On a recent Sunday afternoon ice skaters fill the dinky rink outside Williams Fresh Cafe at the West Harbour. In summer the rink opens to roller skaters, and watching them skate to disco music on a Friday night is one of the best free things you can do in the city.

The ice/roller rink will soon be the crown jewel in the Hamilton Waterfront Trust empire. They’ve shed Sarcoa after the city voted to buy out the lease and put the former restaurant up for sale. That leaves the HWT with the rink, the waterfront trolley and an ice cream parlour in its portfolio.

What is it with enterprises on the waterfront that flounder?  Buffalo struggled for years with big restaurants and nightclubs on the lakefront that opened and closed like a Johnny-on-the-spot at a ribfest.

Before Sarcoa opened at the West Harbour, the building was the landing pad for the  Parks Canada Marine Discovery Centre. It was a dud the day it opened in 2004 with static displays in a world that was quickly going intensely interactive.  It was predicted to be a raging success, so much so, that some folks in the North End feared there would be a steady stream of school busses clogging the local streets. It never happened.

Inside the centre there was a sweet little cafe where the unfortunate owners tried to cook on a jury rigged hot plate, since there was no such thing as a kitchen. Behind the centre, facing the water was a garden full of native plants with a pond in search of frogs. It was carefully designed by Sweet Grass Gardens  of the Six Nations Reserve.

Now where the garden was is the deserted patio of the Sarcoa era. Even the outdoor light fixtures are missing, with their electrical wires swaying in the wind.

The lesson is, just because you plunk something on the waterfront it doesn’t guarantee success.

So now the former Discovery Centre will be bundled with their sizeable parking lots and offered for sale. Presumably that package will be pedalled to the developers bidding on the Pier 8 project.

I think that nugget got lost in the brouhaha over lawsuits and the future of HWT.  Maybe there will be fresh ideas for the Discovery Centre and surrounding land, or maybe there will be stale proposals that we’ll come to regret.

It’s interesting that the West Harbour Community Conversation meeting was postponed from January 25th to March 29th.  Those meetings held on James North update the public on West Harbour projects. The agenda was packed to the gills, with updates on the Pier 8 mixed use development, Pier 8 Promenade Park and Pier 6 and 7 Public Realm Design.  Maybe the city wasn’t ready to take questions about the future use of the Discovery Centre and adjacent lands.

For now the city is directing inquiring minds to their Waterfront Redevelopment web page for the latest updates. The top item right now is a public notice about the expiry of the MacDonald Marine lease. Boat owners are being advised to remove their boats and related bric a brac. As of May 31st the land reverts to the city and the marina, which has existed in various forms since the mid 1800’s is gone for good.

So goes the ebb and flow of the waterfront at Hamilton Harbour.

Kathy Renwald

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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