Thursday, July 28, 2011

What to do with an old confectionary...

Earlier this year Arch Sturaitis made a presentation at a City of London Public Planning forum, the purpose of which was to find possible uses for the old McCormick's property near Dundas and Highbury. Arch suggested we preserve the facade of the building (although see my comments about facades) along with some interior elements.

The purpose of the building? A Museum of Industry and Commerce (MIC) focusing on London and region's accomplishments in "Manufacturing, Finance, and Enterprise." Arch also suggested incorporating a Science Education Centre, Horticultural Centre, Industrial Textile and Millinery Arts Centre, Gemology Centre, Historical Archive/Museum, Cultural Works Centre, and Research Library for the Arts.

Just for the record, the current status of the factory is up in the air and apparently London's Realty Services Division will be accepting bids for the property sometime this fall. So if anyone out there would like to snap up an old biscuit works and turn it into an MIC, this could be their big chance. I don't know much about gemology centres but I've already pointed out that we need a real museum and we could also use an archive.

I contacted John Fleming of City of London Planning Division to see how far London's got in organizing all this. Not very far. Mr. Fleming agrees that the proposed MIC "would likely fit nicely with the revitalization initiatives and planning underway in the Old East Village." But he added a few questions to ponder. Like, who would own this building once renovated? Who's going to pay for the renovation? Would the finished result generate enough revenue to help pay for itself?

If anybody has the answers, feel free to leave them here.

Update, July 2012: I see no one had the answers. Neither did City Hall. And the tax sale was a no sale. Counsellor Stephen Orser considers this good news and stated in a recent Free Press interview that "we are moving forward." As Counsellor Orser's idea of moving forward is demolition, we can anticipate a vacant lot here soon.

Update, September 2012: A fire has now wreaked havoc in the building. Not surprisingly - after all, that's what happens to lots of abandoned buildings much more worth saving than McCormick's. Remember Locust Mount and Alma College? We can probably expect the fire-damaged section to be demolished even if a buyer is found.

Update, June 2014: I stand corrected. Sierra Construction, a Woodstock firm, has bought the building for $1 and are talking about turning the old building into a seniors' residence.

Update, June 2015: Perhaps someone should bid $2 for Kellogg's?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What a great building. Pity it's not ours.

What an attractive old building. Designed by architect H. B. Sinclair and completed in 1858 in the Italianate style, it was once considered one of the most attractive public buildings west of Toronto. A bell was added in the 1860s and a clock came along in 1897 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee.

It isn't falling down. It's been intelligently renovated. It's actually being used, not neglected. It doesn't have a glass tower protruding from its centre and it hasn't been landscaped with flourescent metal trees. You guessed it - it's not in London.

It's Cambridge's Historic City Hall, once the administrative centre for Galt. In 1981 Cambridge moved its municipal offices to another location. City Council and committee meetings are still held in part of this building, but it was renovated in 1990 to become the home of the Cambridge City Archives as well.

That's right, a city archives, in a community smaller than London (120,000 as opposed to 350,000). In a city that's only officially existed since 1973. In a renovated heritage building, not an expensive, purpose-built eyesore. This building now holds paper records for Galt, Preston, Hespeler, and the modern city of Cambridge. Historic elements have been preserved while incorporating needed changes for accessibility and conservation.

How did they do it? Well, obviously many of the movers and shakers in the City of Cambridge liked their historic City Hall enough to restore it for continued modern use. But an interesting fact is that the renovation was paid for in part by Toyota Canada soon after the company located a plant at Cambridge. I'm not sure what percentage of the final restoration bill Toyota paid, but there's an obvious lesson here for London heritage activists: a corporate sponsor could be asked to alleviate some of the costs in transforming one of our older buildings into a much needed archives.

Gosh, maybe when Toyota finally takes over Ford Talbotville we could convince them they'd like to throw some money around...