Downtown Bureau

Downtown Update

Decisions, dilemmas and drive-thrus downtown could demolish our doldrums or derail our developments.

By RTH Staff
Published November 26, 2008

Council Rejects Fare Increase

After twelve Councillors were deadlocked at the November 15 Committee of the Whole on a ten cent HSR transit fare increase, Council met again last night for a final vote on fares.

Council deadlocked again with eight votes in favour and eight against. Mayor Eisenberger proposed as a fallback to raise fares by just five percent. Demonstrating once again that a good compromise leaves everyone mad, Council couldn't muster the votes to pass this increase either.

Now that Council has rejected increasing the burden of HSR operating costs on transit riders, they have to decide how to balance the transit budget. To put it bluntly, this will require either increasing the transit tax levy or cutting service.

As council has also repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to increase the burden of HSR operating costs on ratepayers (for example, by refusing to open up the area rating debate), that seems to leave only the option of somehow finding savings in the HSR operations itself.

Essentially, Council is deadlocked on whether to raise fares or raise the transit levy, with half supporting one and opposing the other, and the other half opposing one and supporting the other. The votes generally reflect the urban / suburban-rural split among councillors in our amalgamated city.

Stay tuned to see how this story develops.

City Rapid Transit Update Meetings

The city's Rapid Transit office is holding two public meetings in December to provide an update on the rapid transit initiative.

First Meeting

Second Meeting

A presentation will begin at 6:30pm. The same information will be presented at both meetings.

Right now, Council's position is that Metrolinx should pay 100 percent of the capital cost. Metrolinx has indicated that this isn't realistic, though they are prepared to pay "the lion's share" as Metrolinx Chair Rob MacIsaac recently told the Spectator editorial board.

Essentially, Council is telling Metrolinx: light rail is so critical to Hamilton's revitalization that you need to pay for it; but we're not prepared to commit any of our own money to make it happen. That simply isn't a reasonable position to take.

Now, this may merely be an opening position in the city's negotiations with Metrolinx, but if Council intends to stand on this position, it will actually hurt Hamilton's chance at getting provincial LRT money.

Staff (and council) need to hear from Hamiltonians that we are willing to put up some of our own money toward this if that's what it takes to make LRT happen.

Metrolinx has indicated that it expects the city to put up around 15 percent of the total. Now, public works staff have estimated that the east-west B-Line could cost $650 million (though this is for separate lines running on Main and King Streets). 15 percent of that is just under $100 million, which the city would have to amortize through its capital budget.

Essentially, the city borrows its capital budget, and then services its debt from operating revenues. For the next couple of years, the capital budget is constrained by the big financial shadow still being cast by the RHVP construction, but that will start to ease by, say, 2010 (though planned expansion to the Woodward water treatment facility will put new pressure on the capital budget very soon).

Here's a back-of-the-envelope capital outlay schedule for LRT:

Potential LRT Budget Schedule
Year Budget (millions)
2010 $10.0
2011 $20.0
2012 $30.0
2013 $37.5
Total $97.5

The city's upcoming information meetings represent an important opportunity for citizens to communicate to public works staff that the city must be willing to put in a small share of the capital costs for the east-west LRT line, particularly given that the expected increase in commercial tax assessments will be so impressive.

King West

As the Fortinos on Dundurn puts the finishing touches on an in-store pharmacy, the neighbouring Shopper's Drug Mart is moving kitty-corner to the Harvey's plaza on King at Dundurn. The new location will be smaller but will include a drive-thru pharmacy - because we need more drive-thru businesses in Hamilton.

Apparently the old G.P. Grumpy's building at 470 King St. W. has been bought by a new investor who plans to renovate the upstairs apartments. No word yet on what they plan to do with the storefront.

Also on King, the King West BIA heard from businesses between King and Dundurn at a meeting to discuss whether to expand the boundary of the BIA farther west. Currently the BIA runs on both sides of King from Caroline St. to Queen St.

Jackson Square

The mall, that is, not the album.

The new People's Jewellers at Jackson Square is open. This is a business that located in JS once, then closed, and has now returned. Is this a sign of more good things to come?

