Downtown Bureau

Centre Maul: Revitalization or Destruction?

We may be seeing the grand renovation of the centre mall into the form of - get ready for it - a big box power centre.

By Jason Leach
Published June 16, 2005

As word begins to spread about the impending redevelopment of Centre Mall on Barton Street between Ottawa Street and Kenilworth Street, it is unclear which scenario - revitalization or destruction - will be played out.

After several months' talk about whether the project will actually go ahead, things are finally starting to sound more concrete. One price tag being thrown around is $100 million for the project. The next few months will see more details unveiled about the cost and design of this grand project.

Being 27 years old and having done some light traveling in North and South America, I had always assumed that when the Centre Mall project was unveiled it would stay true to its history as Canada's first indoor mall and become Hamilton's (and Ontario's) first inner-city mall to be de-malled.

De-malling has become a huge trend in the U.S. during the past decade, especially in places like California where malls reigned supreme for decades and helped create the image of lifeless, violent Los Angeles that we have all come to know. That city finally woke up and realized that by putting everyone indoors, the streets were reserved for high speed traffic and thugs - not the greatest mix for a vibrant downtown or inner city.

The city of Los Angeles is being transformed before our eyes into a people-friendly, cultural hot spot with shopping, dining and nightlife to complete the picture. I never thought I'd say this, but Hamilton could learn a thing or two from L.A.

Big Box Blues

A recent Spectator article hinted that we may be seeing the grand renovation of the centre mall into the form of - get ready for it - a big box power centre.

The Sky Scraper Page forum has hosted a lively debate on the Centre Mall plan, and one anonymous participant posted what appears to be a site plan for the renovation.

Possible site plan for Centre Mall renovation (click on the image to see a larger version) Source: Sky Scraper Page
Possible site plan for Centre Mall renovation (click on the image to see a larger version) Source: Sky Scraper Page)

Raise the Hammer has not confirmed the authenticity of this report, and Councillor Sam Merulla claimed he was "not at liberty" to discuss any details when we asked him. If the plan is correct - and it certainly looks like every other big box development around here - then it is a huge step in the wrong direction.

Unfortunately, it's so hard getting a straight answer from the city that we have to resort to leaked plans on an anonymous bulletin board. If you're confused and skeptical about the city's and developers' intentions, welcome to the club. If City Council has nothing to hide, then now would be a great time to publish the actual plans and invite public input.

Councillor Merulla, trying to find anything at this point with which to credit the Red Hill Expressway project, is gushing about east Mountain residents being able to get to this new hot spot easily, thanks to the brilliant planning practices at city hall that are suffocating us in cars and pollution. He also mentions the benefit to be felt by businesses along Ottawa Street and Kenilworth Avenue.

A Huge Opportunity

We need to keep our eyes open and look through the rhetoric to find some facts:

Take Charge

Ottawa Street has been jumping back to life in recent years, while Barton Street remains a hotspot for cultural food, but little else. Kenilworth and Parkdale are horrendous streets with tonnes of potential, much of which has likely been squashed by the enormous big box mess near Eastgate Square.

Residents and small business owners must become involved in this process and demand a project that will enhance their community. We should demand good design, a range of uses, new residenatial space, public art, culture, dining, pubic square space, lots of greenery and a proper placement of cars - underground or behind the entire site by the rail tracks.

Barton Street can be beautified through this project with a "new" historic looking streetwall of shopping and people-watching, or it can be further destroyed by the typical small-minded Hamilton vision of more suburbs and warehouse stores dropped into a historic, walkable neighbourhood.

Residents, you can be sure that council doesn't have your back. You'd better take charge before it's too late.

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

22 Comments

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By Centre Mall Casualty (anonymous) | Posted December 06, 2006 at 20:28:54

We work at Centre Mall and found out our store is closing and noone at the mall would tell us whats going on. We keep getting the run around whenever we asked what was going on. Now we are unemployed with no notice. Thanks Centre you are the best.

