Tivoli owners looking for partner to help develop site's condo tower

The developers say finding an appropriate contractor to restore the theatre and a partner for the tower project has been challenging.

Diamante Investments says the project has not stalled; they will submit for site plan approval soon

A banner announcing the Tivoli Theatre condo project was unveiled in September 2013. (Kevin Gamble/CBC)

The owners of the long-idle Tivoli Theatre in downtown Hamilton say they need help developing the site into a condo tower and are looking for a business partner. 

Berardo Diamante, whose family business Diamante Investments owns the James North landmark, says that despite appearances, the project has not stalled. He says they will be submitting for site plan approval in the coming months. 

Diamante says his company has an approved risk assessment, required by the Ministry of the Environment, and has legally added an adjacent property on Hughson Street to the development's footprint. Now they're facing the major tasks of finding an appropriate contractor to restore the theatre and looking for a partner for the tower project, he told CBC Hamilton on Wednesday.

"We're not able to do it on our own, experience-wise," said Diamante, whose company's previous projects include a commercial plaza, student housing and townhouses. "It's not that we don't want to do the project or can't afford it… We are looking to partner up with somebody on this that has a stronger experience in condo high-rise construction."

The Tivoli was constructed in 1875 as a factory and converted to a theatre in 1908. Between 1989 and 2004, it was owned by the Sniderman family, of Sam the Record Man fame, and fell into disrepair. In June of that year, a south-facing wall collapsed inside the building, pushing debris through an exterior wall.

The city has spent at least $395,455 on the building

The Snidermans sold the Tivoli to the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble in 2004 for $2. Diamante's mother Belma, CEO of the ballet company — a registered charity — sold the building to Diamante Holdings, owned by her husband Domenic, for $900,000 in 2014. 

The building has been the subject of at least $395,455 in municipal grants since 2004, including $300,000 to demolish the collapsed front portion of the building, which included the original facade that faced James Street North, as well as the long lobby leading into the theatre and the washrooms.

(The City of Hamilton's communications department did not respond to several emailed questions for this article on Monday, including a request for a full list of issued grants related to the property.)

Soon after purchasing the building, the Diamantes did some structural reinforcement work and added heating to prevent it from further disintegration, Berardo says.

The Tivoli Theatre was once a vibrant spot on James Street North. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

City already approved a 22-storey condo tower 

Hamilton city council has approved a 22-storey condo tower on the site, on the condition the theatre is restored first. 

Berardo says the environmental work they've done, which was a two-year process, shows some "bad soil" that was filled into the property after a fire "quite some time ago" that will be removed during construction.

He says finding an appropriate theatre restoration expert has been a challenge, and has hindered the effort to find a partner. 

"There's heritage components, and asbestos inside," he said. "We have to get that cleaned without destroying some of the paint. Getting... people in there to even figure out the cost on that has been hard. 

"We're probably looking at $4- to 5 million just to restore the theatre."

'This one is a head-scratcher'

Downtown councillor Jason Farr (Ward 2) says he was surprised to see the long delay after the enthusiasm the developers showed early in the process.

"The proponents sure appeared to be giddy to get going then, and staff and my office went out of our way to make this heritage restoration and preservation project happen," he told CBC Hamilton. "Unlike the vast majority of major projects during this ten-year unprecedented downtown growth and renewal, this one is a head-scratcher.

"My council colleagues and I would sure appreciate some movement, and it's safe to say we speak for a large majority of residents." 

For his part, Berardo says he knows people are eager to see the Tivoli restored and are frustrated with the slow pace.

"It's hard to get people excited, especially those that have watched us for so long, when nothing is happening," he said. "I grew up in Hamilton, and have heard lots of people saying they're building something and then they don't."

With files from Samantha Craggs