Lister Block

Two Proposed Solutions to Lister Impasse

By Graham Crawford
Published June 19, 2008

Dear Mayor Fred Eisenberger and City Councillors,

I'm writing to highlight two distinct goals related to the Lister Block vote you are considering currently: heritage protection for the Lister Block and financial accountability to Hamilton Taxpayers

As you know, the Province of Ontario has been forced to release the Ontario Heritage Trust Report in which Lincoln Alexander puts forward seven clear recommendations regarding the Lister Block. These recommendations, in my opinion, should have a significant impact on the negotiations with Labourers International Union of North America, the property owner.

Using the Trust Report's recommendations, the Minister of Culture can immediately designate the building as a provincially significant heritage structure, thereby providing full heritage protection for the Lister Block. I recommend that Council vote to request such designation immediately.

This permits two obvious scenarios.

Scenario 1: Proceeding with the Deal

With the building protected through provincial designation, the threat of demolition would be removed from the negotiating table.

Council would then be in a position to negotiate a deal based on the true market value of a designated Lister Block, which I suggest would be considerably less than the numbers on the table currently, thereby saving the taxpayers of Hamilton millions of dollars that can be allocated to other important projects (or not spent at all, given that the funds do not actually exist).

The so-called peer review, which in my opinion was cursory at best, needs to be investigated. The process, the numbers, the conclusions and the recommendations were based on constructing a new, glass-box building from the ground up, and seemingly based on a couple of phone calls.

The heritage consultant provided absolutely no additional information or assessment, other than to say that he felt the numbers for new construction seemed to be in order. For me, this is hardly a confidence-building conclusion.

Conclusion: This scenario achieves the two goals of heritage protection and financial accountability.

Scenario #2: Walking Away from the Deal

If you decide to walk away from the deal, the owner will be left with a provincially designated building which, according to law, must be maintained such that the designated elements are not threatened or deteriorate. These elements include effectively all of the exterior elements of the building, as well as a number of key interior elements.

The City could then lease space from other tax-paying landlords who have considerable good quality office space available for lease. Further, the City could focus resources on bylaw enforcement regarding maintenance of the Lister Block, along with support from the Province.

The owner would then have to make a decision whether to develop the Lister Block building (versus just the land on which it sits), or to sell it to the highest bidder, which could include the City of Hamilton.

If the City was to purchase the designated but non-renovated building, it could convert it into residential and retail space, or simply encourage another developer to do the same on its behalf.

Conclusion: This Scenario achieves the two goals of heritage protection and financial accountability.

Graham Crawford was raised in Hamilton, moving to Toronto in 1980 where he spent 25 years as the owner of a successful management consulting firm that he sold in 2000. He retired and moved back to Hamilton in 2005 and became involved in heritage and neighbourhood issues. He opened Hamilton HIStory + HERitage on James North in 2007, a multi-media exhibition space (aka a storefront museum) celebrating the lives of the men and women who have helped to shape the City of Hamilton.


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By jason (registered) | Posted June 19, 2008 at 15:24:47

Since when has the law meant anything?

the building must be maintained?? ha. fat chance. it's protected from threat of demolition?? yea, but not accidental demolition or 'collapse' or 'accident' or 'fire' or 'flood' or 'bomb' etc.....

unfortunately, the laws are useless in cases like this. Privileged groups in our society get to ignore the laws that you and I must adhere to.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2008 at 16:10:15

I think government should also pass a law banning disease and death.

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By adam1 (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2008 at 22:40:35

Great post Graham. Thanks for sending that to the council. Things are changing in Hamilton, evidently not to everyone's liking (see above 2 commenters) Its getting harder for shady groups to sweep things under the carpet.

We have to keep raising awareness and communicating with government about issues that are important to us. Otherwise we would feel awful knowing something "could" have been done after the fact.

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By jacksquat (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2008 at 23:03:22

"I think government should also pass a law banning disease and death."

