The chair of Hamilton's heritage permit review committee is calling the James Street Baptist Church development plan “one of the biggest decisions” that the committee will have to make, after the church developer proposed to tear down the back of the 135-year-old building. 

“It's going to make significant change to that area,” said Michael Adkins, who is currently reviewing the developer's proposal. “The heritage fabric is significant to the entire corner. It'll be completely different than what it was.”

It was revealed at a city council meeting this week that the developer plans to demolish 80 per cent of the building while retaining the facade. The subcommittee will be visiting the site on Oct. 9 as well as asking for another peer review of structure before advising city staff.

“This is a big step. We are being very careful,” Adkins said.

Several engineering reports have painted a picture of a historic building that is in “extremely poor condition” — due to damages like rotting roof boards, falling debris and cracking masonry — and recommended urgent action to prevent more deterioration.

“It's the unfortunate reality about the church. It's no longer a church. It's a very nice building that is at risk to fall down,” Adkins said.

The church on James Street South at Jackson went on sale last summer and was later bought by the Toronto developer Louie Santaguida. He did not immediately return CBC Hamilton's interview requests on Friday a.

Market study pending

Drew Hauser, an architect hired by the developer, said his client is currently conducting market research and is considering a mix of residential condos and commercial offices, including a boutique hotel.

"Hamilton is a rather new market for urban renewal," he told CBC Hamilton. "So what is the mix on this site, that's what we are trying to figure out."

The front bay — which Hauser describes as “the part that has the most collected memory for Hamilton” and has the best example of the church's Gothic Revival architectural style — is an almost-independent structure within the overall complex and can be preserved restored.

The developer is also considering making room for a publicly accessible space between the front bay and the commercial space that will be built behind it, he added.

“So the public can have access to this heritage asset without it being a religious institute and it really does become part of the downtown,” he said.

Adkins said that the committee would like to see the market study before advising the city on the fate of the local icon.