Downtown Bureau

Supermarket Debate Shows Council Unwillingness to Follow Vision

When it comes time to implement plans that will actually achieve Council-mandated revitalization targets, Councillors can't muster up the courage to act.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 04, 2012

The recent General Issues Committee (GIC) debate over a proposal to entice a supermarket to downtown Hamilton perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with how Council makes decisions and why Hamilton seems incapable of rising to the level of transformational change.

Council generally sets sensible - if not particularly ambitious - targets for urban revitalization, but when it comes time to implement plans that will actually achieve those targets, Councillors can't muster up the courage to act.

Their normal reaction to innovative initiatives is reactionary and fear-based. In most cases, they ignore supporting evidence and arguments, delay and stall the moment of decision-making by pushing back on staff to revise their proposals, and ultimately settle, if at all, on a milquetoast fallback that tweaks the margins of the status quo instead of committing to change.

Downtown Supermarket Incentive

On Wednesday, June 20, downtown renewal manager Glen Norton presented his team's proposal [PDF] to offer a one-time, forgivable loan of up to $650,000 as an incentive to open a new supermarket in downtown Hamilton.

Here's how it would work: the city would issue a request for proposals (RFP) for applicants to present plans for a supermarket. Proposals would be evaluated against the following criteria:

Council would review any proposals received and, if a proposal meets the City's criteria, may decide to accept it and approve the loan. Merely directing staff to issue an RFP would confer no obligations on Council, as it would still be up to Council to approve any submitted proposals.

The total amount of the loan would be based on the floor space of the supermarket, to a maximum of $30 per square foot and a total loan of $650,000. The loan would be paid out to the successful applicant in three stages: at 60% completion, 80% completion and upon occupancy.

The loan would be interest-free for five years, and the city would forgive 20% of the original principal each year the business stays in operation. In other words, if a supermarket opens and stays open for five years, the full loan would be forgiven.

The business must also remain in good standing with respect to tax payment throughout the development and five-year operation of the supermarket.

The funding for this incentive would come out of the existing Downtown and Community Renewal capital block fund, which is part of the approved 2012 budget. In other words, the incentive would not require any new funding commitment from the City, but merely allocation of existing capital dollars.

The project would not require any additional staffing but would be managed out of the Downtown Renewal group under the Planning and Economic Development department.

Case for Supermarket Incentive

The principle behind the incentive is simple: by helping to bridge the gap in capital funding to start a downtown grocery store, the incentive can spring past the chicken-egg problem and inaugurate a positive feedback loop of better amenities attracting more residents, which in turn attract more and better amenities.

The staff recommendation charts historical and current downtown context, including the existing population demographics and Council's approved target to increase downtown density to 250 people+jobs per hectare. It noted that Ward 2 has the highest proportion of residents who walk or take public transit to get to work - nearly 40%.

Residents Walking or Using Public Transit to Get to Work (Source: City of Hamilton)
Residents Walking or Using Public Transit to Get to Work (Source: City of Hamilton)

It notes that the need for a downtown grocery store has been identified in the Urban Hamilton Official Plan, the Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan and the 2010-2015 Economic Development Strategy, supported by the Board of Health Community Food Security Stakeholder Committee, confirmed by numerous revitalization consultants and reinforced by consistent feedback from downtown residents and businesses and prospective urban developers and investors.

The following chart, prepared as part of the supermarket incentive proposal, shows that the downtown core, which has the highest population density (dark blue), has a large area more than 1 km from the nearest grocery store.

Population Density Around Grocery Store Locations (1 km Buffer) (Source: City of Hamilton)
Population Density Around Grocery Store Locations (Source: City of Hamilton)

The recommendation further notes that the lack of a grocery store deters more affluent people from choosing to locate downtown, while the relative lack of more affluent residents deters investors from opening a grocery store.

Presentation to GIC

Glen Norton presented the recommendation to the GIC and then fielded their questions. You can watch the meeting - Norton's presentation starts at 2:39:00 on the linked video.