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By Brian E (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2006 at 14:59:42

I think the Centre mall revitalization has potential to be bring something new and interesting to an otherwise down trodden yet pridefull area of the city. I think the reality is that North Hamilton is comprised of mostly working poor families and this has given this Barton East section of town a very unique character. I think this character can be described as "The constant search for the best deal in town". Family Budgets are tight in Hamilton and no more so than around Centre Mall. For any new development to succeed in this area I think it must be priority #1 to make sure that it includes stores that offer prices that are lower than Centenial Parkway, Limeridge and The Meadowlands. I love the idea of a large area reserved for a farmers market on weekends. Or even during the summer months have booths where organizations, or block associations or individuals can rent booths and sell second hand items like one gigantic swap meet. When redeveloping this mall you have to think, "Why will people come here when there's Limeridge on the mountain, Meadowlands in ancaster, Centenial Parkway in Stoney Creek" I think the answer is that people will come down to Centre Mall because it has great deals and in the summer you can hit dozens of 'Yard Sales' all in the same spot. You can't find deals in Limeridge, you can't find character in the meadowlands and you can't find convienience on Centenial. You have to find them in Centre Mall.

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By Sad about Power Centre (anonymous) | Posted January 03, 2007 at 12:14:08

Yes centre Mall is Different from all the other malls and we do get a different crowd of people. But this mall is a Community Mall! Everybody comes here. There are 5 banks in this mall you can only find 1 in each of Limeridge or Eastgate ( not including the PC machine at Fortino's. This mall is 50 years old one of the oldest in this area. My husband & our families watched this mall be built up from a race track into a very cool gathering place for many years. If this mall is to be torn down and made into only a power centre it would be a very sad state. It would be sad for all the Seniors and Bus travelers, sad for the Wheelchair and Scooter customers who come everyday to get a break from their house's or apartments who would now have to drive in the cold to get where they have to go. It will be sad for the small business retailers who count on this mall as a income for their families who now have to relocate or close down. Yes we have Limeridge But I hate Limeridge it's so trendy and it's to busy for my liking some people just don't like that atmosphere. And Eastgate's O.K. And Yes we go to Cosco In Ancaster but I can’t stand going there the traffic is crazy. I always feel sorry for the people who live around there why would they want to put up with that? We are Central At Center Mall. We get everybody from all areas. I 'm just saying I'm sad about the Power Centre I'd like to see a Mall still here when all said and done. And maybe stores around the mall. That would work for everybody. The mall may look a little empty right now, but it's not closed yet! The store's that are moving out are stores that are Franchise stores that aren't making enough money to stay and there lease is up so they're leaving. The other business are still there And open for business. So don't give up on Centre Mall yet!

thanks

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By Jay (registered) | Posted April 14, 2007 at 12:57:02

Personally I believe the mall needs to torn down and rebuilt as something bigger and better, I also think its a good idea to keep surrounding businesses in mind, and to promote a mixed use environment. As far as art and culture go, with the giant dafasco just around the corner I doubt that would be a viable option. Its also important to keep in mind that some smaller format big box stores would benefit the area as property values and the construction of big box stores have a positive correlation. I think a great idea would be to bring in some major financial institutions as well as retail, this would boost the income in the area, and bring more capital for people to spend. It would also become a necessary reason for people from all over to come the area, since they work there. All in all, a healthy exchange of ideas and openmindedness would most like result in the best result. Happy posting...

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By Remi (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2007 at 19:20:39

I think that turning the Center Mall into a "Box Store" complex would be a mistake. I am saying this because a mall has been, and always will be a place where people come and meet and hang out for coffee and conversation, a "box store" complex, people go to and just buy what they want and go home, cause there is no place to hang out. You loose a sense of community and togetherness with the "box store" complex! I thenk they should keep it in the typical mall format, just renovate it, and make it 2 storey which would allow for ample room for more stores, and to have the farmers market indoors!!

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By fpbbcg@aol.com (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2007 at 17:27:53

Lets hope that the Barn which is owned by Metro stays in the area. Thier service and quality of meat are first class. We really enjoy shopping at that location. The staff is very friendly and helpful.

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By reality check (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2007 at 12:31:18

Perhaps the Centre Mall being turned into a big box retail outlet isn't the best idea but it's obvious that the recent flea narket format isn't creating a community feel either. What the big box format will do is help revitalize the sorry state of Ottawa and Kenilworth Sts by bringing business to the area and helping create some sort of reason to go there beyond buying fabric. Instead of going to the mall and feeding the already rich chains, visit a small restaurant on Ottawa St. for a coffee. The Centre Mall killed Ottawa St., now it's time for the big boxes to help the area.

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By Marek (anonymous) | Posted January 06, 2008 at 14:45:44

Although I think your heart is in the right place, and it would be nice for Centre mall to become some post-modern metro hotspot with lots of cafes, parks, people coming in droves - it isn't going to happen.

Two major things are in the way for this to happen.

