Rust Belt notions challenged

While the Wynne government has engaged former TD Bank executive Ed Clark to advise on the viability of Hamilton’s steel industry; Sheila Botting, Canadian Real Estate Leader for the consultant Deloitte LLP, sees a “wonderful opportunity,” when she looks at Hamilton’s industrial north end. She has just completed a land use study into the commercial possibilities for the industrial Bayfront area and says the westward growth of the GTA positions Hamilton for a sustained spurt of industrial and commercial growth.

In analyzing the prospects for Hamilton’s Bayfront, the report debunks some perceptions about the area. One example is the belief that there are large tracts of vacant land in the north end. The report surveyed vacancies in the area and says there are only a few scattered and generally small, vacant properties. In fact says the report, “the nature of the steel industry in the Bayfront area… is such that large areas of space are required for outdoor storage…low lot coverage is not necessarily an indication of economic underuse or underutilization.

The report was written at a time when the US Steel bankruptcy is working its way through the courts. Acknowledging the uncertainty, the report nonetheless suggests that the fate of the US Steel lands many very well be continued steelmaking. “The highest value for that land is in the (steelmaking) facilities that are already there,” Botting says, noting that the US Steel finishing line and coke ovens are among the most modern in North America. The report suggests that regardless of the fate of US Steel there is a strong likelihood that someone will continue to produce steel on the property. Still, it is an 800-acre site with only about 200 acres in use, creating an opportunity to redevelop the remainder. The report takes aim at the notion that heavy industry is dead or dying in Hamilton. “The Bayfront will remain an employment area for at least the short to medium and very likely beyond. Significant land use change is a very long-term proposition. The overarching goal therefore should be to maintain a strong position in legacy (steel) sectors while growing and expanding into new sectors”. The better game plan for Hamilton with regard to US Steel lands then, is to encourage a gradual conversion of the surplus land to lighter, more advanced types of manufacturing.

The report makes some interesting observations about Hamilton’s industrial lands. Of all of the industrial parks in the city, including Ancaster and the Airport Growth District, it is the old Bayfront area that contributes the most taxable assessment at $1.16 Billion. The Stoney Creek industrial park is second in assessed value at $810 Million. The report challenges the post-industrial, rust-belt narrative that often is attached to Hamilton and Ontario: “Despite recent challenges, Ontario’s manufacturing sector is already adapting to changing global economic realities. Manufacturing is expected to continue to constitute a significant part of Ontario’s economic output and employment. With low-cost manufacturing moving to low cost countries, Ontario companies with innovative technologies and highly skilled workers will have an opportunity to increase their specialization in high value‐added manufacturing activities to enhance their export potential.”

Recommendations

Throughout the report the theme is a gradual metamorphosis towards higher, cleaner industrial uses for the land while continuing to encourage the legacy heavy industries. The first step is to establish a vision,

the report says. “The vision needs to work towards shifting the dominant misperception of the Bayfront as a declining industrial area and re-establish the location as a significant economic development opportunity. The vision is also required to correct current misperceptions about the economic base, the state of the industry, the Hamilton Port and the many constraints that need to be overcome to increase development.” While the report talks about correcting misconceptions it also acknowledges increased efforts need to be made to improve the view of the industrial landscape from the Skyway.

The report urges the city to invest in developing and servicing the Airport Employment District and other greenfield employment lands as quickly as possible, noting that there are many industries who will never settle in a brownfield site. The other reason is that as the greenfields fill up, there will be more pressure to redevelop the brownfield sites.

The report suggests development will take place more quickly if the City owns some of the property in question. It also recommends programs be developed to remove some of the uncertainties around clean up and decontamination of the properties.

Finally, a key recommendation is the establishment of a local steering committee to guide the process of promoting the Bayfront lands. In addition to political and community representation, the committee will “absolutely need people who understand industrial real estate,” Botting told the Bay Observer.

Written by: John Best

Providing a fresh perspective for Hamilton and Burlington

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