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Louie Santaguida on why James Baptist has to come down now 0:48

A Toronto-based developer hopes to begin demolition of two-thirds of one of Hamilton’s historic downtown churches in the next month.

Stanton Renaissance cleared its first hurdle toward demolishing the back portion of James Street Baptist Church Wednesday when the city’s heritage permit advisory committee gave its approval.

If all goes well, president Louie Santaguida said, he’d like to have crews on site in “the next three to four weeks.”

“It’s a historic moment for downtown Hamilton,” Santaguida told reporters after the committee meeting Tuesday.

“I’m elated with the fact that the subcommittee voted in the right direction. It’s a pivotal and crucial point for this part of Hamilton.”

James Baptist

This conceptual drawing, still in draft form, shows future plans for James Street Baptist Church. (Stanton Renaissance)

Built in 1878, James Street Baptist is part of a row of downtown heritage buildings that includes the Pigott Building, the Sun Life building and St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church.

Santaguida plans to demolish two-thirds of the building and replace it with an $80-million condo and mixed use development. He presented a revised plan Tuesday that included retaining the church’s east tower.

The building is crumbling and unsafe, Santaguida’s team told subcommittee members. It’s so bad, he said, that the subcommittee should approve its demolition right away before it collapses.

Subcommittee member Joseph Zidanic wasn’t so sure.

“What I’m hearing consistently and consecutively is that demolition or collapse is imminent,” he said.

“If anything happens, I suspect it will happen by virtue of neglect or by virtue of some mechanical intervention.”

The committee voted 4-3 in favour of advising city staff to approve the demolition. It was emotional for members, chair Michael Adkins said.

“This is a massive building that’s going to be altered forever,” he said. “It’s not going to be anything like it was.”

But with the congregation gone from the building, it’s now sitting empty, he said.

“The truth of the matter is it’s nice to save old buildings but if nobody’s going to use them, what are you going to do with them?”

Santaguida said the committee seemed hesitant because of past heritage projects that have disappointed. 

"Unfortunately, we can’t live in the past," he said. "Unfortunately, a lot of our committee members are living in the past. We’re developing the future."

The volunteer committee advises planning staff on heritage permit applications. Projects with contentious heritage issues often go to the municipal heritage committee.

But the city’s head of planning will likely approve this one, Adkins said. Then a demolition permit will be issued.

Planning staff will have to approve the design and other aspects of the development. The city will also have access to historic items recovered from the church.