Developer says heritage sculptures are safe
Developer Darko Vranich says he’s prepared to save six sculptures on the front of the old federal building.
And if he doesn’t, the city has unearthed an agreement Vranich signed in 2004 that requires him to save the sculptures and other key heritage elements.
In a letter to downtown Councillor Jason Farr presented to the city’s planning committee this week, Vranich says he has “retained a heritage architect and an appraiser to assist in the removal and preservation of the art works.”
Vranich also said he’ll foot the bill for removing and storing the art.
However, Councillor Brian McHattie, a member of the municipal heritage committee, says he wants more protection for the carvings.
“I think that the letter or ‘trust-me’ approach from Mr. Vranich – nothing personal — is not good enough,” he said. “It’s great to see more downtown development and I’m really keen on that, but we also need to pay attention to the heritage features downtown.”
McHattie is now pressuring the federal government to enforce a covenant Vranich signed when he bought the building from the feds in 2004. In the document, which was uncovered by Terry Whitehead and presented at the planning committee meeting on Tuesday, Vranich promised to “conserve, protect and maintain” the heritage features of the building.
The city can’t enforce the covenant, but it can pressure the highest level of government to do so, McHattie says. He has already been in contact with the federal public works department.
“The federal government appears ready to step in and defend their covenant. That will be a stronger response than anything council is doing,” he said.
Tyler McDiarmid, chief financial officer of Vranich’s company, Vrancor, said they are aware of the covenant. He affirmed that Vranich is committed to preserving the reliefs.
“The main point remains that Vranich is committed to saving Holbrook’s works,” he said.
The future of the bas relief sculptures by Hamilton artist Elizabeth Holbrook has been causing contention among arts and heritage advocates since Vranich filed a demolition permit for the former federal government building at Main and Caroline streets. He plans to build a 140-unit, 20-storey condo on the site.
In late January, the municipal heritage committee tried to block the demolition by endorsing an 11th-hour proposal to designate the building under the Ontario Heritage Act.
On Tuesday, the planning committee rejected the request
, arguing it sent the wrong message to the development community since Vranich had already agreed to protect the artwork.
“The concern I had that it was an 11th hour request,” said Tim McCabe, general manager of economic development and planning. “They could be so far down the road – they could have bank financing, construction plans – then all of the sudden, they’re into a different set of problems and costs.”
Larry Friday, the city’s manager of taxation, said property taxes on the vacant building were $73,000 in 2010. If Vranich developed the 140-unit condo, he would be paying roughly $323,000 each year. He would also be paying about $84,000 per year for a parking lot on the site.