Latest plan calls for keeping it in public hands, but ongoing issue of funding persists
Since 2008 the public has spent $2.5 million keeping Auchmar together, including about $800,000 from the Future Fund.
If you want to wade into Hamilton’s predicament over Auchmar, now’s the time to speak up.
On Thursday, the public is invited to discuss city staff’s operations plan for the 162-year-old vacant heritage property, which requires up to $8 million in repairs.
The meeting is at the Tourism Hamilton centre inside — appropriately enough — the restored historic Lister Building on James Street North.
The plan calls for keeping the manor and grounds in public hands and adapting it for use by community groups, city staff and private companies who might rent it for weddings, film shoots and conferences.
It’s hoped that the revenue generated will cover the annual operating costs for the property at the corner of Fennell and West 5th — the only city-owned designated heritage site on the Mountain.
The tail in the gate is $6 million to $8 million are needed for capital repairs. Where are those big bucks going to come from?
Don’t forget, taxpayers have already invested a lot of money in keeping Auchmar together. Since 2008, $2.5 million, including about $800,000 from the Future Fund, has been spent on capital projects for the debilitated building.
The city acquired Auchmar in 1999 to save the 3.8 hectare (9.5-acre) property from being turned into a subdivision. Faced with the challenge of preserving the past while trying to make present ends meets, council has spent years chasing its tail on what to do next.
The last four years in particular suggest the city has been trying to bake cookies in a cold oven.
In 2012, staff was directed to complete an operations plan for future use. In 2013, council then told staff to pursue expressions of interest from the private sector. A year later, council ordered staff to fully scout out private sector partners who were interested in conservation and adaptive reuse. While that was going on, staff’s own plan went on hold.
When the two private sector submissions that were received didn’t past muster, council directed staff to get busy again while also seeking out prospective buyers. That parallel train went off track in 2015 when council suspended talks with private sector interests for six months until staff could finish its work.
If that’s not muddled enough, staff now intends to ask council to delay resuming talks with potential private bidders for another six months until it finishes the plan being floated with the public on Thursday.
That brings us back to the nitty-gritty millions needed to fully restore Auchmar.
In October, staff paid KCI Ketchum Canada $38,000 to put together an action plan and list of prospective donors and sponsors for both Auchmar and city-owned St. Marks church on Bay Street, which itself needs about $2.3 million in repairs.
Anna Bradford, director of tourism and culture, says she hired KCI in order to answer potential council questions about fundraising support in the community. In other words, is the necessary financial support out there or will council be forced to either return to the tax levy or finally sell Auchmar?
At this point, all we can say with certainty is a couple of years ago the Heritage Hamilton Foundation set up the Auchmar Challenge Fund in which it committed to match public donations up to $25,000. According to president Diane Dent, the challenge has only raised about $13,000 to date.
Is that a fair gauge of community support? Dent doesn’t think so. She notes HHF has been hesitant to push the challenge until it’s clear whether Auchmar will remain publicly owned. Dent has high hopes KCI will put “flesh on the bones” of staff’s potential plan.
If you want to hear all about it, Thursday’s meeting at the Lister includes two sessions. There’s an informal discussion with staff from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and a formal presentation with feedback from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.