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

In the next month, the historic James Street Baptist Church will start to come down.

Developer Louie Santaguida applied for a demolition permit last week to raze the back two-thirds of the building. If the process goes as planned, the demolition — or as he calls it, "the preservation" — will start in March. He’s just waiting for a go-ahead from the city.

“Work will be happening within the next three to four weeks,” he said. “We are securing the site for preservation.”

Santaguida’s Stanton Renaissance plans to retain the front facade and east tower of the building and replace the rest with an $80-million condo and mixed-use development. The 1878 church is part of a row of downtown heritage buildings that includes the Pigott Building, the Sun Life building and St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church.

The demolition is a sore spot for heritage lovers. While Santaguida’s team insist the building is beyond repair, the city’s heritage permit review subcommittee voted narrowly to recommend that staff allow its demolition.

“What I’m hearing consistently and consecutively is that demolition or collapse is imminent,” subcommittee member Joseph Zidanic said in October.

James Baptist

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

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

At the time, subcommittee members cited projects in Hamilton where historic buildings have been demolished and nothing built in their place.

"Unfortunately, we can’t live in the past," Santaguida told them at the time. "Unfortunately, a lot of our committee members are living in the past. We’re developing the future."

Santaguida applied for the demolition permit on Feb. 12. The time period for reviewing a permit is typically 20 working days, said Debbie Spence, city communications officer, in an email.

The demolition will be contingent on Santaguida fulfilling the heritage permit, which involves saving the heritage parts of the building. Crews have already removed the 1939 pipe organ, which took six weeks to dismantle and store in Niagara.

Santaguida hopes to firm up designs for the project by summer, with construction to begin later this year. He already has interested tenants, he said.