Yeah because if the government can't do EVERYTHING, it shouldn't do ANYTHING. :P

Jeez louise, Smithy, I thought you of all people'd be happy to see the government paying attention to financial accountability.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2008 at 01:22:56

I appreciate that my comment was a bit over the top, just trying to make a point.

My point is that government actions come at a cost. Government can punish people for not doing what they deem best, but they lose goodwill in the process. Perhaps the city will win this battle over LIUNA, but the war will be lost when other developers decline to build in Hamilton.

I propose making a small part of downtown zone free, with zero building restrictions (including building height), except for extreme circumstances like a power plant, or a chemical factory. Allow the developers to create whatever their customers are demanding, and watch what happens.

By catering to the developers, I believe the city would get a large dose of good karma. Yes, call it what you will, I believe that we are rewarded for helping others.

We have seen how excessive restrictions can cause things to stagnate, so let's stop trying to protect what we've got, and be open to new creations. Some of these new developments will be disappointing, but many will be unexpected successes.

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By Locutus of Burb (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2008 at 02:09:09

A Smith wrote, "Allow the developers to create whatever their customers are demanding"

Oh great, just what we need...more parking lots and one-story stripmalls, and if we're lucky maybe a townhouse. Hamilton builders have FORGOTTEN how to build for cities, that's why we need outsiders like Stinson to come in and show us how its done.

You want to get other developers to build in Hamilton, then start by having the same set of rules for everyone to follow not a special set of wink wink nudge nudge rules for 'best-friends' and 'good-buddies'.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 20, 2008 at 11:26:13

yea, we'd sure hate to interupt the parade of developers that have been clamouring to build in downtown Hamilton recently. Lol.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2008 at 12:04:11

I am in total agreement that parking lots, and strip malls are well below Hamilton's potential. The question is how do we attract developers that want to build something special and unique. Developers, whether they be from Hamilton or elsewhere, want to make money, that is their bottom line. They build parking lots because they are cheap, and they create a small stream of income.

If developers were allowed complete freedom to maximize their profits, it would be the customer who would decide what gets built in Hamilton. If there is a demand for high rise condos, than that is what would get built. If nobody wants to live downtown, than you probably do get more parking lots. Rather than try to plan for progress, development would evolve organically, as a reflection of what the customer is demanding.

Unless you believe that the consumer is flat out ignorant, let's leave the decision on what to build in the hands of individuals, and not government officials.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 20, 2008 at 12:45:46 just opened up a HUGE can of worms. Do customers really know what they want?? Do they really want fat kids, no option to pick up a litre of milk without using a litre of gas, no enjoyable greenspace, hours sitting in traffic??? Based on what builders build these days, that's what people love. Yet, why is Westdale still the most desirable neighbourhood in Hamilton, only now being eclipsed by Locke South and surrounding neighbourhood??
Why are 1-bedroom lofts in my downtown neighbourhood selling for more money than 4-bedroom, 2 storey homes??

If we leave everything up to the builders, they will build what THEY want, not what the customers want.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2008 at 00:27:06

I believe that customers do know what they want. People like Westdale because the homes are well maintained, there are many big old trees, and the people that live there have money to spend at local businesses. This is in contrast to the downtown, where properties are not as well maintained, the people do not have the income to support nice retail establishments, and there are drug addicts living nearby.

Given the choice between the two neighborhoods, it is easy to see why home prices are higher in Westdale.

As to your question about lofts being more expensive than homes in the downtown, my only answer is that there is more demand for the lofts. If this is the case, than a truly free market will produce more lofts, and less homes.
This demand is perhaps a reflection of a younger consumer, who likes living near "trendy" bars and restaurants.

As to your assertion that builders will build what "they" want, you are correct. However, what they want is money, and the more the better. In order to make money, they need an enthusiastic customer. Therefore, builders have a great incentive to make their neighborhoods as nice as possible.