The new Food Court expansion is also progressing, and the draping that until recently hid it from view has been removed. Instead of a food court, Yale Properties should convert it into a badass Roller Derby rink, though they'd probably have to wrap the load-bearing pillars in padding to appease their insurance provider.

And Then There Was One?

Heading east, the city is now the proud owner of Maxim's strip club at 95 King St. E. CityHousing Hamilton, the city's public housing bureaucracy, plans to convert the Gore Park property into public housing. The Maxims building is next to the recently-constructed Gore Building, which also provides subsidized housing.

In a way, it's a shame the city plans to shut down the strip bar. Absenting squeamishness, this could provide an important revenue stream to help offset pressure to raise property tax rates...

Maxim's is one of two remaining "gentlemen's clubs" in the Hammer. The other is the ever-classy Hamilton Strip on Barton St. E.

Centre Mall Turns its Back

The new Centre Mall is coming together, and just as we feared, the buildings on Barton St. have their backs turned to the sidewalk, presenting only blank rear walls.

Centre Mall big box store from Barton Street (Image Source: Flickr)
Centre Mall big box store from Barton Street (Image Source: Flickr.com)

Maybe it was just too, I don't know, radical to expect a real urban development in poor old Hamilton. But would it have been too much to ask for the buildings on Barton to be flipped around and open onto the sidewalk with vehicle access from the rear? The Barton streetscape would have been so easy to do properly - even a bland stucco facade would have been acceptable.

Instead we're stuck with a development that actually looks ashamed of its surroundings, including the vibrant Ottawa Street commercial district.

We're tired of the diminished expectations in this town, the self-fulfilling sense that we should be grateful for whatever scraps fall our way. The blank rear walls of one-storey stores hiding from Barton Street are just not good enough.

Aerotropolis: Will it Fly?

Aerotropolis: Will It Fly? - Hamiltonians for Progressive Development (HPD) are sponsoring a night of straight talk about the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) planned urban boundary expansion around Hamilton International Airport.

The AEGD has met with resistance from the Province. Concerns about fuel costs, climate change and the loss of foodlands don't appear to have been considered. This plan also dismisses the possibility of re-using older industrial areas along Hamilton's bayfront.

This meeting, hosted by HPD chair Michael Desnoyers, will let you find out WHERE the lands in question are, WHAT the current status is, WHO the stakeholders are and HOW you can voice your opionions and concerns over the 'Aerotropolis' plan.

with files from Citizens at City Hall (CATCH), Jason Leach, Ryan McGreal and Trey Shaugnessy

24 Comments

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By mark2 (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 08:36:22

In what possible way can a meeting in Mount Hope regarding the Airport Emplyment Growth District be considered a Downtown Update? Is there a guest editor from Metroland for this edition?

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 09:16:35


Re Maxims Strip Club

This is just what the downtown needs - more welfare housing in the downtown core (or in all of Hamilton for that matter). And you guys wonder why the downtown is a dump and residential taxes in Hamilton are 10 to 15 per cent higher than comparable cities.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 09:29:51

Capitalist. There's no 'welfare housing' being proposed. Rental units similar to the new 'Gore building' next door will be constructed here...also, check out CityViews and CityPlaces at Walnut. I know several people who have lived there...nice, quiet building in the heart of the city. Also, the city is hoping to have some artists units in the Maxims building. If you still aren't a believer in the power of artists on a neighbourhood having seen the transformation taking place on James North, then you're clearly choosing to ignore the obvious, overwhelming evidence.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 09:59:30

Jason,

If the housing is subsidized then it is welfare housing. Why don't they charge market rates for the building then and bring some people with disposable income into the neighborhood? Oh right, because in Hamilton bums and lowlifes come first while taxpayers come last.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 10:06:56

then, according to your definition, every home in the suburbs is welfare housing. It's all been heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Big box complexes along our highways must also be 'welfare malls' as well, I guess??

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By aduckworth (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 10:15:46

Everyone loves a fair weather Capitalist. :P

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 10:24:39

Jason,

People who own their own houses and pay 4-5 grand a year in property tax are not being subsidized - they are the ones doing the subsidizing!

