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.