Downtown merchants want the city to tear down the former Sandbar Tavern, a once notorious crack den and site of two murders on King Street East. 

The board of the International Village BIA passed a motion this week asking the city to tear down the building, vacant and unused since it was seized by the province as a result of proceeds of crime in 2006.

 “It’s an eyesore and it’s a representation of a horrible situation that happened in our BIA years ago,” executive director Susie Braithwaite said.

The BIA, tired of the long-time blight sitting vacant,  has asked Ward 2 councillor Jason Farr to approach the city, Braithwaite said.

Gord Thompson

Gord Thompson is a long-time business owner who owns properties next to and across from the former Sandbar. "Anything would be better" than the vacant building there now, he says. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The BIA is open to suggestions for the property, whether it be remediation, a new building or green space in the form of a new parkette. Anything would be better than the vacant building that is there now, she said.

“There’s so much positively going on in this neighbourhood right now,” she said. “Unfortunately, that building represents a part of our history that we’d love to forget and move on from.”

Farr confirmed he has approached city staff about the possibility of tearing down the former tavern at 193 King St. E. He wants to see if the building can be remediated, and if it can’t, he wants to see some sort of public space there.

Two murders

The former tavern has a tumultuous history. Police were regularly in attendance to combat the drug use and selling. Two people have been beaten to death there since 2001.

In 2006, the province seized it under the Civil Remedies Act because of the crime there, and gave it to the city.

The seizure of the notorious property was so celebrated, the handover was turned into a ceremony attended by then Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant. 

In 2011, Hamilton police debated using it, but have since turned their attentions to vacant land on Wilson Street instead.

Several other ideas for the site have been considered, but nothing has come of any.

Gord Thompson, owner of a 42-year-old family pawn-broking business across the street, has toured the derelict building. He describes it as being filled with asbestos and blood stains.

Several times over the years, thieves had smashed the front windows of his business, which he attributed to the former Sandbar.

“It was a nightmare. Just a nightmare,” he said. “We dealt with the murders. We dealt with the crack dealers.”

The neighbourhood is changing for the better, Thompson said, and it’s time that the Sandbar did too.

Number one issue

He’d prefer to see a commercial building there that generates more taxes, but “having it the way it is is not acceptable. Taking it (down) and making a parkette out of it? Absolutely.

“Anything would be better than what it is.”

Farr has heard that the building is beyond repair, but he wants to confirm that. He describes it as a former “widely known crack den” with “some very serious remediation issues.”

He expects the issue will come before council at some point next year.

Braithwaite will anxiously await word.

“It’s definitely the No. 1 issue” in the neighbourhood,” she said. “It’s a huge deal. We’re trying to attract great businesses to the downtown and having the Sandbar there isn’t helping.”