It's a building that has been described as neglected, derelict, a slum and haunted — but to one local heritage developer, there's nothing scary about the former Hamilton Asylum for the Insane.

"The proposition that it’s been empty for 20 years doesn’t scare us," says Steve Kulakowsky, a partner at developers Core Urban Inc.

Kulakowsky wants to turn the Century Manor, located near St. Joseph’s Healthcare’s West 5th Campus, into student housing for Mohawk College.

Not only that, Kulakowsky says he wants to preserve the building's heritage, something the developer has a knack for with previous projects in the Herkimer Apartments, the Empire Times building, the Witton Lofts, and three other heritage properties on King William Street, not to mention the abandoned alleyway project beside the Sirloin Cellar.

'It’s kind of sitting there rotting'

hi-wittonlofts-852

Steve Kulakowsky says he's not deterred by the building's age.

"Century Manor is, as you know, a pretty significant heritage building on the west Mountain. Right now, it’s kind of been derelict. The last time it was used was 1995, mid 90s. Now it’s kind of sitting there rotting," Kulakowsky said.

Whether he and his team get a chance to purchase the Mountain Brow relic is a whole other matter.

Century Manor is one of Hamilton’s oldest buildings and an example of Victorian Gothic architecture. Once called the East House, it was home to a treatment program for alcoholics, a forensic psychiatry program and a school and treatment program for adolescents before it closed in 1995.

The province has declared it a heritage building.

Heritage advocates have accused the building's owner, Infrastructure Ontario (IO), of "demolition by neglect," and were denied access to the building to see its condition. 

Governments, not-for-profits, get first crack at buying Century Manor

However in March, IO decided to put the property up for sale. It will not, however, head straight to the open-market, said IO real estate communications manager Jeff Giffen.

"Per our guidelines and procedures, information on properties that are surplus to provincial ministry program needs are circulated to provincial, federal and municipal levels of government, government agencies, and registered not-for-profit entities, to determine interest in acquiring the property for continued public use," Giffen said. "If any of these bodies express an interest in the property, the property may be sold directly to them at market value without exposing it to the open market."

That would mean 12 hectares of land beside a hospital, across the street from a college campus and overlooking Hamilton's escarpment would have to be passed up by government at all levels, as well as not-for-profit groups, before Kulakowsky's team could get a crack at it.

The condition of the building, its past, and its current reputation does not deter Kulakowsky.

"It's so early days. We’re just saying we’re interested in it. If we’re able to have the conversation, we’ll have the conversation," Kulakowsky said. "We think we’re qualified to fix the building and if there’s no other use from the public’s perspective in terms of non-profits, we'd like a chance to fix it."

As for why he wants to turn the former insane asylum into student housing, it's two-fold.

"We’re interested in it because we support the heritage of Hamilton. We also support purpose-built student housing," Kulakowsky said. Single-family homes keep getting converted around Mohawk College, he said. This project would be "a way of mitigating more single family homes being converted, and saving a heritage building."

IO stressed that "no decision" to sell, or name a price for that matter, has been made. They would not even say if IO has spoken with any prospective buyers.

However Kulakowsky said he has an email chain with the province about the property, that the pair have been in communication for the past two years.

"There are so many buildings in Hamilton that have been lost over time," said Kulakowsky. "It’s a significant building. It has nice architecture. Kids don’t need to live in a refurbished dorm residence. They can live in something that’s innovative and inspired."