That is the key point, builders cater to the customer, and the ones that don't eventually go out of business.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2008 at 06:26:20

you're wrong - quite the opposite needs to occur.

developers have been working within the city's absurd zoning laws/building codes for 60 years and the results are plain to see. new laws need to be enacted that promote density, beauty, walkability, access to transit, etc.

left to their own devices developers will continue to build the garbage that graces our cities today.

sorry, but your precious free market loses again.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 21, 2008 at 12:40:47

free market???

Suburbia will likely end up being the biggest social program in the history of Western civilization. It would have had absolutely zero chance of existing if not for massive investments by government in all the required, sprawled-out infrastructure. Urban residents continue to subsidize sprawl at an alarming rate in our society. A true free market would result in neighbourhoods like Westdale being the norm - mixed use, close to everything a person needs, with a range of housing for all income levels. Not just from a consumers perspective, but from the perspective of the builders, who would be looking to maximize the use of their land in a free market instead of having government subsidize all their wasted land and expensive infrastructure like they currently do.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2008 at 13:03:25

Your confidence in government astounds me. You admit that the current zoning bylaws are garbage, and yet you want the same organization to craft new ones.

What special intellectual qualities do legislators have that the rest of us do not?

If these people are so informed about what the public wants, why not go into the development business? If this happened, they would surely corner the market on home/condo sales.

You mention that new laws are needed to promote density, beauty, walkability, and access to transit. Why is this? If these items you mention are indeed valued by the consumer, they will demand these things from the developers.

The fact that homes in "sprawling" Ancaster are worth more than homes in the downtown, proves that there is not as much demand for access to transit as you say there is. If transit was so important, the most valuable real estate in Hamilton would surround the train/bus station. Currently, I don't believe this is the case.

The free market is a reflection of consumers preferences, it incorporates the totality of individual decisions, and sends signals to builders what is in demand, and what is not. The alternative you suggest is based on a select few opinions, hardly a recipe for success if history is any guide.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2008 at 13:15:02

Jason, I agree 100% that government should not subsidize suburban development.

If people want to live in these communities, than developers should have to pay the costs of hooking them up to the current infrastructure. These costs would be passed on to the consumer, and perhaps this would have the effect of making these communities less desirable.

The point is to get government out of the way.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2008 at 14:35:07

If we want "free markets", we need to get large development firms out of them. They select development styles which suit their needs - converting vast areas of farmland into the biggest and most expensive housing lots possible, with houses built as quickly and cheaply as they can get away with. When they develop downtown, they seek only to attract the wealthiest customers (hence the condo boom) and do little or nothing for the existing, middle or low-income residents of these neighbourhoods. If an area does not seem ripe for high-income housing, they simply sit on properies until the area is, or the rot. They design these buildings with little or no input at all from customers, who rarely have any recourse once it's all over. All of this takes place in the context of a highly subsidized automobile transportation system, media panic about the dangers of living in urban areas and a few levels of government who have been bending over backward for developers for years (and paying little attention if any, to the actual problems causing "urban blight", like poverty).

Look at how this has ended in the consumers really want large, drab Effort Trust appartment buildings? No, but other options aren't abounding. Customer choice, like voting, only gives us a choice between options others have chosen for us. This shapes We live in a finite city, with finite space, and there are simply not the infinite options available for us to give market systems real input. The choices available to us shape our perceptions of our real choices, and then people are left believing that their only options are suburb or slum.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 21, 2008 at 15:56:08

A Smith said,

"If people want to live in these communities, than developers should have to pay the costs of hooking them up to the current infrastructure. These costs would be passed on to the consumer, and perhaps this would have the effect of making these communities less desirable."

I agree with this comment 100%.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2008 at 17:47:04

I feel that anything that gets between the buyer and the seller (in this case government)distorts the natural order of things. Whether it be zoning laws, or subsidies that promote the use of the automobile, we end up with something less than optimal.

The more I think about it, the more I agree that government has promoted the suburban lifestyle, to the detriment of the urban way of life. I am not against urban living, in fact I would love to see Hamilton look a lot more like Manhattan, with all of its amazing buildings.

