Financial statements issued by the Hamilton Waterfront Trust show the agency continues to struggle to survive as a going concern. This, despite a revenue-producing contract with the City to oversee aspects of the Pier 8 development and the Bayfront Rink. Audited profit and loss statements for 2014 and 2015 show the Trust broke even in 2015 but showed a loss of $840,000 in the previous year largely as a result of writing off the investment in the Harbour Queen cruise operation. In the end HWT wrote off the boat and took a hit of over $600,000.
While the HWT broke even on its operation in 2015—activities such as the Williams Fresh restaurant, harbour trolley, ice cream and skating rink—it nonetheless had to log some losses associated with the drawn-out legal dispute from the Sarcoa restaurant which is suing HWT over a ban on patio music. The 2015 financial statement shows $171,000 listed as bad debts—presumably the suspension of rent payments by Sarcoa –and another $108,000 that the Trust has spent on lawyers fighting the Sarcoa matter.
Founded in 2000 as part of a settlement of a lawsuit between the City and the former Hamilton Harbour Commissioners, the Waterfront Trust started out with $6.5 bank account and a mandate to extend waterfront trails In Hamilton. The bulk of the trail construction and capital investment took place on the Beach strip and confederation park in Ward 5, represented by Chad Collins who for a decade was also Chair of the Waterfront Trust. Some of the $6.5 Million endowment went to the development of the trails leveraging grants from the City, the Provincial Waterfront Trail Authority and Federal infrastructure funding. The Waterfront Trust also invested in leasehold improvements to the Williams Fresh Coffee Pub and the former Discovery Centre.
But nearly $3 Million of the original endowment has been eaten up with red ink on the HWTs operations. Since 2002 the Trust has only been profitable in 5 of 14years. Its biggest hit was the aforementioned Harbour Queen cruise ship venture which resulted in the $600,000 write-off plus a $200,000 repair bill in 2010. Despite its financial track record, the Hamilton Waterfront Trust is stubbornly supported by the council members who sit as board members on the Trust—currently Ward Two Councillor Jason Farr and Ward Six councillor Tom Jackson, but from its inception under the chairmanship of Collins the Trust has operated as something of a law unto itself. It refused to cooperate with the city Risk Management Department when a lawsuit against the HWT surfaced over a workplace accident. Ultimately the city had to settle the suit. The Trust also thumbed its nose at city building inspectors and started construction on the Williams building without a building permit. City staff have found ways to provide the Trust with a variety of management fees and other contracts to shore up HWT finances, some without reference to council. The HWT has yet to produce its financials for 2016.