A row of historic buildings lining the south side of Gore Park could come down as early as January — radically changing the landscape of downtown Hamilton — unless council moves to protect them.
Wilson Blanchard, a property management company with big holdings downtown, applied for a demolition permit for 18 to 22, 24 and 28 King St. E. on Dec. 4.
City staff can issue the permit by Jan. 9 unless council moves to block the demolition — an unlikely possibility, as council isn't scheduled to meet again until Jan. 23.
However, Wilson Blanchard doesn't plan to go ahead with the takedown until June 1, Robert Miles, a property manager for the firm, told CBC Hamilton.
Miles said the company hasn't tabled precise plans for the redevelopment, and would consider preserving some historical components of the complex.
"We're open to discussions to maintain aspects of the building," Miles said. "It's an open slate, an open discussion."
"There's a war on cultural heritage properties underway in Hamilton," said Brian McHattie, councillor for Ward 1, responding to the application.
He said he believes Wilson Blanchard applied for demolition once they learned the city's municipal heritage committee was looking to register those buildings as candidates for heritage designation.
According to provincial law, that would extend the waiting period for the issuance of a demolition permit to 60 days.
Council, McHattie said, could order city staff to revoke the permit beyond Jan. 9, but he predicted the demolition would be allowed to go through.
"It'd be six moons in the sky for council to protect heritage buildings in the city," he said.
Miles said McHattie's accusation — that Wilson Blanchard applied for the permit in December in response to the committee's moves to protect the buildings — was "incorrect."
"We knew we were applying for permits before it," Miles said.
The filing was the subject of a tense discussion at a municipal heritage committee meeting on Thursday.
McHattie told the committee about what he identifies as the city's failure to protect historically significant properties.
"We as a committee have integrity, but we've had so many buildings drop."
He cited the planned takedowns of the Wilson Blanchard holdings and the Sanford Avenue School as examples of buildings that community members should have been more vigilant about protecting.
During the committee meeting, McHattie moved a motion to preemptively register hundreds of Hamilton properties for possible heritage designation, to allow community stakeholders more time to step in.
"This is a dead-simple motion," McHattie said. "We're not telling people they should be [given official heritage designation] tomorrow."
Before leaving the meeting, he urged members to quit the committee in protest of the city's approach to historical buildings.
"Do we really care about these buildings?" he asked. "If so, what are we going to do about it?"