As to the idea of transit, I believe that it would be provided by the market if there was a large enough population density.

Furthermore, if some people wanted to live in the suburbs, they would pay a premium for doing so. This premium would ensure that only truly motivated people could afford to live in this manner.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted June 23, 2008 at 14:01:22

These free market arguments are tired! 'Let the market decide' - does not work.

Hey! I want to live in a large detatched house in the suburbs. But I don't want to pay the full cost for the new water/sewerage lines that will be needed, and I don't want to pay the full cost to build and maintain the roads. Also, I don't want to pay the full cost at the local Big Box center - I would like all of that subsidized please. And while we're on the subject, I don't want to pay the full cost of the gas I'll need to drive everywhere - let other people clean up the environment please.

Alternatively, I'd like to live near the waterfront in Toronto and have a lake view all to myself. I don't really care about the folks behind me, or below me, who are now walking around in the shade with no view of the lake. I just want what I want...

Governments regulate people's choices and behaviours - that's what they do. They try to achieve a concensus and direct us towards the 'common good'. Free market economics need to be regulated. It's precisely because powerful free market government stakeholders like developers and big oil, have such a strong influence in public policy that we are having to deal with issues such as sprawl and environmental pollution today. We need less free market not more!

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 24, 2008 at 12:24:27

Well spoken Rusty.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 26, 2008 at 00:57:23

Rusty, you completely misunderstand what a free market is. In a free market you must pay for everything that you use and consume. There are no subsidized sewage, roads, or anything else. It is government that provides the things you are speaking about, not the free market.

With regards to big business having undue influence in society, I disagree. No one forces people to buy gasoline for their cars, it is a choice, and the same is true of suburban homes. If all consumers decided to stop buying gas for their cars, and instead started using biofuel, Exxon would be in serious trouble. Similarly, if people did not like living in the suburbs, this would be reflected in home prices. Currently in Hamilton, the suburbs are the most in demand type of housing.

As for government's regulating people's behaviour and choices, I strongly disagree. As long as I do not directly cause physical harm to someone, or their property, I should be able to do whatever I want. Government has a long track record of causing terrible suffering and destruction in this world (millions killed this century), so I do not accept that they are a force for good in this world.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 26, 2008 at 13:25:07

One HUGE problem there ASmith. Most cars can't use biofuels. Combine that with the lack of availability and the fact that cars which can run on biofuels ie. diesels and those who've been "converted" are generally more expensive than the average gas vehicle and you've got the reason why people don't use biofuels.
Also, we're indirectly forced to use a vehicle of some sort simply because the design or lack thereof of the city we live in is so poorly regulated and has created major sprawl which strains the transit system. I can't take a bus to my work and I only live 5 kms away. I can't bike without nearly getting killed. I can't walk because there are no sidewalks past halfway. SO ya, we aren't forced to buy a car but it turns into the only viable option pretty quickly. As far as the desire for suburban types of housing, speaking for myself (I live in an 11th floor apartment) I don't like apartment living because it's outdated and poorly developed. Things always break down, I can't take a shower without getting burned or frozen, ventilation doesn't work properly, there's no green bin program, i can't do my laundry whenever i want... do I have to keep going? When the concentration has been on sprawling suburban development, technological advancement and pure engineering know-how gets directed there causing a lack of it in other areas.
You're last paragraph shows the lack of logic in your argument for what I'll call anarchy... Someone has to say that you're doing physical harm to another and punish you. If that turns out to be the person you're harming, society turns violent and there's a rise of arbitrary justice enforced by ppl who believe that they've been directly wronged when they may or may not have been. In that case, government is required to regulate and ensure that justice is served. Just because some governments are bad doesn't mean all government is bad.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 26, 2008 at 17:22:45


I agree that using alternatives to gasoline would be difficult, but that does not mean that it is impossible. Life is all about making choices, and the choice that most people make today is to consume gasoline. You may not like that the alternatives are more expensive, and less convenient, but that just shows what a great service the oil/gas companies provide, and also why they earn huge profits.

