A discussion over the future of the Discovery Centre at the West Harbour Development Subcommittee meeting Monday opened up questions about the future role of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust. Staff were presenting a work plan that would involve public consultation about possible long term future uses for the building, which has been mostly empty since the demise of the Sarcoa nightclub. The staff presentation confined itself to the future possibilities for the building and its immediate perimeter lands, when Mayor Fred Eisenberger suggested the study should be expanded to provide a more complete vision for the entire Pier 8 area that includes the Williams Coffee Pub, the ice cream stand and the skating rink. When Councillor Jason Farr, who is a member of the HWT, noted that the latter are “Waterfront Trust lands,” the mayor interrupted, saying they are lands that belong to the city that are “managed by the Waterfront Trust.” Farr later told the committee that the HWT is going through a revisioning exercise and that the timing of the mayor’s suggestion was good.
With the departure to Ottawa of the HWT’s staunchest supporter, Chad Collins, and recent social media rumors that Farr is considering a run in the next provincial election, the HWT may be losing influence around the council table. The organization has been running annual deficits for years and has been acting as a sort of subcontractor to the city for various waterfront projects in an attempt to generate revenue. In its early days the city had to settle a lawsuit against the HWT for a workplace accident, that was originally not disclosed to the city and more recently the city had to pay out $759,000 to cover the HWTs costs in fighting a lawsuit over Sarcoa. Last week Stoney Creek Councillor Brad Clark asked the city Auditor-General to consider conducting an audit of the HWT. An attempt in 2017 by then councillor Donna Skelly to have an audit of HWT conducted failed to find a seconder, as the council of the day closed ranks around the HWT.
As for the Discovery Centre, staff are recommending that part of it be leased out to Waterfront Shores who are developing condos on Pier 8 for use as a sales office. This would be a temporary measure as the subcommittee received longer range plans for the precinct. Mayor Fred Eisenberger cautioned that any lease contain a termination clause, in case the City were to be presented with an unexpected opportunity for the facility.