Architecture

Open Letter to Council: Call for Action on Royal Connaught

If the dereliction of the Connaught continues unabated, council should consider expropriation and resale to a developer who fully appreciates the building and has the wherewithal to redevelop.

By Matt Jelly
Published March 22, 2010

Mayor Eisenberger and Hamilton City Council,

I'm writing today to urge your immediate action on downtown Hamilton's historic Royal Connaught Hotel.

Royal Connaught Hotel (RTH file photo)
Royal Connaught Hotel (RTH file photo)

As some of you know, I've recently started a citizens group called By-Law Crawl. We focus on vacant and derelict properties, primarily in the downtown core, documenting serious infractions on these properties and forwarding those infractions to appropriate By-Law Enforcement.

We meet on the first Saturday of every month, and our third By-Law Crawl event takes place on April 3rd, and I'll be forwarding more specific information on this event to all members of council later this week.

We have already forwarded a number of infractions we've found at the Royal Connaught. On the first Crawl event, we found a ground-floor entrance open to trespass, as well as a number of broken windows, and the rather large pile of debris in the back lot.

Since then, we've continued to monitor the condition of the property, and forwarded subsequent complaints to staff. I'm glad to say By-Law staff (particularly Glyn Wide) have been responsive to our concerns, and are following up these complaints, working with the owners to mitigate some of the problems we've identified.

But this is a long-term problem that needs a long-term solution. The damage continues daily - and our group only reports what we see from the outside.

To me, it indicates that there are also serious problems inside the building. The public needs some assurance that the City is doing everything in its power to prevent any further damage from occurring.

The Royal Connaught is currently not designated as a heritage building. I want to urge council to fast-track the heritage designation currently being considered by staff.

This building is a crucial part of our community, and the owners need to understand their responsibilities. It needs to be made clear that their eventual plans for the property must include a restoration of the building.

If this dereliction continues unabated, I believe council should consider expropriation and resale to a developer who fully appreciates the building and has the wherewithal to redevelop.

I know this approach can't be taken with every building; but in this case, if the owners continue to ignore their responsibilities, it's the only option we have left.

We can't allow these owners to make their private holding a public problem - we shouldn't have to intervene the same way we did with the Lister: too late. We should be clear with the owners that they can't let the Connaught decay to the point that only public funds can save it.

I urge you to do the right thing. The citizens of Hamilton are not prepared to sit and watch as another amazing heritage building sits degraded by a group of speculators who don't have any interest in redevelopment unless it includes public funds.

Council has a responsibility to act now before it's too late.

Thanks for your time,

Matt Jelly
www.bylawcrawl.ca

Jelly is a local artist, graphic designer and map maker living in Downtown Hamilton, Ontario in the Central Neighbourhood. Matt is an advocate for built heritage, toxic waste eradication and the revitalization of downtown Hamilton. www.mattjelly.com

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 16:27:13

As I said in the "Where are the Goal Oriented Leaders" thread. Politics is not a good guy's game. This city needs to start taking a "s%#& or get off the pot" attitude with what you have accurately described as speculators Matt. This city needs to start taking extraordinary measures with the full slate of tools available to it (and perhaps even consider some more) in order to force the development this city has been waiting for to happen. If said speculators want to continue to sit on buildings until they finally crumble from neglect the city must step in and simply seize the properties back.

I have a firm belief that you teach people how to treat you and that goes for people, groups, cities, etc... Through a unique personality that combines: pride, hope, low self esteem, desperation and a dash of hopelessness, this city has taught people to treat it like a door mat. It is time for that to change and standing up and taking the type of stand you propose here would be a good start.

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By MattJelly (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2010 at 21:29:56

I also sent a separate message to Tony Battaglia, part owner of the Connaught, and he responded- partially blaming the condition of the property on Hamilton's homeless, claiming the City "chickened out" of the proposal to convert the Connaught to a residential use, and suggested that I patrol the building myself to ensure that the damage doesn't continue. Unbelievable, but at the same time, not surprising.

The entire discussion can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/notes/the-royal-...

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2010 at 21:33:37

suggested that I patrol the building myself

So typical of Hamilton's mollycoddled speculators: If you're that upset over us breaking the law, you should provide free security for our buildings so we don't have to. You know, while we wait for the City to give us free money to invest in our own property.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 22:33:10

Perhaps if Mr. Battaglia and his partners paid property tax on the Connaught at the same rate that others pay on their occupied properties, the city could afford to police the downtown a bit better.

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By kathy (registered) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 22:50:30

By the looks of things by the end of all this we're going to have a dozen or more stadiums downtown.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 22:58:17

Perhaps if Mr. Battaglia and his partners paid property tax on the Connaught at the same rate that others pay on their occupied properties...

Nevermind the same rate, wouldn't it be nice if they just paid their taxes period.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 23:21:16

That is a pretty lame excuse to blame the homeless, as it would seem that they had no real plan in place to do something with the building in the first place. Why dont they have security roaming the place.

Does anybody have any idea what kind of damaged was done when they were taking out the asbestoes, which they got public funding for that.

As Mr Battaglia is one of the partners up there at Aerotroplis and has received lots in dividends, why would he not reinvest that back into the community and make this place something worthwhile, instead of relying on public funding.

But then these guys, are the ones who have all along called for cutbacks to social services, which leaves many without shelter, food and the means to better themselves.

Why is it ok for corporate welfare, yet when people are on hard times and need to access services, it is a bad thing and the elites are always howling about the taxes they have to pay toward social services.

I would say it is the pot calling the kettle black.

Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-03-22 22:22:28

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By MattJelly (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2010 at 23:44:58

Remember all the crocodile tears these guys shed for lower-income people when they wanted all those taxdollars to turn the Connaught into affordable housing? You can wash them all down the drain.

