The future of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust may finally become clearer after next Wednesday’s meeting of Hamilton City Council. Some members of council, including Clr. Brad Clark thought they would get answers on the future of the organization at Thursday’s Audit, Finance and Administration meeting, but a last-minute letter from the Law Firm Ross and McBride was produced for in-camera discussion, and that seemed to scuttle the agenda items that were planned to explore the agency’s finances and future.
There was a valedictory tone as Hamilton Waterfront Trust Executive Director Werner Plessl provided an overview of the work the HRT had accomplished in its 21-year history—pointing to the many capital projects that were developed by the organization. In all, Plessl said the HWT had developed over $40 Million in trails, amenities and capital works on behalf of the city. He told the committee that with major capital works completed, the future going forward would be a much more modest operation, essentially maintaining the restaurants, trolley and skating rink.
Clr. Clark wondered where was the strategic plan for the organization, prompting and exchange with Clr. Jason Farr, who was the former chair of the HWT.
Councillor Farr told the Bay Observer that there will likely be some further public word after next week’s council meeting, but the fact that the confidential lawyer letter rendered discussion of the HWT’s future moot, fuels speculation that Hamilton may be seeing the end of an era at the waterfront.
The HWT was established in 2001 with a $6 Million endowment to develop trails and recreational amenities, and as the Plessl presentation indicated, ended up leveraging over $40 Million in capital projects. The agency was widely praised for turning the west Harbour and the Beach strip into popular people places. The criticism came, in response to the agency’s opaque management and reporting style, which included lawsuits, a construction accident, a negative audit finding and suspension of its charitable status.