Bless the people who go to public meetings.  The mandatory accessory upon entry should be a blood pressure cuff.

The March 29 meeting of the West Harbour Community Conversation was a real teeth gnasher. It started badly and ended like a bunch of dud fireworks.

By my records it had been about four months since the city delivered its last waterfront update and much has transpired. The winner of the Promenade Park design has been chosen, and request for proposals for Pier 8 are in the hands of developers keen to build prime waterfront housing.  But it was soon apparent that the last agenda item called the Status Update on the Discovery Centre building was a festering boil.

Before the attendees who filled the house at the Evergreen Community Storefront on James Street North could find a seat or a pillar to lean against, Durand Neighbourhood activist Graham Crawford was out of his seat demanding the agenda order be reversed.

Having attended over a dozen waterfront meetings Crawford said, “Not once was the Discovery Building in play ever mentioned, not once.”

Since council decided in January to buy out the long term lease on the Discovery Centre and the land around it from the  Hamilton Waterfront Trust for $3 million, the future of the building has been the subject of much hand ringing.

There is a perception that the building is for sale, and that the developers who build the new residential community on Pier 8 will get the first crack at turning the Discovery Centre into something that succeeds, unlike the former marine museum and more recently Sarcoa Restaurant.

Full disclosure, I live in the West Harbour area, and have, since the building of Bayfront Park in the 1990’s, been to dozens and dozens of meetings on the development of the waterfront.

Back to the barnburner on James Street North.

So despite a set agenda that the city’s waterfront boss Chris Phillips said would lay out the“holistic” plan for the West Harbour, and maybe explain the reasoning behind the  Discovery Centre building being “in play”, the agenda was turned topsy turvy and the fur began to fly.

Crawford is leading a charge to see the Discovery Centre remain in public hands for public use. Ideas out there include using it as a library or a city museum. My take is, we already have a big library on York Boulevard, that is shedding books like pine needles in a wind storm. A museum didn’t work from day one, and does a city museum really need to be on the waterfront?

Things really turned all “hockey parents behaving badly” when North End resident Shawn Selway, who wants the building to remain in public hands addressed Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr.

“This improvisation arises out of the fact that the city for reasons that nobody can quite figure out is keeping the waterfront trust on life support.”

Selway’s comments got widespread applause, but Farr, who described himself as a proud member of the waterfront trust shot back loudly.

“Some residents are not happy and never will be.  It’s personal, clearly in a lot of cases, it’s very clear to me now.”

That was followed by moans, groans and a fair bit of shouting from the crowd. Farr later apologized to Selway.

After that row, what followed was a sort of hang dog post script. Chris Phillips said the public will get a look at what developers are proposing for Pier 8 in a travelling road show of public displays in April. Waterfront Trust director Werner Plessl detailed trails to be built on Piers 5 to 7, and other ways the public space might be developed in the future including a waterfront hotel. After Plessl’s update Chris Phillips added that some of those public space amenities may never be built.

Confusing? Yes. Even Farr and Phillips had different takes on when developers will get a chance to express interest in the Discovery Centre. Phillips said the “right of first negotiation” which Farr described as unorthodox could be offered to developers in June after council approves the terms.

It was not one of the finer civic moments I’ve witnessed. But  one has to agree the public is certainly engaged in the West Harbour’s future.

And by the way. The Promenade Park project on Pier 8 was supposed to start in the spring, it’s now delayed until the fall.

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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