The owner of Somerset House, the ramshackle building at a landmark downtown intersection, says he wants to demolish it and construct something that reflects Centretown’s heritage.
“We want to tear down the building and build it how it looked,” Tony Shahrasebi said Friday of his property at the southeast corner of Somerset and Bank streets. “It’d look brand new, but old. It will last another 150 years.”
For years, and even up until recently, Shahrasebi has maintained that he wants to keep what’s left of the building for a redevelopment of the property. He has gone along with council’s wishes about keeping what’s left of the heritage-protected building, which was the home to the Duke of Somerset pub, after a partial collapse in 2007 during a construction project in the basement.
Council has accepted architectural concepts for a redevelopment, but there hasn’t been major work on the property to bring the drawings to life.
Shahrasebi, who also owns other properties around the downtown, said Somerset House has become a money pit and the only way to go about redeveloping the property is to start from scratch.
“Structurally, it won’t do the job,” Shahrasebi said. “It’s a building built for the old times, not today.”
He has battled with the city ever since the collapse. First, there was a legal fight; now, it’s a heritage and property standards battle. Heritage advocates warn about Somerset House falling victim to “demolition by neglect.” Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents Centretown, has called on the city to expropriate the property to stimulate a heritage-sensitive redevelopment, but opponents of that idea fear it would lead other heritage property owners to do nothing with their fixer-uppers.
The commercial building dates back to the 1890s. Parts of the building have been torn down, leaving a run-down brick cube at a high-profile downtown location. There has been renovation work on the interior of the building, but not near enough to start leasing spaces. Finding an anchor commercial tenant has been a challenge for Shahrasebi.
According to Shahrasebi, he has lost about $15 million on the building, factoring in legal costs, building costs and lost rent.
His new vision is constructing a replacement building that looks exactly like the Somerset House from its glory days, just maybe a bit taller.
“If I can keep any of the (heritage) elements, I will,” Shahrasebi said. “That’s the easiest way of doing it, to make it work faster and to build.”
Shahrasebi is scheduled to meet with the city at the end of the month to discuss the status of the redevelopment and winter protection of the existing ruins.
The city is threatening to winter-proof the building and bill Shahrasebi if he doesn’t do the necessary work by Dec. 7. Shahrasebi said he winter-proofs the building each season, including heating the inside.
The city also wants Shahrasebi to restore the heritage attributes by April 30, 2019.
Heritage Ottawa has spent years advocating against "demolition-by-neglect", a major issue in the preservation of heritage properties. The City of Ottawa passed a Property Standards By-Law in 2013 which includes specific protection for heritage properties suffering neglect. Heritage Ottawa will continue to advocate for the enforcement of this By-Law.
Heritage Ottawa Opposes Demolition by Neglect of Somerset House | June 30, 2016
Heritage Ottawa Supports Stronger Measures to Save Somerset House | September 18, 2018