Downtown Bureau

Downtown Update

After a looooong delay, Jason Leach is back prowling the streets for the RTH Downtown Update.

By Jason Leach
Published May 09, 2010

Okay, folks - before Reg Beaudry follows through on his threat to kill me due to the long absence of a downtown update, it appears as though I've finally scraped up enough material to cobble together another segment.

Truth be told, not much has been happening downtown in the past year or two (unless you enjoy being updated on all the hotels and condos that aren't going to be built).

However, the past six months has seen a marked turnaround in downtown activity and I'm happy to report some of my findings. Please add your own updates below if you have a noteworthy tidbit to contribute.

Strathcona

Because I love living in Strathcona, I'll start in my own hood with some exciting updates. Residents have long complained about the lack of local places to eat, drink and be merry.

Unlike Kirkendall, which has Locke South as its community centre, Strathcona's community life is centred around Victoria Park. Having multi-lane truck freeways as our 'commercial' streets certainly doesn't help the cause, but lately some enterprising restaurateurs have decided to take a stab at these less than enjoyable streets.

Rolly Rockets BBQ has opened at King and Locke and so far has been a hit in the neighbourhood. The food is dynamite - and cheap! The owner is a great fellow and a lot of work has gone into changing the feel of the place, which was formerly a seedy drug bar.

Over on the QEW, I mean York Boulevard, a fabulous new eatery has just opened. Stonewalls Gastropub is a great addition to the neighbourhood and seems to have struck a balance between being a sophisticated restaurant where one can enjoy a nice dinner date or bring the whole family and take advantage of the $7.00 kids menu.

The renovation of this old warehouse just west of Queen is extensive and the finished product is marvelous. Like Rolly Rockets, head over the check this place out quickly!

I just got back from the grand opening and, and wow! What a great scene. The place was jammed, with not a single seat available - and it's no small restaurant. The food is really good and the vibe is wicked. This place looks to have a great future ahead of it.

Work continues on the new community garden in Victoria Park and the revitalized Farmers Market/Library further down York. Two-way conversion of a short stretch of York will also be welcome news and hopefully help to calm down some of our downtown highways.

James North

Over on James North, great work continues as new businesses renovate and prepare to open on this revitalized stretch. The Brain, just north of Mulberry, is a brilliant cafe that may have struck the perfect balance in its interior design and atmosphere.

I could spend hours here working, reading or chatting with friends. The coffee cake is truly amazing and the coffee served in French Press is a great touch not yet common in Hamilton.

My Dog Joe should be opening within a month at the corner of James and Mulberry, complete with a great street patio. Things continue to evolve on James North.

Condos and Lofts

Finally, a few condo and loft projects are worth noting and we'll keep our fingers crossed that each project can reach construction stage.

First the Film Work Lofts on King William could be a slice of good news on a street that has really fallen from fame in the past five years.

It's been sad to watch King William struggle in the face of uncertain projects, building demolitions and business closings. More residents living in the area can only help to turn things around.

Urban West Condos is a great infill project at Aberdeen and Dundurn, despite the cheap-looking website. Hamilton needs many more projects like this on street corners all over the city.

A new condo proposed by Options for Homes can be seen on Councillor Brian McHattie's (Ward 1) website. This project would add more condo units downtown and increase the density in the heart of the city.

Herkimer at Bay has reportedly sold over 50 percent of its units during their first weekend of open houses. This gorgeous building is being given a top-notch renovation and conversion to condo. This is a great project in the heart of Durand.

Down at the waterfront, the recreation master plan has been completed and is full of fabulous development and design ideas [PDF link].

Dundurn

Finally, this shouldn't really be big news, but in Hamilton it always is. Bike lanes have opened on Dundurn South and fit wonderfully with the feel of the street.

If the Urban West condos are a success, perhaps we'll see someone redevelop the large warehouse in the heart of this community at #220 and allow Dundurn South to become a fully redeveloped commercial and retail street.

It's a small step, but one in the right direction.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

29 Comments

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 09, 2010 at 22:46:08

(this is mostly copied from another forum post I made:)

In November, I talked to Carlos (I believe that's his name, but a motorcycle was going by... d'oh!) who is opening Barbarossa's Cafe at 312 King East. The signs indicated the cafe was set to open December 21 and I wasn't sure what had happened - but I saw fresh green paint a month or two ago on the facade

I walked by a few nights ago, and he was outside putting up the first letter for the sign. He told me the opening was delayed because his mother had passed away in South America, so he traveled back and stayed a while, deciding to come back and open the cafe in the spring.

From what I heard, there is about a week left until opening, a few things yet to go in (light fixtures and a few more items).

