In his State of the City Address Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina cited as an example of a renaissance in Hamilton, the construction boom that is taking place in the downtown core. The Mayor talked about the amount of additional taxes these projects are bringing into the city. The Bay Observer asked Glen Norton, Hamilton’s Manager of Urban Renewal and Hazel Milsome, Co-ordinator, Urban Renewal Incentives to provide us with a before-and-after snapshot of various projects outlining how much tax revenue the city was getting before development and how much the city is or will garner post development. An incomplete list of downtown projects shows that the city stands to gain almost a million dollars in incremental tax revenue.
Not included in these figures is the proposed Royal Connaught development, which if it ends up with 700 units would create over $2 Million in new taxes. Similarly the Vrancor Development project at the old Federal Building site at Main and Caroline with 140 units would produce approximately $400,000 in new revenue to the city. In addition the same properties have yielded about $450,000 in additional education taxes. Hamilton’s Economic Development Department says properties that have received financial assistance from the City under the Hamilton Downtown Multi-Residential Property Investment Program and the Hamilton Downtown Property Improvement Grant Program have increased municipal taxes by $1,373,048
Hamilton’s downtown began to decline in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s –less than 20 years after a massive wave of urban renewal that was designed to rejuvenate the downtown. Dave Blanchard of Wilson Blanchard Property Management has seen many false starts in Hamilton’s quest for downtown renewal over the years. His company was an early risk-taker in the adaptive re-use of iconic downtown historic properties like the Bank Of Montreal, Landed Bank and the Piggott Building. We asked Dave Blanchard why things seem to be finally coming together in downtown Hamilton.
Bay Observer: Hamilton seems to be finally hitting a critical mass in terms of Downtown development. We are seeing several Vrancor developments, the McMaster Medical Centre, a possible new casino hotel complex, a food store in Jackson Square, what looks like a real plan for the Royal Connaught and many condo projects including your proposal for King Street. To what do you attribute this “sudden” change in fortunes?
David Blanchard: There has been limited activity in the downtown since the 2nd CIBC Tower opened at King and McNab in 1990 with the exception of some smaller redevelopments such as Core Lofts (66 Bay St. S.) in 2003, Gowlings in 2005, and Simpson Wigle in 2008.(What’s making the difference today) is the current all-time low interest rates, the gridlock on our roads, and the new perception that the Hamilton Market is a bargain compared to most of the GTA.
Bay Observer: What kinds of development opportunities might be on the horizon—for instance, national chains (Wal-Mart, Home Depot) that are starting to pick out downtown locations for mini stores? Anything like that here?
David Blanchard: There is interest in the core by major chains as you suggest. We have had discussions with Walmart and major grocery chains about the Downtown.
Bay Observer: What do you see as impediments to continued downtown renewal either in the economy or in the area of public policy? Anything we should be worried about?
David Blanchard: The culture at City Hall towards existing building improvements and upgrades and new development must be improved to aid renewal and redevelopment and not to impede it.
Bay Observer: Will LRT be a factor either positively or negatively in downtown renewal?
David Blanchard: LRT if properly thought out and integrated into existing transportation infrastructure would be a positive.
Bay Observer: Any other comments re the future of downtown from your perspective?
David Blanchard: I hope (I am optimistic after 35 years in Downtown business) that the core can attract some major national office tenants to take advantage of our reduced operating costs and taxes and our vibrant cultural scene etc.