Saving BMO building should not come with a blank cheque

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Sometime in the next few months Amherst is going to have to decide what it’s going to do with the former BMO building at the corner of Victoria and LaPlanche streets. It may very well be a case of the head versus the heart.

In this case, the heart is saying the building is a treasured piece of Amherst’s past that must be restored and rehabilitated so future generations of Amherstonians can enjoy an key piece of this community’s architectural heritage.

On the other hand, the head is saying it’s going to cost hundreds of thousands, if not several million dollars, to restore the building. The building is in rough shape. It hasn’t been used for nearly 20 years, and for many of those years it was left to the mercies of the elements and time.

We believe the town needs to be careful when it comes to making a decision with the building. No one wants to see another hole created in the downtown and the building does deserve every effort to try to save it. However, the last thing any of us want is another example of the downtown debacle that was the atrium project of the 1990s – a mess that cost taxpayers a huge chunk of change to overcome and resulted in the demolition of several Victorian era buildings in the heart of the downtown.

Amherst is doing the right thing by asking for requests from proposals for the building. There very well maybe someone out there with a vision on how to take an old building, give it a facelift and restore it to a useful state. At the end of the day, however, if the price tag is too high, or the cause insurmountable, council may have to make the decision to demolish the building. We can only hope that’s a last, worst case scenario and that every effort will continue to be made to save the building.

Amherst has already lost too many pieces of its built heritage. The Bird Building is gone, the Windsor and Black Block buildings and other Victorian era buildings that dominated our downtown streetscape are but a distant memory of the past.

This is one of our last chances to get it right, but it shouldn’t be done with a blank cheque. Yes, we must preserve our built heritage, but only if it’s affordable without threatening the town’s financial stability.



Organizations: BMO

Geographic location: Victoria

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Recent comments

  • Glen
    January 28, 2014 - 17:28

    I think to restore the BMO building in the traditional manner is far too expensive. If it is restored it would have to be self sufficient going forward. Residents cannot afford to pay more taxes. High taxes are resulting in more people choosing not to live in the town. If we are serious about saving our history, an alternative may be to save the facade and construct a new building within the foot print of this building. This may cost more that a new building but would be more economical than spending a million dollars on a building that would not be energy efficient and require high ongoing maintenance.

  • Sharon Jones
    January 12, 2014 - 11:35

    Point well taken about all those tax payer dollars ....BUT council has already made the big decision to feature Amherst's Victorian heritage as its central theme for the centre of town.....and spent close to $3 million in pursuit of that concept with the refurbished Dominion Public Building (new town hall), the new street scape with period lighting, brick walks, and of course Victoria Square. Why spend this kind of money and abandon a perfectly functional town hall (built in 1967 and a good example of mid20th century industrial design), streetscape and town square? So the repurposing of the Bank of Montreal building now becomes more a question of protecting our already sizable investment by insuring that there is something left of our Victorian Heritage to "sell" to visitors and future residents. In 2000, there were 17 Victorian buildings of note on East there are 12, soon to be 11 if the BofM 'goes....that's about 1/3 of our inventory. The answer is certainly not simple, but it is doable....and not for the millions suggested by this writer. Let's get serious and call for competitive estimates for basic structural stabilization of the building...instead of acting on the current estimate which is seriously and provably flawed by as much as a third or more! If Amherst Town Council has the will to turn our town around, they can do so...but they need to think in terms of investing in the future 25 years hence....not just putting out fires today. We need a long term vision for Amherst. Why don't we have one.

  • willie wonka
    December 25, 2013 - 11:04

    good chance to save and reuse the stone for many projects around town such as planters, retaining walls, etc.

    • Honker
      December 29, 2013 - 11:30

      Well that's thinking outside the box!

    • Honker
      December 29, 2013 - 11:34

      Well that's thinking outside the box!

  • BMO
    December 22, 2013 - 15:04

    The building has not been used for twenty years then that would appear to be the answer to the question. Demolish it. At some point Amherst has to realize that buildings are just buildings and they are not meant to last forever. The Bank of Montreal abandoned the Town so why should the Town want to save it. The only solution is for the Town to ask BMO if it would like to restore its old building. It is actually BMO's heritage not Amherst's.