Foster Building | ? | 6 fl | Construction
Core historic landmark on its way back
Foster Building was on the brink of demolition but a courageous developer saw potential
A national heritage landmark, vacant for nearly 30 years, is halfway through its rebirth in the heart of Hamilton.
For more than a year, Toronto engineer Tran Dieu has been busy trucking 129 dumpsters of debris and pigeon poo out of the Foster Building on King Street East. Its inside walls are now lined with fresh drywall as the project moves into its final stages.
“This is going to be an amazing space,” said Gord Moodie, the city’s co-ordinator of downtown incentive programs, on a tour of the renovation.
The building, made up of Victoria Hall and the MacKay building, sits directly across from Gore Park. It’s been empty longer than any heritage building downtown since its retail tenants moved in 1979.
Over the decades, there have been lots of big plans, but none that panned out until Tran Dieu arrived. He’s investing $1.8 million to restore the property with commercial and residential units.
Williams Coffee Pub has already inquired about renting the entire main floor, said Moodie. A study is under way to decide if the upper floors would better suit offices, rental units or condos.
Standing in the middle of one of the 2,000-square-foot units, Moodie points to the newly exposed brick walls and original wood beams as selling points.
“This would be an amazing loft,” he said, turning toward the bank of massive windows that will be restored in the coming months.
If finished as custom condos, the units would be among the largest ever sold in Hamilton with a price tag close to half a million, said Moodie.
Victoria Hall, directly beside the courthouse, was built in 1887 and is designated as a national historic site, on par with Whitehern and Dundurn Castle. It boasts the last metal facade in Canada.
“It’s very rare,” said Sharon Vattay, a cultural and heritage planner with the
The MacKay building next door was built a few decades later and eventually connected to Victoria Hall by its high-fashion tenant Foster’s.
The city once considered investing public dollars to save the buildings from demolition, but backed away because of the costs. Most considered it not worth saving.
One more winter and Moodie predicts the building’s crumbling walls would have failed. Most developers, he noted, would have taken one look at the cracks and run away.
“He’s a pioneer in Hamilton,” Moodie said of Tran Dieu.
The city is trying to make projects like the Foster building more attractive with grant and loan programs. Council approved a $307,000 downtown residential loan for the project, which also qualifies for limited tax breaks because of its location.
The city just approved another grant program to help cover 25 per cent of the cost of restoring heritage designated features up to $150,000.
As other heritage projects like the Lister Block and Royal Connaught continue to struggle, it’s heartening to see a significant project move toward completion, said Anne Charlton, chair of the city’s heritage committee.
“It’s very courageous of (Tran Dieu),” she said. “It’s not an easy project at all.” The committee has been closely following the building’s renovations, which require heritage permits for work on key designated pieces like windows and the facade.
When completed, Vattay expects the project will garner attention far beyond the city’s boundaries.
“I think it will do well for the city.”