Editor’s note: The following press release was forwarded from developer David McGee. It is printed in its entirety for information purposes.
St. Thomas—Claims in a lawsuit filed by real estate developer David McGee allege that City of St. Thomas officials ignored engineering reports and violated a Court order in their rush to tear down the former Sutherland Press Building.
On July 21, 2008, a demolition crew retained by the City arrived at the 105-year-old Sutherland Press Building in downtown St. Thomas, Ontario to demolish it. The city, and various officials claimed that the 4-storey 35,000 sq. ft. solid brick structure was in imminent danger of collapse and a threat to public safety. This was despite McGee’s repeated efforts to save, preserve and develop the building for future use as retail, office and residential space. This was also despite an overwhelming amount of evidence that said that building was sound. McGee is seeking $3 million in actual damages and further sums in punitive damages from the City of St. Thomas and various city officials, including Mayor Cliff Barwick.
McGee, who has been active in developing property in Ontario for 25 years, purchased the building in 2003 after receiving an engineer’s report that the one-time home to the Sutherland Press was structurally sound. Before he began renovation work, however, a series of other developers expressed interest in acquiring the property, so McGee put his plans on hold while exploring those options. In May 2008 following inspections by the former Chief Building Official of St. Thomas, and an engineer retained by the City, St. Thomas City Council and Mayor Barwick held a closed door session to which McGee was not invited and of which he was not informed. During that meeting, they declared that the Sutherland Press Building represented a threat to public safety and agreed to proceed with the building’s demolition, without further notifying McGee or trying to find a less dramatic resolution.
On finally discovering the city’s demolition plan that June, McGee retained an independent engineer, to conduct another evaluation of the building’s structural integrity. After an extensive survey, the independent Engineer confirmed that there was no immediate danger to the public, as long as McGee undertook some minor renovations before the onset of winter. Unfortunately, City officials ignored this engineer’s conclusions, as well as those of two other independent structural engineers that McGee subsequently retained to study the building. Instead, the City began demolishing the building 15 minutes before a scheduled meeting between City Officials and McGee’s legal representatives was to take place.
According to the lawsuit, city crews continued demolition work on the historic building for several hours after being notified of a ‘stop work’ court order. Moreover, McGee was denied access to his property for a further 10 days, causing further damage as the building was left exposed to the elements.
Ultimately, an Ontario Ministry of Labour engineer reached the same conclusion that all three of McGee’s experts had reached months earlier: the building did not need to be demolished. In December, the City of St. Thomas finally granted McGee a permit to go ahead with needed repairs, and the remedial repairs were completed at a cost of less than $50,000. By then, McGee points out in his suit, the city had already spent $154,000 of City funds on the demolition and decreased the value of the building in the process.
The building now remains in its partially demolished state – a scar on the main thoroughfare of St. Thomas. McGee is hopeful that upcoming municipal elections may bring new leadership with visions of revitalizing and restoring the downtown. “In filing this suit I hope to hold City officials responsible for their actions.” McGee says. “At the very least, I would like to ensure that they are less cavalier in their future behaviour, and think twice before acting so recklessly in destroying the City’s heritage and trampling over the interests of both St. Thomas taxpayers and business owners. My ultimate goal is to ensure that nothing like this can happen again. I am looking forward to working with new civic leadership after the election on the revitalization of our downtown.”
For further information, please contact David McGee, firstname.lastname@example.org
or (416) 625-1112.