For the menu, he talked about:

  • Van Houtte brand coffee ("quality coffee") in his words. Van Houtte's really been expanding their business into Ontario the past few years, including a few of their own cafes, so I'm not surprised to see it here.
  • fair-trade items
  • espresso and cappuccino (I asked about this... he said "of course". It'll be nice to have a place nearby that serves espresso-based drinks)
  • gluten-free items (I heard this last year, believe it's still true)
  • Moroccan tea (I believe the sweet mint type)
  • quality food, including croissants from the same supplier as Denningers gets (but hastened to say he wants to keep prices reasonable)

I don't know what the final product will be like, but I'm intrigued. I'll go in next week when it's open and check it out.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-05-09 21:48:06

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 09, 2010 at 23:43:06

Van Houtte coffee is good, you can some at the gas station variety store at Barton and Hess, way better then Tim Hortons.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 10, 2010 at 00:16:45

I was at Waxy's down the road this morning, and noticed they also serve Van Houtte coffee.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-05-09 23:17:20

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By Skully (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2010 at 08:30:35

Recently heard that the big plans for the Augusta Athletic Club, which was announced with much fanfare, have been abandoned due to "lack of interest"...according to their website...
Yet another downtown project that didn't get off the ground...

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted May 10, 2010 at 09:34:06

Regarding 220 Dundurn, you can talk to Brian McHattie for more details but, at the last Kirkendall Neighbourhood Association meeting in April, McHattie mentioned the current owner has retained an architect and business planner to create some options for development. McHattie mentioned the development of a mixed-use space with condos, shops, parking and using the existing structure and building up from it. No timelines and nothing firm around this development though.

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By Anders (registered) | Posted May 10, 2010 at 11:36:41

Thanks Jason, and kudos to some of these pioneer establishments. Rolly Rockets is great; sit at their picnic table overlooking Victoria Park and you can _almost_ forget the highway. And the food is fantastic, our version of Schwartzes or Caplanskys.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2010 at 11:51:59

"Recently heard that the big plans for the Augusta Athletic Club, which was announced with much fanfare, have been abandoned due to "lack of interest"...according to their website...
Yet another downtown project that didn't get off the ground... "

From what I've heard they made a rather half-hearted attempt to solicit "interest" so I wouldn't be surprised. The ONLY place I heard about this club was on RTH, although I've been told there was a brief mention (not even an article) in the Spec. That's not really a great way to solicit interest.

There should have been signs, and a media advertising campaign to make it clear they were looking for expressions of interest. I'm sure many people were looking forward to it quietly without realizing that they had to "express interset" in order to get the thing built. I'm willing to bet the majority of their "target customers" never even knew of the proposal.

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By Slodrive (registered) | Posted May 10, 2010 at 14:05:48

I'm impressed by those Condo developments. That Herkimer at Bay and the Film Work Lofts really do a nice job of showing off Hamilton on their website. I think these developments do a couple of things -- they merchandise Hamilton as being a liveable, thriving city (since, they want to sell units), and the developments he'ps to acheive that. This, to me, is exactly what our downtown needs. And, with the prices in Toronto, our proximity to a rejuvenated waterfront, I'm very optimistic that we could see more of these in the near future.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted May 10, 2010 at 22:59:25

I can't help, but temper my enthusiasm for these projects. After seeing the article in Spec regarding the waterfront revitalisation I think that these types of indie shops and heritage investments are going to be steamrolled by stadium/corporate intrests.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 11, 2010 at 18:14:15

If we ever have SO MUCH investment happening in the downtown that there's nothing rundown or affordable left, maybe Barton will get some love. But that's a long, long road, isn't it?

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By Jason (registered) | Posted May 11, 2010 at 20:39:11

Yup

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By Strider (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2010 at 22:57:04

"maybe Barton will get some love. But that's a long, long road, isn't it?"

21km!

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By Strider (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2010 at 23:05:19

Super excited to visit Stonewalls. Hopefully it can avoid the sensational ink that its neighbours at 303 have earned over the years.

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By CornflakePisser (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2010 at 23:07:35

Sorry to rain on your parade people, but condos have never worked in Hamilton - and never will. Why pay 150K for an apartment when you can get a house for the same (or less)? And those people who don't want to mow the grass are going to want a neighborhood that doesn't look like the set from "Thriller". That means Burlington, folks.

And save downtown? I have an easy solution: bulldoze every dwelling south of Limeridge Road. Seriously. Everyone thinks somehow some white knight is going to ride into town and save us from our stupid planning and economic development policies of the 50's, 60's and 70's and 80's.

Hamilton has been dying a slow death since the 70's; everyone knows it, but no one wants to admit it.

Hamilton is situated in a beautiful natural setting right smack dab in the middle of the Golden Horseshoe; the only things holding it back are the stupid politicians and the stupid electorate they hoodwink with their 50 year old ideas of what makes a city great (hint: highways and malls)

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2010 at 08:41:54

Corflake Pisser, seriously?

You obviously have no idea what a decent house costs in Hamilton - they are worth much more than $150k. For $150k maybe you can get a small house in the downtown east side. You want something nice in the downtown, or something small just up the escarpment (near concession) you're looking at a lot more than $150k.