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 10:55:19

how many people do you know who own their own homes?? I think I know 2. Both are older and have just finished paying off their mortgages.

I shudder to even respond to your most recent point because now you're trying to differentiate as to where tax dollars go based on who pays them. You're partially correct in that existing home'owners' are subsidizing all the new subdivisions further out of the city. But it's not just them. Everyone is, from the multi-unit buildings downtown (which have an insanely higher tax rate per person than single family homes) to condo's, retail shop owners etc..... The fact is, many of those people paying 4-5 grand a year in taxes wouldn't live in those homes had it not been for huge subsidies by existing taxpayers.

'Convenient capitalist' is exactly right...you can't have it both ways.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 11:25:17

Jason,

Just to clarify, when I said people who own their own homes, I was also referring to people who are paying mortgages. I know many people who are paying mortgages and many who own their homes outright. This is because they worked their asses off and did not live in subsidized housing all their lives (the disabled and poor elderly excluded). If you do not know many people who own their own homes (or those who are paying mortgages) then that helps to explain your views on things. I suggest you find a better circle of friends.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 11:29:17

most people I know have mortgages. You said "own their home". You can't own something until you pay for it. It's not paid for until the mortgage is paid for.

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By Pedant (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 11:54:44

Jason doth protest too much, methinks. It is a well understood convention amongst most users of the English language that the category of people said to "own their homes" includes such people as who qualify for a mortgage and meet their schedule of payments. I find Capitalit's vulgar Social Darwinism to be every bit as distasteful as Jason evidently does, but it avails Jason not at all to engage in semantic nitpicking while more substantive issues wait, unaddressed, in the wings.

A good day to you both. I shall be lurking nearby in the warm folds of cyberspace if you require my assistance on any further matters in which stuffy pedantry can play a clarifying role.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 14:47:10

Pedant - great post!
Ok, just so we're all on the same page we can refer to 'home ownership' from now on as anyone with a mortgage or who already paid a mortgage. Sounds good.

At the end of the day, that wasn't the point of my post.... my point was calling out capitalist on being a 'fair weather capitalist' as mentioned by aduckworth. Cheers

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By Pedant (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 15:00:04

I wrote, "I find Capitalit's [sic] vulgar Social Darwinism..."

Ah, dismay. I hereby invoke Muphry's Law on myself.

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By Wiccan (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 15:27:01

I am glad that Capitalist is on these posts, he is the voice of reason, unlike you bums who have nothing to do but browse this website all day. Get a job Jason!

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 16:20:36

Hmmm, interesting point wiccan. Have you browsed this new issue of RTH?? Capitalist has by far the most posts on varous articles all through the issue and hammerblog. According to your observations, HE would be the one who needs to get a job. And how funny would that be if capitalist actually turned out to be some 'bum with nothing to do', with no job living off assistance. Lol.

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By Bee (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 19:21:57

I can see the need to displace the nudie bars but turning it over to socialized housing is a terrible thing for downtown. I've lived in city housing, and trust me, it will add nothing to the community.

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted November 27, 2008 at 22:58:17

Hi Jason You and I are usually pretty much on the same page but here I have to agree with the concerns of some the other posters. What the downtown really needs is some discretionary spending power landing and staying there. Subsidized housing development, based current tenancy criteria, will not achieve this. How's this for an idea?... We build luxury units and subsidize upper middle class residents to live in them. The only condition would be that no one receiving a subsidy could own a car (verified by provincial MTO checks). This might bring some money downtown and keep it there.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 09:07:09

hopeful, great idea. I agree with you completely about the need for more upper/middle income residents downtown. Check todays Spec for a piece about possibly increasing the density downtown. To me it's a no-brainer. It should drastically be increased, although I understand why city staff won't want to since it will require that they take urban revitalization seriously.

Another point that must be made here, however, is that 'city housing' is building some great housing stock these days. We aren't talking about some of the run-down townhome complexes that are all too familiar around town. If you've never been inside of CityViews or CityPlaces you should check them out. The new Gore Building is even better. I know people who live in these buildings and if you were to meet them you'd realize that they are exactly what we need more of downtown. Cheers

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By Robert_D (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 12:54:42

The subsidized housing being proposed is at 80% of market rent. This is not "welfare housing" by any stretch of the imagination. I believe it was called housing for the working poor, that is those who work full time on minimum wage and therefore cannot afford market rent.

