Demolition is beginning on historic King Street buildings facing Gore Park — despite a compromise deal reached just over a week ago intended to keep them standing while preservation options were discussed.
Budget Demolition moved heavy demolition equipment on to the site today and the company’s site manager Will Bartels says his crews have and are ready to go, expecting to finish in September.
The work has caught councillors involved in the compromise deal by surprise, as it is beginning just over a week after a touted deal to work out a way of preserving the buildings’ heritage elements.
Just what is planned for the facades as part of the demolition is not totally clear.
The developer says the facades are not being touched for now as the discussions to save the heritage components of the buildings continue. Ward 1 Coun. Brian McHattie told CBC Hamilton he was ” taken off guard” by the news of the demolition. He understands that developers are planning to demolish the insides of all five buildings while saving the facades.
“Which is good news, but they’re doing this on their own without communicating very much,” McHattie said.
“Nothing has changed,” Robert Miles, a senior property manager with Wilson-Blanchard told CBC Hamilton. “The city and the owner are discussing the heritage frontage only and have never talked about keeping the buildings behind these frontages.”
However, this runs contrary to a statement made by Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr, who said on July 9 that the city and Wilson Blanchard had come to a compromise that “demolition would be stopped on the 24, 28 King St. Gore Park buildings as a solution is sought to maintain the architectural and heritage character of the Gore properties.”
Miles says the company will be maintaining about 40 feet of the existing buildings until the city has reviewed an engineering study and they have finalized the “final method to go forward to save the heritage components of these buildings.”
However,Bartels says the front of the buildings will be removed by hand to preserve the bricks, which will be used to rebuild the facades. He says that’s because the old foundation is “crumbling and deteriorating,” so the facades will be built on a new foundation.
Wilson Blanchard’s demolition permits were about to expire in August, McHattie says. The city received a letter on Wednesday asking to have the permit extended — but also notifying them of the company’s intention to start demolition the next day.
The city had intended to do a peer review of all the buildings, but that likely won’t happen now, McHattie says.
“If they maintain the front forty feet, we’d still want to do a peer review there — but it’s obviously not going to be the whole thing.”
McHattie also expressed some concern for the parts of the buildings’ that are supposed to stay standing. “If you demolish half the building, how do we know the other half still stands?”
City staff say they have not been part of any discussions after Farr’s announcement.
Farr was unavailable for comment but said on Twitter he was “perplexed” by the start of the demolition and was returning early from vacation.
Standing since the 1800s
Patrick Richardson works next door to the demolition site and told CBC Hamilton that he saw workers take out yellow bags with a hazardous materials sign on them. Bartels confirmed that portions of the building that contained asbestos were stripped out “a couple of weeks back.”
Julie, a jewellery vendor who runs a stand in the park every Thursday told CBC Hamilton that she saw people walking around with walkie-talkies Thursday night and spoke to a photographer who said he was hired by the Wilson Blanchard team to take some photos before the buildings came down.
“How can they tear them down with all the people around it?” she asked.
The buildings on King Street facing Gore Park were built in the late 1800s. David Blanchard and his partners are planning a complex that includes retail and commercial space, as well as condos.