As for your assertion that condos don't work, go look at the website for the film work lofts - 10 of the 12 penthouse units are sold! The units are selling far faster than their regular units. If I were them I'd consider converting a floor of smaller units into suites. I'll also mention Core lofts, and the Pigott Building/Sun Life Building - both of which are successful condos. There are many people who don't mind paying to live in condos in downtown Hamilton. Chateau Royale is the clear exception for many different reason.

As for your save downtown plan, bulldozing every building south of limeridge, I wholeheartedly agree. If we bulldoze everything south of the Linc, as you've suggested, we can get rid of acres or suburban sprawl. Then again Markham didn't have the guts to maintain expand their "greenbelt" and fight future suburban sprawl, so I doubt you'll find enough support to actually raze such a large are of the city.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted May 12, 2010 at 08:42:18

Cornflake pisser writes ...

the only things holding it back are the stupid politicians and the stupid electorate

Well that's pretty much everyone, isn't it? While I agree that the mountain sprawl helped gut Hamilton, I must reject that attitude: one can't love the city while hating its people. And you can't tell people - as many revolutionaries have - that you want to tear down everything that they love all to make them happy. Or one can, but I don't think that one should. I'm still working on this myself, I confess.

That said, I still fantasize about a stray bomb falling on (an emptied) Hamilton Place / Ellen Fairclough complex - I don't think that anyone loves that stretch.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-05-12 07:47:11

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By z jones (registered) | Posted May 12, 2010 at 10:32:43

^Never let facts get in the way of a good rant...

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 12, 2010 at 15:04:57

^Never let facts get in the way of a good rant... - z jones

When you're screamin'

You don't even

Have to be right

  • Eddie Spaghetti

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-05-12 14:05:14

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted May 13, 2010 at 10:33:46

You forgot to update us on the progress of the first indoor mall reconstruction, lol. (The Lister Block) Lots of work going on after how many years????

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 13, 2010 at 12:46:12

I've given up on Lister. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm fully expecting a boring building full of office cubicles that empty out at 5pm and tinted glass on the streetfront ala the old Eatons store on York next to the market.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 13, 2010 at 19:20:58

Jason: want to guess how many of those workers who would be working at that the lister block, you know the union covered workers, those who get living wages, benefits and the chance to retire, who live in the suburbs.

Those who are always making their crack rhetoric at downtown, you know where the poor live.

One does have to look at all views.......

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted May 14, 2010 at 09:07:04

went to Rolly Rockets last night for the first time.

Good prices, great food, American portion sizes. The house band was stellar as well.

They did botch our order up but hey sh!t happens.

Recommended to all.

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By ilikebikestoo (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2010 at 22:54:14

The Dundurn bike lanes are nice. Now we only need to do something about the drunks illegally parking in front of the beer store. Don't ask the cops, becuase that's their first stop once off duty.

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By walking city (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2010 at 22:42:31

great sites

www.filmworklofts.com

www.herkimeratbay.com

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2010 at 23:02:14

It is always 2 steps forward and 1 step back, but I'd take gradual improvements over something ridiculous that is here and gone. Lasting change doesn't come quick. It takes time to work out all the kinks. Things are very much better all around than they were 5 years ago when I moved here.

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 09:47:36

"ilikebikestoo"

Why bash the cops?? I hate that (no I'm not a cop or personal friends with any). Would you want to do that job, obviously not or else you would right? It's a thankless job where guys (girl?) like you are always bashing them, not realizing their true value. I give them all the credit in the world for doing that work. And how do you know they all hit the liquor store after work, you in there every day?? Rant, sorry.

Comment edited by woody10 on 2010-05-18 08:48:21

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By RedHill (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2010 at 09:30:37

Some more information about Cafe Barbarossa:

The will also be serving great locally FairTrade coffee from Red Hill Coffee Trade.

His Grand Opening is Saturday, May 29. I think it is going to be a great place to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee!

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By Fred James (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2010 at 01:18:14

Went to Stonewalls Gastro-Pub tonight, wow, it looks amazing, and the food was outstanding. I had a Rustico pizza and it was the best one I have had in a long time. It was made in a wood fired oven and what flavour. My girl friend had the Stonewalls burger and it was big, bold and down right finger licking good. I was pleasantly surprised when I got the bill and found the prices were very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food we received. The wait staff was very friendly, looked like they were having fun and were very engaging. I found my new local restaurant/pub.



I highly recommend this place and hope they do well, this type of place is what Hamilton needs. Classy, all the way!



Cheers

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted July 04, 2010 at 09:37:32

Tried the new restaurant on Wilson Street in Ancaster (forgot the name) in the old Wilsons on Wilson building beside Tims. Way better atmosphere than before and super friendly staff. Met one of the owners who is keen on doing a good job at good prices. Completely renovated the interior as well, much more contemporary. Just opened last week.

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