If you don't like living in your current apartment, the solution is to buy something better. You have a brain, and you are more than capable of gathering the resources required to build the home of your dreams. Write down what you want in great detail, and review that list on a regular basis. We tend to get what we focus on, so instead of worrying about what others are doing, keep your eye on the ball. You want a great apartment, you will have it if you stay focused.

As to my points about government, lets just agree to disagree.

Keep focused on what it is that you want, and in time you will have a super home.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 26, 2008 at 18:09:14

"Government has a long track record of causing terrible suffering and destruction in this world (millions killed this century)"

Wow. I think that's pretty much the most facile thing you've said to date. You're up to your old tricks conflating things in order to push your anti-government meme. In this case you've conflated government with ideology. Well, if you didn't like the ideological wars of the 20th century, you must be loving the pet wars of the free-market neocons, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2008 at 13:30:44

The problem with government is that it puts too much power into the hands of too few. You mention the wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, these events would not be taking place without a large central government. Therefore, if you don't like war, you should be in favour of limiting the size of government.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted June 27, 2008 at 16:38:01

"Government has a long track record of causing terrible suffering and destruction in this world (millions killed this century) "

  • Are we talking about the Canadian government here...?! Let's not confuse dictatorships with democracies. I don't recall the Canadian government killing millions of people. Surely we can agree that not all governments are the same...

"...government is that it puts too much power into the hands of too few." - Our modern day government (which isn't 'modern day' but essentially the same model we've had for decades...) is disfunctional and non-representative, absolutely. And, yes, there is too much power in the hands of too few. We need to bring government decision making closer to everyday citizens and improve the accountability of our electorate. Government reform is long overdue.

"As long as I do not directly cause physical harm to someone, or their property, I should be able to do whatever I want."

  • how do you define 'doing harm'? I would say that buying that toy from China is doing harm...Moving into that lot that used to be prime farm land... Just because the free market - helped along by an easily coerced government - enables yo to make certain decisions doesn't mean they are without consequences for other people.

I'm assuming you agree that the free market should be regulated? Who exactly do you propose should regulate it?

Like many of Adam Smith's theories, you're opinions appear to be very simplistic. In reality the influences and consequences of the free market are not straight forward at all.



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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2008 at 22:22:19

Rusty, democracy is not the same as freedom and individual rights. A government's job (if there is one at all) is to ensure that individuals can live their lives in maximum freedom, so long as this does not directly interfere with others ability to do the same.

Criminal offenses such as rape, murder, theft, and other obvious crimes fall under the domain of government. In order to carry out these responsibilities, funds are needed. If taxes were raised for these basic functions, the tax burden on individuals would be less than 5% of their income.

Health care, road building, libraries, city parks, transit, welfare, etc, should be left to private organizations.

If Canadians truly are warm, caring people, then charities should have no problem raising money for these causes. If the argument is that charities could not do all these things, then people have to admit that Canadians are not as generous as we claim to be. Rather, it is an excuse to make us feel good for having to hand over a large chunk of our earnings, lest we go to jail.

Furthermore, the current system forces Canadians to fight over the same money pie, each trying to get the biggest piece they can. Rather than trading our goods and services on a voluntary basis, we breed animosity between provinces, regions, and even neighborhoods.

Lastly, I do not think that the free market needs to be regulated, at least not by third parties. Nature has designed its own regulations, and they are incredibly effective. All one has to do is look at Tim Horton's. It took a beating when it was revealed that one of its employees was fired for giving an infant one free timbit.

Reputation in business is an invaluable asset, and the only way to get it is to earn it. The only way to earn it, is to deliver an excellent product or service. As a result, there is a huge incentive for businesses to make their customers as happy as possible, therefore third party regulations are unnecessary.

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