All Saints makes saintly choice
Church makes way for affordable condo units
June 17, 2009
The Hamilton Spectator
Ten years ago, workers spent months carefully dismantling the bell tower at All Saints Church in downtown Hamilton.
Now the stage is set for all the stones at All Saints to come tumbling down.
The church has commanded the southeast corner of Hamilton's royal intersection since the 1870s.
But at King and Queen, as at churches everywhere, times have changed. Since the '60s, pews have emptied out. Too many churches, not enough people.
Back in 1974, somebody made a firm offer to buy the All Saints property for $350,000. The congregation turned it down. Bishop John Bothwell was not amused:
"For a couple of hundred people to maintain this enormous building, when there are three or four other Anglican parishes within a few blocks with similar depleted congregations and enormous buildings, seems to me to be questionable," the bishop said then.
"Of course, the people at All Saints disagree. They feel confident that renewal is close at hand ... God alone can know whether the right decision was made."
Renewal was not at hand. The congregation continued to erode. A church that held 400 now sees 60 or 70 on a Sunday.
There has been a big push for outreach, with a Friendship Centre that for years served people who struggle.
But the building is not so good for that. It is not accessible. It is a dim place, with small windows and dark wood. It is murder to heat. The stone, quarried in one direction and laid in another, is deteriorating.
Five months ago, a thick section of queen-sheet-sized plaster dropped from the ceiling, chopping up the wooden floor. Ever since, the congregation has met in the parish hall next door.
And in the late '90s, Mother Nature -- or maybe God Himself -- sent a message to All Saints that was hard to ignore. A moderate earthquake (Richter 5.4) shook the bell tower and it had to be pulled down.
Ever since, the congregation at All Saints has tried to find a future. And now they have voted. The church that Senator Samuel Mills built in 1872 because he wanted a place of worship closer to home is to come down. So will the century house next door that is the church's parish hall.
In their place, a nonprofit condo tower of up to 11 storeys is to rise. The proposal is now working its way through city hall and it's hoped work can begin in a year
It was an agonizing decision for the congregation. As one man put it, "My head says yes, but not my heart." Still, he raised his hand in favour of the plan and so did everyone else.
Rector Paula Crippen says "it will be a sad day" when the church does come down, but that members are excited about the new space. All Saints is to get about 2,500 square feet on the main floor of the new complex. There could be a storefront presence on King Street, perhaps a cafe ministry
The church does not have an historical designation, but is on the city's inventory of 6,500 buildings of interest.
"People will say, 'Why are they tearing down that lovely old building?'" admits Archdeacon Rick Jones. "But what's important for us is the ministry of the church ...
"We're not an historical society. This building worked 100 years ago. It doesn't work today."
He congratulates the people of All Saints. Their plan had to be approved by the diocese, which gave it a standing ovation.
Jones says the church understands the importance of the property, located across from the Scottish Rite. "Both the city and the church want the new building to fit into the streetscape in the most pleasing way possible."
The developer is a group called Options For Housing. In the past 16 years, it has built eight developments in the GTA, from the Distillery District to Scarborough. There are other projects in Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Waterloo and Collingwood.
The units are good quality, but not luxurious, aimed at buyers with household incomes as low as $40,000. Conrad Zurini, a ReMax agent who chairs Hamilton's Affordable Housing Flagship, says the 84 units here would sell for $120,000 to $200,000
The project is worth up to $15 million
. The units are sold at cost. The company then gives condo buyers a second, interest-free mortgage equal to the difference between the cost and market value. That second mortgage only has to be repaid if the resident sells, so buyers rarely flip their units for a quick profit.
Zurini hopes to start holding buyer seminars at the All Saints parish hall in early fall.