Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Heroes and Villians

The latest chapter of the Ryan Block/King Building fiasco at King street and Bannatyne continues three months after City inspectors were forced to break into the Ryan just to see just how bad Bedford Invesments had allowed the building to become. Today, the Free Press reports (with less apparent sympathy for Bedford Investments, I might add) that the City's Property, Planning & Development department is planning to shore up up the building regardless of Bedford's wishes. They may even muster the cajones to send him the bill.

It is important for people to remember that Bedford Investments has owned the Ryan block for at least the past 17 years. The building got to its deplorable state under their ownership. It wasn't like someone dropped the deed for a crumbling, rotting building on Ken Reiss' doorstep, rang the doorbell and ran away this year; he let it crumble and rot all that time. It went from good to bad because he refused government grants to renovate, and--according to a reliable source--spent fire insurance money from the fire that occured on the third and fourth floor, on paving the parking lot next door.

Even before it got to the poor condition it is in today, and the Ryan could have been viable with a much smaller investment than would be required today (with the help of heritage grants offered to him), Mr. Reiss and Bedford Investments wanted to have the building demolished. They've tried to have it taken off the heritage building list twice in the last three years.

Thankfully, the days of Exchange District property owners like Ken Reiss--the self-proclaimed "biggest investor" and booster--are drawing to an end. A new generation of property owners (most notably Mr. Jorgenson who recently purchased the Royal Albert Arms hotel, and creator of the Demolition by Neglect Facebook group) are making Ken Reiss look not like a booster, but a villian.

A decade ago, many people would have been more sympathetic to Bedford's self-imposed "predicament", or would have seen the Ryan block as small, insignificant, and not worth the effort. Today, more and more people are recognizing the basic idea that in historical neighborhoods, the whole is better than the sum of its parts; that together, every building--not just the biggest, most ornate or historically significant ones--make the Exchange District the place it is. Demolition--even of crumbling "eyesores"--doesn't make historical neighborhoods more enjoyable or economically viable, it makes them less so. A lack of buildings and an abundance of large surface parking lots is bad for business.


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