Who wants the beast of John North?
The Hamilton Spectator
Dec 1, 2008
It used to be the beauty of John Street North. Now it's the beast.
Treble Hall was born beautiful, 130 years ago. Bold Renaissance Revival features, it commanded the stretch of John between King and King William.
It still looms large. But now it's dark, empty, forbidding.
It needn't have been this way. A Toronto man named Abe Wertman has owned Treble Hall some 50 years. He's put little into it. Wishes he'd never bought it.
Every now and then, he puts it up for sale. No offer is ever good enough.
And now another For Sale sign has been tacked to Treble Hall.
So we're checking things out. Will the building finally find an owner who loves it?
Treble Hall, plus the building at King and John that's now attached to it, is for sale this time at one million dollars. For you, $995,000.
"It's an aggressive price," admits realtor Augie Ammendolia. "But I think the owner would entertain serious offers."
We wonder if that's really the case. A call is placed to Abe Wertman, but we don't hear back.
He told us some years ago that he planned no improvements. "I just collect the rents. That's it."
That would be from Pizza Pizza, the Pagoda Downtown Restaurant and the Wintas Digital computer shop.
That amounts to about $75,000 a year after expenses, Ammendolia explains. So without even looking at development possibilities in the largely empty Treble Hall, he says, that's about a 7 1/2 per cent return on a million-dollar investment.
"Well, that's providing you don't have anything go wrong with the building," says developer Harry Stinson. And he thinks many things could.
That said, he likes Treble Hall. In fact, he's the only one who has taken a tour of the place with the realtor. He has even been up on the third and fourth floors, unused for generations. In the 1800s, there were concerts, public meetings, theatre up there.
Stinson sees lots of fire code issues to overcome if this space were to be converted to offices or living quarters.
Besides, right now his attention is focused on the piece of John just south of King.
His development plans were foiled this summer at the Royal Connaught Hotel, where plywood has just been nailed up over the windows, making that stretch of the core look doubly desperate.
But Stinson is beavering away right around the corner, where a yellow-brick veneer hides a handsome 1800s building. He and partners are completing plans for an 80-suite boutique hotel. He expects to go public with full details of the $16-million project in the new year.
Meanwhile, in the shadow of Treble Hall, life does carry on in that indomitable Hamilton fashion.
A few doors from the Hall, Peter Papadimitriou opened the Grumpy Greek last month, where gyros are the thing.
Next to him, Lulu's Shawarma opened last year. Tammy Archer and husband Rizgar serve huge and succulent creations, and business is great. "I love it here," Tammy says. "I love all my customers and I think we have the best location in the city."
Vanh Bouly Kalong likes it here too, and she knows her stuff. With the economy sliding, people do eat out less frequently. But guess which of Vanh's My Thai outlets is holding up best right now -- Ancaster, Burlington or downtown Hamilton?
Yes, the restaurant on this challenged piece of John North is the most consistent performer. Younger clientele, more urban, less mortgaged. "And the Vanier Cup weekend was phenomenal," she says.
Still, she looks across the street with great frustration. "I feel like going over there and shaking people up." The Golden Fortune restaurant has been empty since she bought her property and opened My Thai eight years ago.
Next to it, patients line up at the methadone clinic. "I know those people are trying," Vanh says, but it does hurt the street's image.
By contrast, she points to her next-door neighbour, the venerable Capri Restaurant. It has put on a new stone front with classy black awning and signage. "I love it," Vanh says. "I'm going to do the same thing in the spring."
And then there's Treble Hall. Vanh cannot understand why anyone would just sit on such a property. And what about that million-dollar price tag? "I think half that would be just about right."