they'd been in there only hours before all of this happened?

It wouldn't be the first time a big development project in Hamilotn had been "assisted" by an "act of nature". Think of the appartments at Hess and King - a planned entertainment complex for a certain infamous Hamilton developer - that just seem to keep catching fire. And think of the nearby old Federal Building, which just lost $4 million in city funding for inaction, which is being piled high with flammable materials, right by the windows.

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By Baystreeter (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2008 at 06:20:02

Undustrial...go to the police with your allegations of criminal wrongdoing. I suspect you don't because you don't have anything but conspiracy theories. Maybe Untruthful would be more to your moniker liking!

Or, better still. You buy the buildings and invest in the downtown. I bet you can't do that either...Unable might be another name you should try.

What downtown needs is a reality check. Save what we can that's productive. Let the rest go, for God's sake. Fix my downtown. Don't stall it. What was more pathetic than Grant Head asking the Province to preserve a fallen down building?
We could hear the laughter from here as they said no.

What is more pathetic than preserving the stage on the Tivoli? It sure is an attention getter as you drive along James.

There ought to be an 'admiration by neglect' bylawy against all these do-gooders and idealists who don't have two pennies to rub together and are filled with all kinds of dreams on how other people should spend their money...while the downtown rots.

Read Courtney Pratt's book on "Into the Blast Furnace" and see what an outsider sees when he travels our downtown!

No wonder suburbanites don't come here. The Grant Heads and Brian McHatties and Bob Bratinas of this world are keeping them away!

There, I feel better!

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2008 at 08:18:04

Not a voice heard of treason but than sound of trained reason...

I wish I shared in the enthusiasm of downtown living as so many envision it. Or even as Petula Clark sung about in her once popular hit. But I don't. Downtown for me has always meant paying to park if a spot could be found. It has always been a place where haughty esquires set up shop all around. It was a place someone went for public assistance or to pay off fine. Certainly not a fond memorable destination of mine.

I'm told that there's fabulous entertainment there but I'm out on the fringe fearing non-payment's flare, for turning the screws when bill's or plumb-bob's money's not there. I'm glad though that some are having fun without care.

My clothes dryer is near to fire, my fridge is on the fritz. My child support arrears bring on the Ministry's blitz. Insurance and mortgage and utility's fees, have given me the shitz run down on my knees.

The foundation too leaks and the roof needs a fix, the oil change was missed by ten thousand clicks. My job's dust and sewage made me three days now sick and I hope that by Monday the pills do the trick.

So when looking for sympathy of our downtown's apparent ills. Of its crumbling structures or special lightening's lentils. Remember my friends of a vision vast and grand, when you're seeking the help of another's chapped hand to first lift him up so by himself he will might stand.

...dancing down the street on both feet two there pleasing band!?

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By davekuruc (registered) | Posted April 20, 2008 at 09:21:59

Baystreeter said "Or, better still. You buy the buildings and invest in the downtown. I bet you can't do that either...Unable might be another name you should try."

Hey - guess what there is a large number of us "unablers" as you like to call them doing exactly that all over the downtown. It's too bad that there won't be much left of the downtown to buy if we continue letting speculators, developers and out-of-towners leave their "magic touch".

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By Baystreeter (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2008 at 14:13:59

Good for you Davekuruc. At least you are trying, but with the economic clout you have it's like buying the broken deck chair on the Titanic. Dave, the boat is sinking. Act now or we'll all drown.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 20, 2008 at 20:41:27

Baystreeter....spare us. Your idea of fixing downtown is more surface parking lots?? great. Why don't we take that fabulous development model to your city of employment and see how well it works.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2008 at 10:10:03


Once again you are the voice of reason.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 21, 2008 at 10:21:22

....and parking lots.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2008 at 11:27:53

The incidents I've mentioned have been reported to the police, as well as the spectator and a certain city councilor. Whether we'll ever hear what really happened is another question. But there are pictures, and a license plate number.

And for the record, though I am far from privileged enough to own a building downtown, I know many who are, and who do. These individuals, who lack the massive financial resources and vast labour pool available to LIUNA have been busy for years upgrading their buildings, one step at a time, into green buildings, living spaces, cafes and art galleries. Don't tell me LIUNA (or Darko Vranich, or Harry Stinson, or whomever) do not have the resources.

The current state of downtown is a direct result of the conversion of tons of small streets full of heritage buildings, with street-fronting shops and floors of store-top apartments, offering people without massive bank accounts and lines of credit the option to live or open businesses downtown. Now we have underused office buildings, more mall-type resource space than we can find occupants for, (even though we've moved city hall into it), more surface parking lots than we can count and a host of the last wave of "urban renewal" architecture proving inadequate and poorly built (thank you to the last generation's crop of sketchy construction groups, like Pigot), and in need of rebuilding only a few decades later.

Everywhere around town one can witness pictures of downtown in its former glory, with turn-of-the century architecture, an open air farmer's market, a beautiful old-style city hall and, most importantly, massive crowds. Yet, when faced with the same questions that resulted in boondoggles like the City Centre, we just keep making the same leaps, over and over again, assuming that if we build them, they will come.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 22, 2008 at 14:11:15

I understand allegations that it's those who oppose ripping downtown buildings down indescriminately are part of the problem however, as a general rule, it's the city who kills all the other options. As far as this structure was concerned, anyone who knows anything about buildings knows that the construction of them as well as the deconstruction of them can lead to events like this and yes, they are sudden and don't give much warning especially in buildings constructed primarily of concrete and brick. I don't like LIUNA's ideas but I don't think that blindly shouting at them for something that could very well be as sudden and unpredictable as they say is productive either. What are you mad at? that the structure fell down? become a building inspector and do your own inspections and report to the public and hopefully that'll force action... or are you angry that there's a lack of forward movement with regards to buildings downtown? get some friends together and buy a place to fix up...or perhaps your angry because there's no regulations regarding the state of buildings downtown? newsflash, there are many buildings throughout the city that are derelict because of neglect and many of them were built around the same time... they're going to fall down to if someone tries to take them apart. There has to be some sort of regulation that says, if u own a property that's yay old, you have to do some sort of building maintenance and have regular inspections done. Trust me, the company who was doing the deconstruction would absolutely not have stepped foot inside the building unless there were assurances from engineers that the structure was stable enough to do so. After 10 years in the construction industry doing things from designing/planning to construction to deconstruction, I know that should to! As far as allegations from un-whoever-the-heck-it-is... give it a rest. Walk up to them next time and ask them. Don't throw around wild, unsupported statements. BTW, WRCU2, nice work and baystreeter, nice play on the "un" name! LOL.

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