Comment 557

By Matt Jelly (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2006 at 13:30:25

I agree with the need for an alternative plan- I would hate to see nothing happen- when I presented to city council two years ago, before any plan had been presented, I was clear in asking that a) the building be restored and b) the city facilitate a solution for the Lister Block.

I'll concede that the actual plans presented by LIUNA aren't 100% bad- if you agree with arguments about column spacing and ceiling height in regards to modern use, perhaps the interior structure isn't so important. The facade, however, is a jewel, and to spend a bit more money on restoration is a solid investment. I think a lot of people discount the actual value of a restored building compared to a replicated building. The Lister block obviously has an inspiring sense of history, inspiring enough that we're all willing to fight for it.

The most offensive thing about the LIUNA plan (to me) is that they're not willing to invest as much of their own dollars in the building as they expect the City to. If LIUNA wanted to pony up the financing themselves, I'm sure they wouldn't be running into nearly as much trouble, even from the staunchest of heritage advocates- especially if they projected a genuine interest in the heritage of the building.

As cautious taxpayers, Hamiltonians should wonder why their City government (thus far) is the only party interested in leasing the space. Why? There's not a huge market for this type of office space- it's even better office space than anyone working at City Hall has come to expect. Can the market support this much more prime office space, when 27% of offices in the downtown are already vacant? Only time will tell, I guess.

It would be a much better arrangement if there were several partners on this project, so the burden doesn't fall so squarely on the City's shoulders. If some other major stakeholders were showing interest, and the major cost of the project was covered by the private sector, it would make sense for the city to come in once those ducks are lined up- and the city's investment could be for something substantial that we could all support- such as maintaining as much of the original structure as possible. The City's involvement could be the cherry on top of a solid business plan.

I don't think we should be necessarily looking at June 12th as the 'do or die' day for Lister. The city could simply deny the demolition permit (which puts a stay on it for 180 days), and ask that LIUNA find at least one other major tenant to sign the same kind of conditional lease on space that the City has. Give them six months to come back to us with a more fair arrangement, before anything is signed. That's fair, isn't it?

We could also ask that LIUNA supply proper documentation for what they intend to do- a complete Heritage Impact Assessment, a structural assessment, and a very clearly presented business plan that the public can digest properly- it is, after all, our money.

LIUNA has been putting the pressure on council to make this decision now- stating publicly that if the city denies the demolition permit the deal is completely done. If the city decided to take another six months to consider this (which we should, considering the kind of money we're talking about), it would test LIUNA's will and patience to find a workable solution, one that doesn't hold the taxpayer hostage, one that doesn't fly in the face of heritage preservation, and one that shows a bit more creativity.

I think this situation has been overly polticized, and the debate has been wrongly boiled down to make people who oppose these plans seem as though they don't care about the downtown core. If we really care about the downtown core, we should take this 12 Million dollars we seem to have to spend and invest it smartly in small enterprise, in so many regenerative seeds throughout the downtown core, instead of expecting the money we throw at one building to somehow trickle down to the rest of the core. We know through practice that the former strategy works, and it works well. We also know that mega-projects rarely ever turn things around overnight.

The proponents of this plan are trying to make it seem like a life or death situation- they want to get the papers signed and the demolition started before the election this November. This is an initiative directly from the Mayor's office, between him and his largest poltical supporter... shouldn't we question that?

I think it's impossible to put together an alternative plan before June 12th. I think the more reasonable alternative would be for the city to proceed with much more caution, and for LIUNA to be a bit more patient while waiting in line for what can only be called a handout.

Matt Jelly

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