Important Message Regarding the Federal Building at 150 Main Street
Six months ago at a Planning Committee meeting a demolition permit for 150 Main (the former Federal Building) appeared as an agenda item. When I saw the agenda item in advance, I then asked the question as to what would be built in its place. The developer (Vrancor) shared with me a multi-million dollar, five-phase, six-year plan that included a condominium (or rental) project to be erected on the Main Street property.
Prior to the Planning Committee meeting, the city staff reminded us of the Dr. Elizabeth Holbrook panels (relief sculptures) attached to the façade and the importance of them in terms of our city’s architectural history and the contributions our very own Dr. Holbrook had made here and throughout the world in her lifetime.
Before the Planning Committee meeting took place, I made arrangements with the developer to commit to saving Dr. Holbrook’s works. When the planning meeting did occur, we (the Committee) were told by staff the developer was within his rights to demolish the building despite some covenants that were discovered (by Planning Committee) in his deed with the federal government upon his purchase of the building in 2004.
It was determined by Planning Committee members and city staff that the covenants were an issue to be resolved only by the developer and the federal government. After the meeting, the developer confirmed he was in conversation with the feds in relation to the deed and its covenants and that he fully intended to save the relief sculptures. His plan then was to carefully and professionally extract the works and donate them to the city for future placement in a prominent location. Now, his plan is not to demolish a portion of the south facing wall (where the sculptures have always been affixed) and to keep the entire west facing wall intact.
Earlier today (August 16, 2011) I asked you to tweet me any questions you may have for Vrancor (the developer) and I would bring them along to an afternoon meeting that I had hurriedly orchestrated in an effort to be clear on the many factors involved in this demolition.
Before I try to answer these questions (mostly tweets I was able to gather up just prior to a 2:30p sit-down with Tyler McDermid, CEO, and Gunther Bluesz, Designer) let me first provide some of my own perspectives.
I have been reassured by Vrancor that the Dr. Elizabeth Holbrook works will still be restored, but will remain in situ as originally intended in the mid-50s. Given this original intent for the sculptures, I am sure most would agree this is indeed a prominent a location.
Also, I would like to reiterate my position from six months ago regarding this project as a whole. For our beautiful Hamilton, this is a major and positive downtown transformation. The developer (who has in the last five years invested $200 million on developments outside of Hamilton) is making a local five-phase, $140 million development investment. Ten of thousands of man hours will result in this development and millions will be added to the tax base upon the completion of the five phases, not to mention the hundreds of future full-time local jobs. In addition, we (Council) did not know it then, but this precinct will also greatly complement the $80 million McMaster Family Medicine Campus.
For those in our community who understandably have issue with this demolition and question the intent of the project as it relates to 150 Main, I continue to answer that question with a question I publicly asked six months ago: Why, if this is such a grand old building, did the federal government choose to build anew just down the street on Bay North?
Now, to your questions and the answers I received this afternoon from Vrancor:
Q: Most had in inquired about the Dr. Holbrook Sculptures.
A: As stated above, it is no longer the intent of the developer to demolish that portion of the building in which the sculptures are located. In addition, the works will be restored and remain in place as originally intended when Dr. Holbrook was commissioned to do the work.
Q: What about the covenants in the deed that the feds had with Vrancor?
A: Since the demolition permit was issued, Vrancor (lawyers) and the feds have been meeting to discuss the covenants. Some days ago the demolition go-ahead was given.
Q: What about all the dust this project has created?
A: The Ministry of Environment had issued a caution this morning. Soon after, Vrancor took the necessary steps to mitigate the dust aspect of the demolition. A hosing down then began in concurrence with work in progress. The MOE did temporarily halt the work until they were satisfied.
Q: Is the whole building being demolished?
A: No. The western façade and part of the south side containing the sculptures will be incorporated into the project.
Q: How long will this take?
A: Five to six years to complete all five phases.
Q: What will be the penalty if Vrancor does not build anything in its place?
A: Vrancor’s has no intention of incurring any penalties as they are committed to this project. (I would like to note that additional surface parking lots are no longer permitted throughout the core and the company has already begun to prepare the site at 68 George for first phase development, a six-story Staybridge Hotel; the Staybridge being their first priority).
Q: How the hell will the sculptures be collected from rubble?
A: Addressed above.
Q: Why the change of heart?
A: Vrancor has made a conscious design decision to maintain the west wall and a front portion of the building, seeing value in those aspects.
A: Vrancor will issue a press release (including drawings) in the next few weeks.
This last question was for me:
Q: How many more precious buildings will you allow to be unnecessarily demolished in our core?
A: We have hundreds of heritage- designated buildings in our core. I will support preservation and assist, where warranted, in any adaptive re-use or restorative efforts (St. Mark’s news hopefully coming soon). 150 Main was not designated and the Building Department issued the permit without any alteration of the rules.
Yes, the Federal Building may have made one heck of a unique condo or office conversion, but it was not the owner’s intention to fully restore it. Costs were no doubt the major hurdle (my opinion).
This is a $140 million major and positive downtown transformation that will bring hundreds of jobs and bring millions to our tax base once completed.
Vibrancy is making a big comeback in our downtown, especially in these tough economic times. This is one example.