Submission Explains Why Building Needs To Be Saved – Port Hope

In Community, Local, News
A SUBMISSION TO THE TOWN OF PORT HOPE
ON THE OCCASION OF THE SPECIAL MEETING OF COUNCIL
APRIL 11, 2018
REGARDING THE DEBATE AND VOTE ON THE ISSUE OF
HISTORICAL DESIGNATION OF THE 1865 and 1916 HOSPITAL BUILDINGS at 65 WARD STREET (and adjacent) PORT HOPE, ONTARIO

Mayor Sanderson, Members of Council, Representatives of Southbridge Home Care, and Interested Citizens,

Why should we designate?
Because it would be crazy not to designate.
I will explain.

Who We Are
Appreciation of the value, in all respects, of cultural and built heritage has become part of the DNA of the citizens of Port Hope. It is not likely that you’ve had much correspondence encouraging the demolition of the hospital buildings. It’s even less likely that any of those attending meetings on the issue were proponents of demolition, other than the representatives of Southbridge and a few councillors. If council members voted not to designate the historic hospital buildings they would need to have a very good explanation for the citizens of Port Hope, especially the Rod Stewarts, the Rumgays, and so many others who have given generously of their time, talent, treasure, and aspirations to make this town one of the best in Ontario. The citizens of Port Hope are proud of their built heritage and visitors are envious.

The town’s citizenry expect their municipal government to be the guardian of their heritage resources. Public perception on this issue is that you are not fulfilling that responsibility. Many wonder why. Consider also that failing to designate these buildings would risk losing the the goodwill and volunteer efforts of many excellent and very talented citizens who give freely of their time and expertise to further the work of those who have gone before them. Why would they continue to serve without the support of council?
The Business Case
Running governments, big and small, in a businesslike fashion is a popular concept. I’m all for it. So let’s do it. The essentials of the deal that Southbridge is proposing  are that Port Hope should sacrifice valuable historical architectural assets – and all of the future benefits that their continued existence in context would provide – in exchange for a poorly defined benefit package of limited duration. This package  includes the promise, or at least the impression, of millions of dollars, meeting a pressing social need, and increased employment. That sounds like it could be good, but is it? No. Not only is the Southbridge end of the deal poorly defined but Port Hope is required to essentially pay up front with absolutely no guarantees that Southbridge will perform as they say they will. Once council fails to designate it loses its only bargaining chip. Once those building are bulldozed and hauled away Southbridge can do anything they want – including nothing, or even sell off, move out, and build elsewhere. The removal of the heritage buildings from the Ward Street hospital property will substantially increase the market value of that property.  Southbridge is not short of alternatives. They 20 other projects pending.
Some members of council consider it sufficient that Southbridge has said everything will be fine. However Southbridge has not conducted itself in a sufficiently straightforward, honest, or competent fashion to be deserving of such unqualified trust. (This statement is supported in the text below.) It is not likely that any councillor would enter into such a deal in their personal business endeavours. No competent businessperson would. Why then should the town rush into a deal that requires it to sacrifice irreplaceable high value heritage assets and offers questionable benefits to the town with no performance guarantees? Such a deal violates every relevant principal of sound business practice. Again, why?
What’s the rush?
Southbridge has stage managed the current situation and council has rushed and structured the process to accommodate their agenda. Why would council do this?
I believe that all members of council are honourable and are considering the Southbridge proposal and its consequences with the best interests of the Town of Port Hope in their minds and hearts, through the lens of their background, experience, and values. However the process has been unduly rushed with much pressure brought to bear on members of council, committee members, town staff, and concerned citizens. This has created a review process that is incomplete and flawed. Further time is required to better review the Southbridge proposal, its implications and consequences, and to provide opportunity for broader based public input and participation.
So there are some members of council who are are genuinely concerned that Southbridge will make good on its threat to pull out of Port Hope if council votes to designate the heritage hospital buildings. Southbridge is dangling a big carrot, offering it for a very limited time only, and threatening dire consequences if we don’t accept. The circumstances used to rationalize this urgency are all of Southbridge’s design. They show up with a half baked plan rife with deficiencies and a letter from their funding government ministry and demand a decision within days. That’s common strategy intended to panic the other side. It seems to be working for them and against public interest.
Call their bluff.
Issuing a notice of intention to designate will let Southbridge know that the citizens and governors of Port Hope are serious and determined to  take the time required to do their due diligence. Very little weight should be given to Southbridge’s threat to pull out of Port Hope. This threat and their insistence on an immediate decision speaks to the weakness of their proposal. If it was a good one they would not need to employ such tactics. Southbridge won’t go anywhere soon. They are good business people and not likely to act in haste. They have a large investment in Port Hope and are enthusiastic about their future here. Elder care is a hot business. A Notice of Intention to Designate would focus Southbridge’s attention on working cooperatively with the town on the development of a mutually beneficial redevelopment plan.
The Nature of the Beast
Southbridge is a corporation engaged in the business of making money. Their commodity is elder care but their reason for existence is the pursuit of profit. That is the business normal and for the most part a good thing. However Port Hope must be mindful that the actions of Southbridge are motivated by a need to maximize profit. What is said in the heat of promotion and negotiation should be critically scrutinized and challenged when appropriate. I have done that and offer my observations, analysis, and criticisms below.
‘Due Diligence’ and ‘Good Faith’
Southbridge executives claim that they did their ‘due diligence’ prior to purchase of the Ward Street property and that they entered into this purchase in ‘good faith’. In a real world context it is hard to believe that anyone contemplating the purchase of the property would fail to notice the imposing heritage structures there upon. In 2018, in Ontario, and particularly in Port Hope, it should be apparent at a glance that these structures would need to be accommodated in any redevelopment plans. The Southbridge CEO says that inquires were made regarding designation and intent to designate prior to purchase. He also emphatically states that it was always his company’s intention to redevelop the property without retaining the heritage buildings. Due diligence would have required also asking if removal of these buildings would be an issue of concern for the town. Southbridge’s due diligence was deficient at best. They have no cause to cry foul because the town responded to their inquiry regarding a demolition permit with an indication of intent to designate.

