In a story in Saturday’s Whig-Standard (here it is), Mayor Mark Gerretsen offers some thoughts and opinions regarding the apparently imminent demolition of the very lovely Bailey Broom factory building. Well I have a few thoughts on his thoughts.
To bring you up to speed very quickly, here’s what’s going on. The city of Kingston is buying a parcel of land east of Rideau St and north of Cataraqui St in order to pave the way for a Wellington St extension. As part of the purchase agreement the city has required that the factory be demolished by the seller prior to the closing date (my earlier thoughts on this revelation are here).
Okay, here we go.
"The building does not sit in the proposed Wellington Street extension," Gerretsen is quoted as saying. "It does not have to come down in order for the road to be built."
Fantastic. That’s my first thought. This is exactly what I want to hear. In fact I’d really like him to stop talking right there, and act accordingly. Because if that’s the reality, there’s no reason to order the building demolished, is there?
The mayor is ready for that one, though. “The land is worth more with the building gone,” he says.
Which he doesn’t know for certain to be true. It’s often the case in real estate, sure, but not nearly always, and this is a complicated situation. And anyway, when the hell did it all become about money? If the mayor thinks that’s what should be at the root of every decision he makes, we may as well all go home and start reading Donald Trump biographies while the bulldozers rumble into the city.
The Whig goes on to say (and I didn’t know this) that “(t)he city's intent is to buy the property, carve out the path for the roadway, then sell the remaining pieces of land on either side.
So hold on a second. This is what we know so far:
1) The demolition isn’t required for the road to be built.
2) The city intends to sell the land left over after the road goes in.
Which, unless I’m being really slow here, means that if the city were to amend its purchase agreement and take the land with the beautiful Bailey broom factory still on it, it would eventually sell that left-over land, along with the factory. That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? I’m pretty fond of that idea.
And I just don’t see how the mayor can be so absolutely certain that no one would be interested in buying that corner with the factory on it. Now I’m not a rich man (I’m barely solvent is how it feels most days), but I’ve got some not completely mad ideas on how to re-purpose that building, and having spent the afternoon at the Skeleton Park Arts Festival today and I can assure you I’m not the only one.
The mayor has more to say:
"I don't think anybody really understood there was heritage significance to the building. I certainly didn't."
Which is fair enough, I suppose, although I still think someone should have been paying more attention. But even so, and even though I’m no lawyer, contained within that admission from the mayor is the implicit fact that he does now understand that there is a historical significance, right? I mean, read it again. That is what he’s saying.
Trouble is, even if he owns up to the building’s importance, the mayor still doesn’t necessarily care about it. “I think the City of Kingston has a lot of historic buildings we're already responsible for. I'm always cautious about spending money to do that.”
And this is where my head starts to hurt a bit. We’ve got a mayor actually saying now that he doesn’t want to be responsible for historically significant buildings he just discovered under his nose on land he’s about to own. He wants the land underneath the historical building sure enough, so he can order the building of a road. But he would rather the building itself was vanished before his name went on title.
This is a little bit mad, right? I mean this is the man we elected to act in our best interests. To protect what we have, and to recognize what’s important.
The mayor, though – perhaps realizing that we’re going to jump up and down about now and say, “Hold on a second,” in our most indignant voices – closes with this: "I think it's always prudent of us to explore avenues when people bring forward these claims," he says. "If we have the opportunity we should do that. Having said that, we've signed the deal that comes without that piece of property on it."
And this is the quote that bugs me the most. Because in other words he’s saying, “Man, if we had the time I’d really like to look into this, because you guys have made me think. But see, we’ve already made a deal and, like, I can’t change that.”
Which is offensive because I think the mayor must know, or absolutely should know, just how easily the city’s agreement with the seller could probably be changed, even at this late date. Here’s how it would likely unfold. The city files an amendment through its realtor, asking that the factory be left intact. The seller will be thrilled to bits and will happily agree to the change. It’s a good bit of work that will no longer be required on-site, after all, and so probably won’t have to be paid for (and if that’s the case it’s a saving that can be passed along to the city by way of a reduced purchase price).
How is that not an improved scenario? The seller does less work. The city quite possibly spends less money and buys itself time for a little rethink.
Which is all I’m asking. And I don’t think it’s too much.