Developer to rebuild Lister's neighbour, stack a condo on top

Toronto developer the Hi-Rise Group announced plans on Friday to rebuild the William Thomas Building, which once sat beside the Lister Block — and stack a 16-storey condo on top.

Proposal a sign of 'momentum' in the downtown core, councillor says

Shawn Marr, director of operations with developer the Hi-Rise Group, stands with an artist's rendering of a proposal for a new James Street North condo development that would incorporate the facade of the old William Thomas Building. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

Toronto developer the Hi-Rise Group announced plans on Friday to rebuild the William Thomas Building, which once sat immediately north of the Lister Block, and stack a 16-storey condo on top. 

Shawn Marr, the firm's director of operations, unveiled a preliminary sketch of the development at Renew Hamilton, a conference on the redevelopment of the city's core — an event that took place on the now-vacant grounds of the old William Thomas Building on James Street North.

The 200,000-square-foot development will include both commercial space and resident units. Marr said it's expected to cost around $35 million and said he hopes construction will begin in Fall 2014.

"People start buying condominiums when there is a sense of energy and confidence," said Marr, whose company was involved in redeveloping the Lister Block.

"One-off projects go a long way towards creating that, but multiple projects, like are starting to exist in the city, are creating that energy and that confidence."


A artist's rendering shows the plan to redevelop the William Thomas Building, which once sat immediately north of the Lister Block on James Street North. (Handout)

Councillor Jason Farr, whose ward includes the city's core, lauded the plans and said they represent "momentum" the downtown has gathered of the last several years. 

"When you hear about Hi-Rise... say that momentum is key for their decision-making in putting together this wonderful condominium concept in the heart of our city, that’s just great stuff." 

Farr said city hall is not bankrolling the project, but added the development would be eligible for some of the city's commercial development grants. 

The target market for the development, he said, is "younger people, people who want the opportunity to have a live-work environment in the city of Hamilton, people who are looking for affordability and still a sense of luxury, and people who don’t want to live in Toronto, or don’t want to spend the money to live in Toronto."

'Very different exercise'

Built in 1855, the William Thomas Building came down in 2010 as part of the renewal of the Lister Block.

The Lister Block, built in 1923 and located on the north corner of James Street North at King William, sat vacant for more than a decade before its redevelopment wrapped up last year.

The Hi-Rise Group and the Laborers’ International Union of North America partnered with the city on the project. The city spent nearly $30 million on the Lister Block renewal. 

I can’t imagine anything harder than the rehabilitation of the Lister Block was.—Shawn Marr, Hi-Rise Group

Marr said the William Thomas Building project would involve re-assembling the building's facade — which was delicately deconstructed during the 2010 takedown —"brick by brick" on its old premises and building a 16-storey steel-and-glass condo structure on top.

The reconstruction of the building's facade, he added, will be "much, much easier" than restoring the Lister Block, which involved "total heritage rehabilitation."

"In this particular building, all we’re doing is reconstructing the facade, so it’s very different exercise," Marr said. 

"I can’t imagine anything harder than the rehabilitation of the Lister Block was."


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