The Sutherland Saga forecast for next week?
Cautious for the next few days.
With the 30-day appeal period having expired this past week and no indication Sutherland Press building owner David McGee intends to challenge the June 28 decision handed down by Justice Peter Hockin that, in essence, the four-storey downtown edifice is in fact unsafe, is that the wrecker’s ball we hear approaching?
Not so fast, advises city manager Wendell Graves who indicated Friday the city is taking a cautious approach at this time.
He advised while no word has been received from McGee or his lawyer Valerie M’Garry an appeal is in the works, it is better to err on the side of caution while seeking advice from legal counsel.
With Justice Hockin having upheld the city’s last two work orders, Graves told City Scope “We want to make sure we work to get that situation remedied, the unsafe building condition. Over the next week or two, we will be working on that for sure.”
With no sign McGee is ready to commence remedial work on the brick facing and the collapsed roof at the southwest corner of the building, Graves reminded “We’ve been waiting since January for them to board up some windows and that hasn’t happened.”
That doesn’t mean the city intends to back away from its intent to demolish the structure that dates back to 1913, but it wants to avoid the messy situation in 2008 when the same Justice Hockin overturned a ruling from Justice David Little giving the city the green light to demolish the downtown landmark.
The photo illustrates the structure prior to removal of the front portion of the top floor, based on Justice Little’s green light to proceed.
“Our objective before we got into this was to demolish the building,” reminded Graves. “We don’t see ourselves putting any funds into propping it up. But we have to be very cautious and we will be cautious over the next few days just to make sure the pathways are clear before we take our next step. We don’t know what more bits are out there that would impede anything. So we want to be careful.”
Graves advised he has had no direct contact with M’Garry or McGee on their intention to move forward with remedial work or what their plans are for the future.
M’Garry, who was in court Thursday and Friday on another matter, was unavailable for comment.
If the city proceeds with demolition in the near future, the vacant lot would still be owned by McGee, but he would have to “redeem the costs before anything can happen,” according to Graves.
AFTER NEARLY A DECADE, ALMA REVELATIONS
The 10th anniversary of the Alma College conflagration next year prompted Ivan Zinn, one of the two teens charged with arson, to come forward and issue an apology in person to members of the alumnae at this year’s annual reunion in May.
Zinn also consented to an exclusive interview with City Scope, which you can read here.
That apology and interview prompted another key player in the Alma debacle to step forward so his voice can be heard after all these years.
Brian Squires was the point man on the Zubick family ownership team, Alma Heritage Estates, which purchased the 11-acre Alma property in 1998. Along with Zinn, he is singled out by many as a leading contributor to the demise of the former school for girls.
Inspired by Zinn’s honesty, Squires stressed in an interview this week the time has come to move forward in a positive direction at all three levels of government when dealing with heritage properties.
“What threw me off about that to be honest, he apologized to the alumnae and to everybody who owned the building . . . But the people’s lives he affected by doing that, including my own, it’s been hell. I can’t even put it into words. But I want to tell him I forgive him. I actually admire him for coming forward and for who he is. And to me, that’s good news. And that’s the kind of things that have to get out there.
“And there has to be a fight with the provincial and federal governments . . . they have got to get involved and help too.
“My argument is, and always has been, why not all the positive things that needed to be done there,” continued Squires. “Why wasn’t there a focus on the positive things. The federal government, the provincial government, the municipal government . . . all these people who want these buildings saved. Why aren’t they working together with people like myself who were trying to do something as opposed to when they step in and say they’re there but they are nowhere to be found. They put up all of these road blocks.”
Squires’ vision for the Moore Street property was to build an entire community, complete with amenities such as doctor’s offices right on site. The concept was to revolve around life leases.
“When you put together a condominium corporation, the builder will construct it and sell the units and a condo corporation is formed at the end of the project. And then the condo corporation maintains it. By having a life lease, the units are bought by the home owner but the builders stay there and maintain it.
“And then what I wanted to do was have the corporation (Alma Heritage Estates) put life insurance on those units. The discussion was on the table. The end result was on their (the owners) passing, the life insurance would pay out the unit and the money would go to the beneficiary and the unit would come back to Alma Heritage Estates. And those units could be leased out or whatever.”
As alluded to in the interview with Zinn, all three levels of government must share in the blame for what transpired over the final years of Alma.
“For any developer wanting to go in there, they have all these restrictions and that needs to be addressed,” stressed Squires. “That was never addressed at Alma College. They put a heritage sticker on Alma College, but what the hell is their contribution? What are they doing to help save this building? You can’t just put a plaque out front and then walk away and not do anything. I learned my lesson there.
“The Municipality of St Thomas, at the time when I went to see them, I should have said we’re interested in buying this – at the time it was under power of sale – and this is what I’m thinking of . . . and if Alma is such a big issue to you then have it go up the ladder (to higher levels of government) and have it come back down and get the province to support you either cash-wise or whatever. The city was not interested in doing that. They were more interested in blaming us for a building that was vacant for 10 years and smashing windows we didn’t smash.”