I would actually be fine with affordable housing in the Connaught. I just didn't see that they deserved $18 Million in public funding when they've been irresponsible with this building since they purchased it, and at the time, had been delinquent in paying their taxes for three years. Joe Mancinelli is a partial owner of the Connaught and we've already bailed him and LIUNA out for the Lister Block- and Joe neglected the Lister Block for nearly 10 years in very much the same way.

Should we continue to reward bad behaviour in this City?

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2010 at 23:56:03

The city should buy the Connaught, convert it into condo units and then offer 99 year leases to the buying public. The city will retain ownership of the property, but it will get more people living downtown and paying property taxes today.

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By Huh? (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2010 at 09:06:19

I've heard the whispers the same characters are now at work on King William.

Appartently, Thai Memory is not having their lease renewed, also Reardon's is not having their lease renewed and they been told by the building owner that the building is being sold empty, and the SkyDragon financing being pulled.

The whispers were from what I'd call a reliable source.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 23, 2010 at 09:37:31

^OMG! Horrific, if true. Why the hell can't they build on one of the many parking lots or derelict buildings? Why destroy one of the few pockets of hope? I can't believe this could happen.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 23, 2010 at 09:49:50

"The city should buy the Connaught, convert it into condo units and then offer 99 year leases to the buying public. The city will retain ownership of the property, but it will get more people living downtown and paying property taxes today." - More roads

The 99 year lease is Singapore's approach. Much can be learned from Singapore when it comes to public housing... and egalitarian political doctrine in general.

For those that are interested, simply Google "Singapore Public Housing Policy" and there are many studies and articles to read.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2010 at 10:37:17

I've been in touch with my councillor and the city's real estate division and they've informed me that the DAC is up for sale, but to their knowledge has had zero interest so far and that Reardon's building is also up for sale, but the city isn't aware of any pending purchase.

Not sure who at the Skydragon meeting had differing info, but at this point it seems to be up in the air and if someone is assembling all that land, a) the city isn't aware of it, or b) isn't telling anyone.

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By MattJelly (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2010 at 10:59:11

The building Reardon is in has been for sale for years now- the asking price is kind of high though- somewhere to the tune of $1 Million. I used to live there.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2010 at 14:00:08

Thanks Matt for putting this out there. It is no secret that the current ownership group has the money to bring this treasure back to life. It has become clear that they are choosing to let it deteriorate. Re, the crocodile tears they shed for the homeless... I concur. There credibility is further diminished by the fact that they stated that they did not know there was asbestos in the building. Thats ridonculous. Thats like saying, "I didn't know my house that was built in the 40s had lead in the solder, so someone please pay me so that I can have the plumbing redone." If you are a world class developer, then act like one.

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By Huh? (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2010 at 20:34:46

I have it on good authority that after 40 years, Paul Reardon has been told his lease will not be renewed. The building owner has been told by a real estate agent the building will sell better empty. That's the word.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 25, 2010 at 10:30:52

The building owner has been told by a real estate agent the building will sell better empty.

If someone's looking for an empty building downtown I think they have a myriad of choices.
There is something up behind the scenes here, make no mistake about it. Buildings do NOT sell better when they are empty. Buildings with multi-decade tenants in the form of one of Hamilton's most famous deli's are a great selling feature, not a hindrance.

And the Vegas line opens on yet another block of our downtown being demolished by our demolishers (I'm calling them that now instead of developers to better reflect what they actually do).

This city really needs a change, not only at city hall but the Chamber and the Hamilton Club and any other creaky, out of touch old boys club that can be found. Our future sucks with these people in charge.

Think of how bad the past 30 years has been. Now fast forward another 30 years with the same nonsense taking place. You think it's bad now, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-03-25 09:32:41

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By MattJelly (registered) - website | Posted March 26, 2010 at 18:28:14

Let's get the Royal Connaught designated as a heritage building.

Sign the petition, and pass it along!

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/thero...

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By lorne (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2010 at 15:18:53

Thanks for the article, Matt. You and the commentators have pointed out many of the problems that have beset the Connaught since its takeover by the Battaglia group, but I don't think the sense of entitlement they and other speculators have will change until there is real change at City Hall, starting with the November election. Unfortunately, however, given the traditionally abysmally low voter turnout for our municipal elections, the chance of attracting candidates with real vision who can unseat incumbents who have never met a developer that they didn't like, seems remote at best.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 27, 2010 at 22:30:29

Those who do not vote are students, low income, renters and immigrants. These groups have been identifed by the Civic League. But how do convince people who have lost faith with a system, that their vote counts for something.

The lectures that the civic league have put on have been insightful and informative but unless all things are tied together, it may not make sense to many.

Those who have the least, need a voice and currently the system is about money and power, those who have, make decisions which affect those who do not have and in most cases, it is not in a positive light.

At the last lecture, one person who is low income had a point of view about one of the panelists and that was that they did not feel that this person was particularily coming across as someone who understood those the struggle. Clearly some people who are more middle class or higher, do not really connect with others who are low income and those who are low income, feel that, as I am sure it goes the other way round too.

It is clear that many who do have, do not want to be with those who do not have, a definite class war. If we are to move forward, these barriers must be broken down.

Anyways, beyond that, given the pictures Matt posted regarding the inside of the Connaught, it is pretty sad to see, how much it is in disrepair. All that history, going down the tubes.

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By Optimistic (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2011 at 16:33:38

"Let's get the Royal Connaught designated as a heritage building. "

Or, let's raise the money to buy it, renovate it and turn it back into a great Hotel.




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