Southbridge has made a ‘statement of fact’ to the effect that if the heritage buildings on the Ward Street property are designated they would not proceed with the redevelopment and would withdraw all operations from Port Hope. This is, by any definition, a threat. Southbridge’s intense pressure for Port Hope Council to immediately make a ‘do or die’ decision makes it a coercive threat. It is difficult to characterize such behaviour as “acting in good faith.”

Minor Misinformation, Major Confusion.
Southbridge (and councillor’s sympathetic to Southbridge), continually refer to the 1916 hospital building as “abandoned”, “dilapidated”, “condemned”, and other in pejorative terms. It is none of the above. It is remarkably good condition in all the ways that matter. (See photos in Appendix 1, below.)  It has been left vacant and unmaintained by current and previous corporate owners for their own reasons. Repairs and renovation are required. This is not sufficient rationalization for demolition. The existing care facility on the property also requires repairs and renovations.

Muddling the Message
Southbridge’s redevelopment proposal speaks to the number of new beds it will create and only in the fine print does it acknowledge that the redevelopment proposal only adds one or at most a few additional long term care places. The remainder of the added places are for assisted-living and retirement living. These assisted living and retirement spaces are more profitable for the corporation, as Mr. Macintosh explained.  Thus the need to remove the heritage buildings and completely fill the site is not only to serve the long-term care needs of the community but also to serve the corporation’s need for profit.  The Southbridge proposal is technically accurate in reporting the number and type of beds. The problem is in the presentation and emphasis. Again, it is natural for proponents to overstate their case. It is council’s job to watch for it.

Also the stringent design requirements mandated by the Ministry of Health for long term care units do not apply to other units in the spectrum of continuing care. The existing heritage buildings on the Ward Street property are ideally suited for conversion to residential or ancillary uses with no need to alter the façade of the buildings ‘beyond recognition’, as was dramatically described in the Southbridge presentation on April 03.
Examples of successful adaptive reuse abound. The most relevant one is right across Ward Street, starring directly at the hospital building. Hard to miss. (See photo, appendix 2, below)

When is a Gift Not a Gift?
Southbridge is willing to offer the 1865 house, which served as Port Hope’s first hospital, to the municipality as a gift. Mr. Macintosh is pleased to tell us that this will maintain the building, albeit off site. He fails to recognize that maintaining the building ‘off site’ is not much better than demolition. He ignores the considerable cost, maybe as much as $500,000, to relocate the building and bring it to a useable condition. Never mind that the municipality may not need or want the building off-site. He also failed to mention that by giving the building to the municipality Southbridge would save tens of thousands of dollars in demolition costs.

Keep On Pumping
Mr. Macintosh is proud to tell us that Southbridge will maintain the pump house and “refresh it back to its former glory, whatever that means”. This is an especially good thing, according to Mr. Macintosh, because this pump house is clearly the “jewel” of the three heritage buildings on site. Not so. What is clear is that if the CEO of Southbridge considers the the pump house to be the Jewel then he and Southbridge have no knowledge or appreciation of heritage architecture and no sense of historical significance. However they do realize that keeping the existing pump house and it’s installed equipment will result in major cost savings.

Employing the Employment Card
Efficiency through consolidation is the Southbridge method. That is code for reduced employment opportunities, especially in higher paid positions, as Mr. Mackintosh explained on April 3rd. Even at this late date some confusion exists as to the fate of Regency Manor. So the total number of long term care units and other accommodation units proposed is uncertain as are total employment numbers. At best it seems that current employment numbers will be maintained with no new continuing direct employment opportunities resulting from the redevelopment.

 
To Whom Much is Given Something should be Expected
The redevelopment and operation of the Southbridge property is heavily subsidized by the provincial government. Two thirds of the cost of the construction or renovation of the long-term care facilities are paid for by the Ministry of Health. There are other ongoing subsidies for the operation of the facility including funding for additional hours of work mandated by the Ministry. This is all fair and reasonable. At the same time it would also seem to be fair and reasonable that Southbridge should be expected to temper its ambition for this project and adapt their plans to the constraints of the lot size, the sensitivities of the neighbourhood, and the continued existence and happy integration of the existing heritage buildings. Everyone profits.
 
Respectfully submitted,
A. T. Jenkins
April 11, 2018
 
Appendix
 
1. Photos illustrating the quality and condition of the masonry construction of the 1916 Hospital building at 65 Ward Street, Port Hope.
2. A photo illustrating the recently completed Dr. Powers School adaptive reuse project, also on Ward Street.

Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

Has been a photojournalist for over 30-years and have been honoured to win numerous awards for photography and writing over the years. Best selling author for the book Highway of Heroes - True Patriot Love

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