Getting these people into housing, even subsidized, means that they have a chance to start building up a nest egg of their own so that eventually they can improve their circumstances, improve the community by purchasing things locally, and move up to regular housing eventually. All of these features help not only the downtown, but Hamilton in general.

As for centre mall I am disappointed. Hamilton continues to fail in creating and/or enforcing a cohesive plan for development within the city. Any update on that pakring lot where HMP used to be? I'm disgusted by the way Hamilton lets itself get pushed around out of desperation. We need to have standards, and not bend over for developers. They want to go somewhere else? Fine. There's only so much land within driving distance of Toronto. They'll be back.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 13:59:44

Robert_D, if you want to make housing cheaper for poor people, the best way to do that is to increase the supply of land that developers can build on and reduce restrictions on what structures they can build. By allowing government to tie up land under the guise of saving the environment, you are ensuring that poor people find it harder to purchase their own house.

The great thing about letting the market work in an unrestricted way, is that it forces people to put their money where their mouth is. If it's true that having large swaths of green space is important, environmental groups should find it easy to raise the funds to take them off the market, without having to resort to government interference. If the green belt does not enjoy wide public acceptance, then the market will show that as well. Let's remove the artificial restrictions and see how people really feel about this idea of removing prime land from development.

Furthermore, when city council figures out that their zoning rules are nothing more than barriers to growth and removes them, you will see many great developments take root. Since politicians are not God, why do we expect them to be able to plan a city from the top down, when the real world involves ever changing business plans, consumer demands and needs. Whoever thinks they do have the ability to plan better than the marketplace suffers from the same arrogant attitude that led to mass starvation and wasted human potential that we saw last century.

If Hamilton politicians are smart they will stop thinking, stop trying to help and sit back, collect their paycheck and let nature take its course.

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By Rober_D (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 23:15:57

A Smith, you're dreaming of things that can't be done in the current system. We have to work with provincial legislation that requires intensification and use of brownfields, not greenfield lands. Housing in the suburbs does not meet any of the needs of the working poor as it makes transit difficult if not impossible (especially on narrow roads with traffic circles and cul de sacs like in Ancaster) it necessitates a car for everything, including getting to work, which negates any savings of "cheap greenfield housing". Which I seriously doubt exist.

The free market is not perfect, that's why we intervene, in numerous ways, through law including bylaws, securities regulation, environmental laws, etc. These are not a new development either, but have been around for years. Additionally we tinker with interest rates, government spending, and a million other things try and govern the free market in order to maximize the good for society as a whole. You won't convince me that we can throw it all away.

And even if I were on side, the barriers you're talking about would never be completely dissolved, not in our lifetime. It's futile talking about those circumstances. Individuals who rail so fully against the system are summarily ignored in many circles for that exact reason.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 01:36:18

Robert D, in the next few years you will be amazed at the changes that take place. The notion of the welfare state has just about run it's course and people will soon discover the limitations it has imposed on our lives and our livelihoods. As technology undermines the idea of placing decisions in the hands of a few folksy, but completely incompetent politicians, we will go back to hiring only the government that we need. Decentralization will be seen as the most effective way to drive progress, which will lead to more accountable and ultimately smaller government.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 12, 2008 at 23:31:39

and who decides what "government we need"??

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2008 at 12:38:21

Jason, in the future, the people who will decide what government they need, will be the ones who pay the bills. Just like in the real world, where people show up to work, produce things that have value and get paid for doing so, the future of government will be pay for performance.

As it stands today, politicians get paid a flat rate, irrespective of the value they produce. By shifting to a performance based model, government officials will have a strong financial incentive to deliver a higher standard of living to their paying clients.

As an example, Jean Chretien would likely have earned millions of dollars for leading Canada through one of its best economic performances in recent history. Conversely, people like Bob Rae, who failed miserably in creating value for anyone, would have lost his position in about a year.

By switching to this market based approach to governing, society will harness the power of flexibility and incentives to maximize the value they receive from government.

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