RHEEM update: Correspondence with Councillor Jason Farr

The Rheem Factory from the Stuart Street side, as viewed from Bayfront Park

I’ve been keeping in regular communication with my Ward 2 Councillor, Jason Farr, on the possibility of adaptive reuse at the Rheem Factory at 128 Barton Street West, in Hamilton’s West Harbour. Very simply, what I and others have requested, is a motion to ask staff to explore the basic feasibility of adaptive reuse- not to ask the City to buy and redevelop the Rheem using public dollars, but rather to explore whether this building could be marketed as an adaptive reuse project to be completed by the private sector, reusing as much of the materials as possible. Staff is currently planning on putting out a tender for demolition- even though development cannot likely go ahead at this site for several months to come due to several ongoing OMB appeals. This correspondence, dated May 29th, is below.

Matt,

Good to hear from you.

Basically, the staff we met with on this last week said the tender process will continue as planned. In the second week of June, we would be in a position to award the contract for demolition and there is the possibility of a break-even component with the value of the scrap steel involved (we’ll see).

Should note, the OMB outcome is expected before any demolition. This is an important factor as we move forward. IE, what uses will be permitted and where?

To date, the City has had know offers (that I am aware of) from any party interested in purchasing and restoring Rheem.

David Cuming has offered some context as well (this was requested by both Brian McHattie and myself):

“We have advised in the past that given the probable historical associations we should attempt to provide some form of recording measure including the interior and exterior prior to demolition. The notion of adaptive re-use has not been explored …the site meets three of the 10 criteria used by the City of Hamilton and Ministry of Tourism and Culture for determining archaeological potential:

1) Within 300 metres of a primary watercourse or permanent waterbody, 200 metres of a secondary watercourse or seasonal waterbody, or 300 metres of a prehistoric watercourse or permanent waterbody;

2) In areas of pioneer EuroCanadian settlement; and,

3) Along historic transportation routes.

There has been some site disturbance in the past resulting from fill activities and nineteenth construction”

Matt,

The sense I get is that this parcel has greater value, with regard to serious investment, as a whole. 

I cannot say for sure, but I wonder if a break-even demo may be seen much more favorably to Council, then a pricey restoration and adaptive reuse. Certainly it is my opinion that we need to move on having ready lands for a serious investment sooner, rather than later. I don’t many taxpayers would want a St. Mark’s North?

Once again, it is expected the pending OMB results will occur before and demolition of the Rheem Building.

Thanks again for the note.

Jay

My response:
From: Matt Jelly mattjelly@gmail.com
Sent: Sunday, May 29, 2011 08:06 AM
To: Farr, Jason
Subject: Re: rheem

Hi Jay,

Good to hear your thoughts on this.

I would still be interested to see a fuller staff report simply on viability alone. To be clear, my suggestion wasn’t for the City to underwrite the redevelopment, or to prevent ‘serious investment’ from taking place there. I just wonder if the Rheem could be marketed as the gigantic open space that it is, and just see who might bite.

To be fair, the Rheem has far more prospects for adaptation than a site like St. Marks ever did because of the size and internal scope of the building, and no heritage designation to limit what can be done to adapt it. As a steel and concrete structure, it will also not deteriorate the same way a little brick church would. This is less about heritage to me than it is about reuse of materials, and to get us to start thinking of ways to adapt and remarket some of these kind of structures in Hamilton. I think that’s a lesson we need to learn sooner than later.

I wouldn’t want to see the Rheem become a burden on taxpayers either. It would really all depend on what kind of remedial work is needed to adapt the Rheem by a potential investor- but without a report from staff on what that cost would be for potential redevelopment, we’ll never know the answer to that question.

That said, between now and when development can start to go ahead, if the right tenant doesn’t come along soon enough, by all means, knock it down. I just think it’s worth a shot.

Last December, you voted in favour of a staff evaluation of Confederation Park as a potential Stadium site. If I recall correctly, you and several of the six members of council who voted for it made the point that all you were asking for was a feasibility study from staff, and it didn’t make sense to vote against it. The motion called for this feasibility study to be completed in 16 working days over Christmas, but the motion was defeated.

By the same logic and a similar timeline, I’d ask you to consider forwarding a motion to ask for a report on feasibility at the next Public Works on the 6th, if that’s not too late in terms of when the tender is planned to go out. In terms of my interest, that’s as far as it goes- if staff reports that it’s definitely not feasible, I’d respect council’s will on it and move on.

Thanks for getting back to me Jay.

Matt

Councillor Farr has since confirmed that he currently does not plan to put this motion forward to council. If you feel, as I do, that the Rheem could be a viable candidate for adaptive reuse, and considering that the timeline could allow for it, that this viability should be in the very least explored by City staff, please e-mail Councillor Jason Farr, or your local councillor and the Mayor and respectfully ask them to forward this motion for a full staff feasibility report before the demolition goes forward for the value of the scrap steel: Jason.Farr@hamilton.ca

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One Response to RHEEM update: Correspondence with Councillor Jason Farr

  1. Mary Lynne Cameron says:

    I just sent the following e-mail to Councillor Farr:

    Councillor Farr,

    I have been made aware by Matt Jelly of the city’s plans to tender the Rheem site on Barton Street for demolition and that Matt’s suggestion of looking into the possibility of promoting the site to outside investors for adaptive re-use has been rejected. I would like to encourage you to bring forward the proposal to promote the site for adaptive re-use. Although a building like Rheem is not a heritage building it is a part of the character of the city. I can imagine a wide range of possible re-uses for the building and have often noted it’s similarity to buildings in Ottawa’s Byward Market district and Toronto’s Distillery district. Given it’s proximity to downtown, the waterfront and the James North arts community, it would seem like an ideal location for re-use instead of demolition and new construction. I have greatly appreciated your advocacy for the incredible potential of Ward 2 and re-use of the site would add to the renaissance of our community. I would suggest that demolition be postponed for one year and if no significant prospects for re-use appear before then, the city will have lost nothing and could continue with the demolition tender.

    Thank you for your efforts on behalf of our community,
    Mary Lynne Cameron

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