1) Look what's behind Centre mall - one of the heaviest examples industry in Ontario. Smoke stacks, dirt, grime, pollution, trucks, trains and steel. No one is going to want to sit outside on a hot summer day sipping cappuccino while tons of pollution is being pumped into the sky only a few blocks away.

2) The northern end of Hamilton is the poorest part of Hamilton. As people have already posted, people come to Centre mall for the bargains and not for much else.

Make a place for people to congregate and further enhance the bargain mentality. Enhance the farmers market. Introduce a daily Flea market, the largest in the city. Make the mall the hub of alternative transportation by making it the hub for the HSR below-the-escarpment. See how that goes, and then expand on that further in 10 years.

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By East End Guy (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2008 at 11:00:51

As a life long, east end resident, I feel that the glory days of the Centre Mall are long gone and it's time for a major change. The mall has been on a down hill slide for years and almost all of the stores worth shopping at are long gone. The only store that draws a crowd any more is Tim Hortons! It's sad, but when I need to do some shopping for clothes, gifts or home decor, I make the drive to Lime Ridge Mall, where they have modern stores with quality merchandise. Although the big box stores are cold and faceless, the one thing you notice at the Meadowlands, Lime Ridge or Centennial Pkwy is that the stores are ALWAYS busy! We don't need a place for people to sit and mingle (which is all I see at the Centre), we need a place that offers products and services that will entice people to come out and spend money! I was quite a "mall rat" as a kid and spent countless hours at the Centre, so I am sad that the mall is on it's last legs, but as neighbourhood home owner, I am excited at the thought of some reputable businesses breathing a little life back our beloved East end.

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By soontobeunemployed (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2008 at 15:15:27

I have worked for the barn store for many years.I started there when it was A&P.No one wants to tell us what is going on.My company insist that we are going to be there till 2011.I just dont believe that at all. If any one knows something please let me know.

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By jmarie (anonymous) | Posted April 15, 2008 at 22:27:38

I have lived in the east end my whole life, I am now 30, and right in that perfect demographic that is looking for unique, interesting, entertaining and somewhat eclectic places to shop, dine and just generally hang out and enjoy with friends. Lets face it...Centre Mall is totally done. Ottawa street however is still pretty funky and could go a lot further in that positive direction with a small nudge. I love the shops and restaurants and bakeries....Limoncello is totally taking the area in the appropriate direction. So seriously people, keep the good, ditch the bad! Why is this so complicated? Enhance the farmers market...give flea market space, provide something for the public to come and visit and all will follow. Hamilton is trying so hard to break away from its old stigmas and has so much to offer, why are we holding it back?

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By SLP (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2008 at 22:44:43

I was by the Centre Mall tonight and all I can say is Wow. They have blocked off the parking area near Sears, tearing up the asphalt and I felt a touch of sadness. I was truly hoping that someone would come to their senses and not destroy the mall, but rebuild it, maintaining stores like Sears, Jim's Nut Shack, etc. but alas, they won't find out until it's way too late that east enders don't shop at big box stores...not because they're too expensive but because we like going from one small, interesting shop to another, browsing yet another afternoon away, shopping, stopping for food, coffee and people-watching.

When I was growing up, I knew I'd never leave the east end...ok, I did for a year to move downtown but I quickly returned to where I felt at home. East enders are a breed unto ourselves. We're not comfortable in places like Limeridge as they are too impersonal. The Centre Mall was the one place that I could get everything I needed without having to drive from one place to another. When the new mall opens, I will stage my own silent protest and not shop there (even though I only live a few blocks away) and do my shopping where I can shop at my leisure i.e. Eastgate & Mapleview Mall.

As my grandmother always said, "progress" is not always best.

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By ted (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2008 at 23:48:17

I cant help but notice lots of retail/residential building up for sale in the area at inflated (from a few years ago) prices.

It seems more people want out than in and all all using the same pitch "when the new mall is built this area will be revitalized"

If thats the case why sell now?

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By ted (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2008 at 23:53:52

I cant help but notice lots of retail/residential building up for sale in the area at inflated (from a few years ago) prices.

It seems more people want out than in and all all using the same pitch "when the new mall is built this area will be revitalized"

If thats the case why sell now?

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By Sheila (anonymous) | Posted August 17, 2008 at 20:20:58

I live across from Centre Mall and have had several neighbours on ajoining streets tell me like I am their yards are overrun with rats.

