Councillor wants heritage grants extension even though developer has no interest in applying

Owners of Gore Park buildings on King Street East say the buildings are in bad shape and have no interest in applying for $1 million in city grant money. They're "collapsing as we speak" says owner

Developers could receive $1.1 million toward restoration costs

The city halted the demolition permits for 18-28 King St. E., a historic row of buildings in the Gore, in December 2013. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

A downtown councillor will ask the city to extend the deadline for heritage grants available to preserve 1800s-era Gore Park storefronts set for redevelopment, even though the owners have no interest in applying for the money.

The city is offering up to $1.1 million for restoration of the facades of the buildings along the south leg of King Street, but the developer says it would take double that to preserve them and he isn't interested unless someone else comes up with the additional money.

They want to keep the facades, fine. Someone will have to pay for that.- Dave Blanchard

"The buildings are collapsing as we speak," said David Blanchard, who is a partner in the development company that bought the buildings in 2000. "They want to keep the facades, fine. Someone will have to pay for that."

It's been a year since Coun. Jason Farr pushed forward an urgent call to designate the buildings historic and halt their impending demolition.

The developers appealed that decision to the provincial Conservation Review Board, which pushes the debate over the properties' status to at least March. And now the buildings are set to head into a second winter with their interiors exposed, their condition worsening. 

The city had pre-approved $1.1 million in grants if the developers would designate the buildings historic. Those grants have not yet been applied for. 

On Wednesday at city council, Farr will push to extend the deadline for the developers to take advantage of those grants up until the end of 2015.

"We're all trying to work this thing out," Farr said. 

Blanchard estimates the restoration of the facades to cost at least double what the city is offering, more like $2.5 million. 

"We don’t want the historic parts particularly  other people do," he said. "Because it’s expensive. ... If someone’s willing to pay to keep it up and fund it, fine, we’ll try to work with that."

'They’ve been sitting there for two years with water running through them'

Farr said the council already changed and enhanced the historic designation grant process in a way that would raise the amount available for the Gore Park buildings to the $1.1 million. The Royal Connaught project also benefited from that change, Farr said. 

Council was "very generous to help the issue along by changing that previous condition," he said. "I think that speaks volumes."

Blanchard toured city officials through the buildings when he first bought them in 2000. 

"We bought the buildings knowing they were a tear-down. Everybody knew that," he said. "Then we nursed it on for another 12 or 14 years. They’ve been sitting there for two years with water running through them." 

Blanchard said the buildings are full of mould and unsafe to send his staff into. When he thinks back, he said, "We should’ve demolished it immediately."

Blanchard said he was grateful to hear about Farr's intention to extend the grant deadline. But he laughed at questions about how soon he might try to restore the facades and comply with the city's historic designation rules.

"They gave us a demolition permit to rip it down!" Blanchard said. "So, I mean, it’s a little schizophrenic."


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