In fact, not only did the province fail to contribute to preservation efforts, it actually buried a report urging it to do just that. See following item.
What frustrates Squires is new owner Gino Reale was given the green light to proceed with demolition of structures on the property, something Alma Heritage Estates was forbidden to undertake.
“I stopped in there one day to see what they were doing . . . and all of a sudden the church we couldn’t take down was down, this building we couldn’t take down was down and the music building was down we weren’t allowed to take down. To go in there and get that piece of property simply because it’s under duress and the Zubicks want to get rid of it and to buy it as a fire sale so they can get a tax write off, what benefit is that other than buying a cheap piece of property they don’t know what to do with?
“Why wouldn’t they not take the time to talk with me and find out what I did. I spent a million dollars on paperwork and I had the best of the best people working for me. What is he (Reale) doing to move it forward?”
And what about replicating the Alma facade, which was a stipulation of ownership as a condition of heritage designation, challenges Squires.
“They(the city) mandated us to do that. Now that Alma is gone, if somebody goes in there and doesn’t build the facade of the school like they mandated us to do, we would have a recourse, wouldn’t we. This guy (Reale) gets the property and he can do whatever the hell he wants. Exactly how does that work? They put us through hell and high water and now if they do something contrary to what they mandated us to do, it’s going to put egg on their face. How is that helping anybody in St. Thomas, or that property or the recovery?”
While often accused of contributing to the downfall of Alma through demolition by neglect, Squires says nothing could be further from the truth.
“Even though we were managing and looking after the property, I had a responsibility to try and keep it clean. But I also had a responsibility to the citizens of St. Thomas and the citizens of Canada.”
A reference to the fact in 2005 the Heritage Canada Foundation listed Alma as one of the 10 most endangered heritage buildings in the county.
Squires also takes umbrage with accusations Alma Heritage Estates was unable to secure funding for their project.
“How any story could ever possibly come out in the newspaper that we could not get the funding to fix that is absolutely a joke in my mind. Because, with the (Zubick) family, including myself, the amount of money we were all worth at that time, no bank would ever turn us down. It had to do with the owners (George and Jill Zubick), if they’re not supporting their own project, what do you think is going to happen?
“Why would anyone want to get on the project if they’re not going to do so themselves? Once you get it going in the right direction, everybody will get on board. The residents, the alumnae, anybody who ever had any involvement there. But if you don’t have the faith and commitment to do it yourself, why would anyone in their right mind want to jump on board a sinking ship?”
We’ll continue our discussion with Squires next week in this corner.
PLENTY OF BLAME TO SHARE
Continuing on with the role of governments at all levels in the preservation of heritage properties, Ontario sports a black eye in the case of Alma.
In 2011, this corner obtained a copy of an Ontario Heritage Trust report authored by the Honourable Lincoln Alexander specifically dealing with the Alma College situation.
It’s a report withheld from the public for more than two years by former Minister of Culture Caroline Di Cocco and her successor, Aileen Carroll.
In April, 2006 the Executive Committee of the OHT resolved that Alma College, including the chapel, music building and amphitheatre “is a property of cultural heritage value or interest of provincial significance. The report further recommended “the Minister should encourage the municipality to continue to work with the owner, (Ontario Heritage) Trust and Ministry of Culture staff and other stakeholders to find a creative solution to the preservation and adaptive re-use of the property.”
It encouraged the ministry to direct its staff “to assist the owner and municipality by determining if there are any provincial sources of funding, or other incentives that could assist in the stabilization, repair and long term conservation of the college.”
And for more than two years the ministry did its damnedest to ensure these findings would never see the light of day, let alone be acted upon.
It took a Freedom of Information request in June, 2011 by Alma watchdog Dawn Doty to finally pry the document from the steely grip of the culture ministry.
Why would the minister want us to know she should “encourage the municipality to refuse any request for demolition or substantial alteration that would destroy the building or heritage attributes,” as is advised in the report?
So you see, there is a lot more blame to share that what has been shouldered by Zinn and Squires.
You can read the full post here.
ABOUT THAT PARKING SPACE
Squires’ anger at the city extends beyond his many experiences with Alma College. Just ask him about the Sutherland Press building.
“The guy (owner David McGee) wanted to do something and they took his parking away. That’s what that’s all about. At one time they told him, Cox Cabs was going to be leaving (their office on the west side of Moore Street) and he wanted to lease that land for parking for his building. Instead of working with him, the city fought him tooth and nail. Rather than try and save a building, they caused more problems by doing what they did. If you don’t have the parking, why do the build out? This became a Catch-22 situation.”
Will it ever end?
SOME COMFORT IN THIS
When the city last year demolished the 60-year-old washrooms at Pinafore Park and replaced them with an attractive comfort station, the estimated budget was $750,000.
That figure raised a lot of taxpayer eyebrows.
Well, according to the city’s director of finance, David Aristone, the final tab was nicely under budget at $712,352.
A true example of experiencing relief at a comfort station.