Hamilton's heritage committee says it needs more information before offering its approval of a developer's request to demolish most of James Street Baptist Church.

Hamilton's municipal heritage permit review subcommittee, which has only an advisory role, voted Wednesday afternoon to hold off the matter for two weeks. 

It wants another report from developer Stanton Renaissance on what it plans to put on the property and whether it can maintain more of the building.

''What I can guarantee is that the preservation component will be one of the largest to happen in this city.' - Drew Hauser, architect

James Street Baptist is part of a historic group of buildings in the downtown core. Built in 1878, it sits in a row with St. Paul Presbyterian, and the Bank of Montreal, Sun Life and Piggott buildings.

Members also wanted to know more about what would go there, since Hamilton has a bad history of historic buildings being demolished and nothing replacing them, member Diana Dent pointed out.

Stanton Renaissance plans to demolish all but the front portion of the building, and add a "multi-use" building behind the facade, said developer Louie Santaguida.

More information

But the subcommittee wanted to know more, including whether it would be possible to retain the north wall of the church, which is the part that faces Jackson Street.

Santaguida said he has "mixed emotions" about the motion. It will be difficult to come up with a more detailed design without going through the city's planning process.

It could also take months to pull together what the subcommittee wants to see.

He'd like to see, "optimistically," the project start in six months to a year, he said. He estimates it will be an $80-million project.

Heritage architect Drew Hauser urged the subcommittee to trust the experience of the Stanton Renaissance team.

"Trust is difficult," Hauser  told the subcommittee.

"I know Hamilton doesn't have a great past with developments like this, and I can't help that.  What I can guarantee is that the preservation component will be one of the largest to happen in this city. That we can guarantee."

Building crumbling

The building is crumbling, said Grant Milligan, a structural engineer working for Stanton Renaissance. Even since he went inside of it in March, more rubble has fallen from the walls. 

The exterior and interior walls are made of old brick held together by their original 19th-century mortar, he said.

And the two walls have completely separated from one another.

"It's already happening," Milligan said when asked how long before the building falls down.

The subcommittee advises the city on issuing demolition permits on heritage buildings.

Wednesday's meeting was held in the city council chambers because of high interest in the church. About 17 community members attended.