Once again, Doug Herod has written an article about the downtown lower level parking lot. This time it concerns the Canada Hair Cloth building's fate - this is prob my favourite building in the city. If this Brock U/City partnership project actually takes flight, I think it will be the best plan for downtown St. Cath that we've seen in a very long time. Fingers crossed!
Hello ... Hair Cloth? It's Brock University on the line....
Herod's Column - Friday, April 13, 2007 Updated @ 9:27:28 AM
As we all know, the canal valley behind St. Paul Street has been a field of dashed dreams the past several decades.
If it wasn't one eyebrow-raising scheme, it was another.
Occasionally, the Canada Hair Cloth building would be brought into play.
In certain grand development doodlings, the building was promoted as an appropriate site for a wine museum or some sort of residential project.
Problem was, the building already had a use. Canada Hair Cloth was still housed there and operating as the city's oldest, ongoing manufacturer, producing various materials for the garment industry.
Its attractiveness as a redevelopment project for the downtown was easy to see, though.
The 19th century, four-storey building is an impressively sized, well-preserved, brick-and-stone structure with a strong heritage feel to it.
It cuts an impressive figure in comparison to the cubist-art-on-steroids look to the rest of the back of St. Paul Street.
And now it's available.
Unfortunately so, of course.
The announcement last week that Canada Hair Cloth, which was founded in 1884, would be ceasing operations this summer marks the end of downtown's industrial era, one that was initially spurred by the presence of the First Welland Canal.
In more human terms, the closing marks the end of work for 42 people. Given the low-cost, overseas competition in the textile trade, there was a certain inevitability to the local company's eventual demise. But that doesn't necessarily make the news any easier to swallow for the employees, who'll be tossed into an uncertain job market.
The building will live on, however, and perhaps play a key role in the latest in a seemingly endless series of downtown revitalization attempts.
As noted, the structure looks nice in a heritage kind of way, but is there a danger in trying to tell a book by its cover?
Nino Donatelli, who has done an admirable job resurrecting a couple of old factories in Merritton, gives a thumbs-up to the industrial plants of the 19th century.
"They are structurally sound," said Donatelli. "That's the most critical point."
They had to be solid, he explained, "because the equipment they contained was so heavy."
"These old buildings are just tanks."
Donatelli said a redevelopment of the Canada Hair Cloth factory "could give a real lift to that downtown area."
Jim Macfarlane is the marketing manager for Canada Hair Cloth. More importantly for the future of the site, though, he and his brother Ron control the land in question. The Macfarlane family owned the company until 1996, when it sold the business - but not the building or the 1.16-hectare property on which it sits - to a French firm.
While more modern extensions to the manufacturing facility has caused the factory size to be listed at 70,000 square feet, Macfarlane says the signature brick-and-stone portion has 40,000 square feet of space.
Macfarlane doesn't envision a future industrial use for the building; for one thing, its multiple-floor layout is at odds with how modern factories are designed.
Might make a good factory-outlet mall, though, he says. Or a student housing project.
Maybe. But my guess is that the site and building will eventually attract the interest of Brock University and the city for other purposes.
As dedicated followers of the local scene well know, Brock is interested in moving its fine and performing arts school to a downtown location. In conjunction with that move, deep thinkers at the university and the city are talking about partnering on a downtown performing arts centre.
A large, multi-floored, old factory and an arts school sound like a pretty groovy fit.
But if there's interest in the building from those sources, it's news to Macfarlane.
It's been a week and no one's called from the city or Brock, he said.
Patience, Jim, patience.
Doug Herod's opinion column appears Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.