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Heritage to some, eyesore to others Add to ...

They're not cute and they're not being used.

Even Lloyd Alter admits the strip of 41 old buildings in Brantford, Ont. that his organization - the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario - and others have pledged to save is a bit of an eyesore.

But even uglier, activists say, is the fact that federal stimulus cash is earmarked to demolish the buildings, some of which predate Confederation.

"We're in the middle of a [game of]political football," said Mr. Alter, president of the ACO, which opened a branch in the Southern Ontario city last weekend to protect the buildings.

The City of Brantford is to get $1.38-million of stimulus money through the Southern Ontario Development Program, which is meant to drive local economies in that part of the province.

The city doesn't have the funds just yet, says Mark Littell, the Brantford city councillor heading the demolition. Officials had to rush to complete an environmental assessment that considers archeological, environmental and heritage impacts.

That process is now complete, says Sandra Lawson, general manager of engineering and operational services, and will be submitted to the government. If the report is approved, she says, the city will get the cash and swing the wrecking ball as soon as next week.

The $1.38-million more than covers the demolition, to be completed by local contractor AIM Environmental, which bid $1.254-million for the project, says Mr. Littell.

But despite the assessment, activists say heritage aspects are being ignored. The case also highlights how stimulus money can be used in negative ways, says Natalie Bull, executive director of the Heritage Canada Foundation.

"Brantford is a big wakeup call about the downside of stimulus money," she said. "If we are not vigilant, it can fund crimes against heritage and the environment - like sending landmarks to the landfill."

The Ontario Ministry of Culture and Tourism has tried to intervene, asking for a full heritage evaluation under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and that the evaluation be reviewed by the ministry before demolition.

The city answered, wondering whether it was in the province's jurisdiction to ask for a review.

Even federal parties have expressed concern. NDP Heritage and Culture critic Charlie Angus wrote to Minister of the Environment Jim Prentice last Friday saying it is "questionable as to whether this mandate is being met if federal tax dollars are being used to send a historically significant neighbourhood to the landfill site."

But the site is only historically significant to some. The buildings, built before 1870, are not designated heritage sites. Last October, the city's heritage committee asked for a designation, but the request was declined, says Mr. Littell. Around the same time, council unanimously decided to apply for the federal funds.

Mr. Littell wonders why interest in the buildings' heritage has come "at the 11th hour and 59th minute."

They have sat derelict for three decades and have become a fire hazard. Crews are removing asbestos and old paint to prepare for demolition, he says. "We had 30 years for anybody to come forward with that aspect."

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