Hopeful Thoughts on the James Baptist Church Project

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The “minor alteration” of James Street Baptist Church is complete and most of the building has been demolished with only the front portion remaining.

Now, the City and developer are moving forward with plans for a 22-30 story high-rise condo development.

With the developer holding a public meeting tonight (August 6, 2014) from 4 to 7pm at Whitehern, it’s time to take a look at where the project stands.

Hopeful Signs

There are some hopeful signs in the how the developer is approaching the project at present, with significant investments that should alleviate concerns the developer was going to demolish (“minor alteration” in City Hall doublespeak) and flip the land for profit.

Firstly, the developer’s company – Stanton Renaissance – lists the property as a project under development with the name The Connolly – after the architect of James Street Baptist Church.

They’ve invested in serious professional communications advice from a established firm.

This is not an investment made by a land flipper or a company without the wherewithal to complete a successful project. Too many developers don’t get proper communications support for their projects.

The developer, Louie Santaguida, is building his new Mimico condo development.

A good sign that Stanton Renaissance is not a fly-by-night shell corporation to facilitate a demolition and land flip.

James Street Baptist ChurchCare has been shown for the heritage features of the building. They were properly removed and are being stored for restoration and integration into the new condo tower.

There are the questions about City Hall process and the developer’s companies past bankruptcies and receiverships.

We may not like City Hall’s abuse of process, can be heartbroken by the lost of a beautiful heritage church, and can even not like the developer because his companies suffered bankruptcies.

But, we cannot ignore the hopeful signs that this process may yet yield a more positive outcome than a vacant lot or a collapsed pile of rubble.

Brief History of City Hall Process

Quick background.

The Church was sold in 2013. Numerous engineering reports found the structure was unstable and it was cost prohibitive to repair. The new owner applied to the City for a demolition permit.

The permit hearing was held at the same time as City Council, and media notice was given only 24 hours before the meeting – buried in an nondescript email. (There was no public notice)

The public could not speak at the meeting on the demolition permit, but City Hall said would be allowed to speak when the permit came to Council’s Planning Committee.

Then City Hall declared it was not a demolition, but in fact a “minor alteration” and the public was barred from comment.
(The minor alteration loophole is currently being reviewed by Council.)

The Developer, Bankruptcy, and Brantford

The Hamilton Spectator published a lengthy piece on the developers corporate history especially the history of bankruptcies and receiverships.

As the City decided to not hold a proper public hearing, none of these details were known to the public prior to the demolition (“minor alteration”).

Santaguida cites the Great Recession as the cause of his companies financial troubles.

One of Stantaguida’s companies was involved in a planned Brantford brownfield remediation development at the turn of the decade. The deal ended in 2011 when Brantford Council voted to end its relationship with Stantaguida.

“Under no circumstances would I ever go into business with this company after all that has happened,” Mayor Chris Friel was quoted in The Expositor at the time.

In the recent Spectator article, Friel stands by his comments.

It’s important to note there are no indications of wrongdoing in any of these circumstances, and that many successful business people encounter financial setbacks before finding sustainable success.

What’s Next?

Tonight’s public meeting will be the the unveiling of more detailed plans for The Connolly development.

There will be more integration of the historical features of James Street Baptist Church than originally planned.

The Durand Neighbourhood Association was able to successfully pressure City Hall into including more conditions into the “minor alteration” permit that saw the building demolished.

Once the public pre-consultation is complete, the project will begin the formal approval process at City Hall. It’s not likely to make the Council agenda before the October election, and will reach Council Chambers in the new year.

The City’s “minor alteration” loophole is now being reviewed. With the new General Manager of Planning and Economic Development Jason Thorne now at the helm, I’m hard pressed to think of a circumstance that will see a similar demolition.

I’ll be at tonight’s public meeting and will bring you a report tonight.

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