If you have this problem also in the area then we should ban together and approach the city (I have been told the rats and rat tunnels in my yard are my responsbility but I think the developer and the city should bear the cost of cleanup before they enter our homes.
Email me at corbettsheila@cogeco.ca if you live in the Centre Mall area and have rats overrunning your property. Maybe together we can get something done

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By Tear it down (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2008 at 13:26:43

Centre Mall is the worst mall I've been to in a large city. I've lived in Hamilton for nearly 10 years now and having grown-up in a city smaller than Ancaster in eastern Ontario, a good mall was an adventure for me. Centre Mall was an adventure the first time I walked into the building because I was so amazed that a complex such as that was so brutally incapable of remotely providing anything I was looking for, where any other mall or big box centre in the city could have. I dread going there because they have nothing and I end up having to travel else where to find what I need.
That mall is a hole and tearing it down and building big box stores is much better for that property and the community I have chosen to call home than leaving it the way it is. Yes, there may be other options that are more likeable but any of the options is probably better than what is there now.
Some people like sitting and mingling in the food court all day while purchasing no more than a coffee but having those people relax and chat all day in the food court doesn't provide small business or large with what they need to feed their families and stay open for your pleasure.... and that's just business. Go sit in a park or take a walk down Ottawa Street, sit in a cafe in the area and promote those small business or Tim Horton's by purchasing their products. You are doing Centre Mall no good by going and sitting and watching. Money is the only concern for most, if not all, of the businesses at Centre Mall which is why they are in or going out of business. If you aren't there to buy something then those businesses don't give a lick about you. Technically if you don't have a coffee in your hand and you are just sitting then you are loitering. Yes, people watching can be interesting but guess what? You are the people being watched. You are being watched by all of those small businesses in that dilapidated mall while they are going under because people aren't buying enough of their merchandise to make the profits they need to keep the building heated in the winter and cooled in the summer for you to sit and people watch and do nothing for your community.
Kudos to the developer who is taking on the task and risk of boosting business and new interest in that area. I will be shopping at Centre Mall before any other when it is ready to go. I will show my true support by giving the new Centre Mall my business.

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By whatever (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2008 at 15:08:19

In regards to "tear it down".Just goes to show that you are not not a true eastender.Listen to me because i have lived and worked in or around the centre mall all of my life.These people watchers as you so like to call them are mostly pensioners that have worked all there lives in the very nearby industry.If they need a place to sit and talk who are you to say anything about them.Unlike the youth of today whom spend their welfare bucks and basically contribute mostly nothing but another mouth for us the tax payer to support,these pensioners have worked and spent their hard EARNED money over many,many years in support of that mall.They don't have a lot to spend and so what if they want to sit and watch,i bet you they have earned it.I am sure the new mall will accommodate these people watchers as well my friend.There is going to be a large food court building right in the middle of the area.You might be better of complaining about the welfare and mothers allowance recipients,the "week-end millionaires"as we in the business like to call them.They are the ones that bring this area down to its knees not the pensioners.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 10, 2008 at 09:19:01

"goes to show that you are not not a true eastender"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_True_Sco...

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By tear it down (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2008 at 17:01:40

In regards to "whatever"; So be it if I'm not a true east-ender. I'm not torn up about it but I do live in the area and pay my taxes here just like everyone else. Good for you that you are a true east-ender. Regardless, not really the point here. The "people watchers" was a term they used themselves. I'm making a point regarding the successfulness of businesses anywhere regardless of demographic or stereotype as you were so eager to point out. Its fine that people go and sit and watch but if they aren't going to support the businesses that provide them with that luxury then who are they to complain about the changes being made in order to strum up that business that is so badly need there.
Its also quite presumptuous of you to state that today's youth are attached so heavily to social assistance because as recent reports show the net-geners are doing quite well for themselves and are projected to be and proving to be the most successful generation yet. I know because I am one of those successful net-geners. Granted I learned a lot from my predecessors and I appreciate it.

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By Whatever (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2008 at 16:16:20

They are pensioners,and old so they will complain.They will get used to the idea and I actually see some of them getting excited about it.And they do support the mall with hard earned money,not welfare funds.Oh yes,the best thing would be if they tore down that cockroach infested apartment building.It is such an eye sore and it really is full of degenerate people.

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By Tartan Triton (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2010 at 06:20:25

Rejuvenating Kenilworth? That would be impressive.

http://www.thespec.com/news/business/article/257053--new-centre-mall-catalyst-for-neighbourhood-change

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By Eastendtony (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 13:26:23 in reply to Comment 47920

And not to happen. This new mall is a drive in drive out. No one is going to use the Centre Mall or Kenilworth as a jump of point to the other. As with most Hamilton projects they are full of greed and absent of imagination.

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