Norton reminded the Councillors repeatedly that they instructed staff to aim for a downtown density of 250 people+jobs per hectare, and that this proposal was an excellent and necessary means to achieve that goal. As he put it:

This council established back in 2009 a density for downtown urban growth area of 250 residents and jobs per hectare. We're currently at 186. To get to your target by 2013 [sic - he meant 2031], we need on very simple math, 735 new jobs and residents downtown every year between now and 2031. We're not making that. You know, let's be clear, let's be blunt: we're not getting anywhere near that. Last year was a big year for us in terms of jobs, we had 320 new jobs downtown, in the creative sector primarily, but the population is growing very slowly. Why is it growing slowly? It's still not an attractive place to live.

He noted that if the supermarket attracts just one new condo development downtown, the loan would quickly pay for itself in increased tax revenue.

Norton is a consummate professional, and he had clear, persuasive rejoinders - evidence-based and logically sound - for every concern that Councillors brought up. Nevertheless, councillors just kept raising the same objections over and over again, indifferent to anything that contradicted their preconceptions.

Chad Collins acknowledged that the City isn't doing enough to encourage downtown revitalization, but that he didn't feel comfortable doing more. He preferred to scale back the offer and focus on what the City is already doing. (Sidenote: Collins also noted that downtown Hamilton's one-way streets are a barrier to reinvestment.)

Similarly, Sam Merulla felt that the City should continue doing things it has done before rather than trying something new.

Lloyd Ferguson was more blunt: he plainly said he felt Council had already spent enough money downtown and didn't want to spend any more.

Scott Duvall suggested that the money could be better spent on roads. Robert Pasuta asked whether people living downtown could take transit to grocery stores outside the downtown core.

Echoing several councillors, Terry Whitehead objected to public subsidies for a downtown business, complaining that his ward doesn't get subsidies for residential amenities.

Brian McHattie, in turn, pointed out that the City has been subsidizing suburban sprawl for decades:

I think it's a bit rich to pick on the downtown subsidies. If we added up the numbers, they'd be in the millions for subsidizing urban sprawl over the past probably four or five decades here in Hamilton. We've been in the urban sprawl business for a long time and we need to turn our attention to the downtown.

Vision vs. Execution

With seemingly inexhaustible forbearance, Norton answered each knee-jerk objection Council threw at him. He pointed out:

Again and again, he reminded them that they were the ones who set the target his team was trying to reach with this proposal. As he told Ferguson:

We take our direction from you. I'm not trying to tell you that you need to develop the downtown. You're telling us in your policies, your targets, your choice of a density target of 250 jobs and people per hectare. That came from you. I'm executing on your direction, and if you tell me it's different, it's different.

No matter. Ultimately, the GIC members were simply too afraid to commit to an agreement in principal to issue an RFP. Duvall captured the mood when he said:

I understand the need. I want the downtown to thrive and grow. We need that, we have to change the landscape downtown, both physically and financially, but I'm on the fence right now about this. It's a lot of money.

In other words: we know we need to do more than we're doing, but we're just not willing to do it.

This mentality is why downtown density is not increasing anywhere near the minimum annual growth it needs to reach a density target that is itself unambitious and mediocre. Of course, the reason staff and Council alike objected to a higher density target is that it would threaten the city's sprawl plans.

The result is an underwhelming Official Plan that only technically meets the bare-minimum requirements of Provincial Places to Grow legislation - and we can't even commit to prudent, specific policy decisions that will achieve this scrape-the-barrel target.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

68 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By FreeMan (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 09:56:20

A grocery store downtown would be great, but not if it has to be coaxed with taxpayer money. If I owned the Fortino's at Dundurn or the Starsky's on Nash, I'd be ticked or looking for a handout too.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2012 at 10:18:14 in reply to Comment 79150

How so? We make offer all kinds of carrots to businesses for other things. Maple Leaf, the Stadium, the Aerotropolis, etc.

Government works in concert with business all the time. Sometimes what's best for the citizens of this city isn't best for the businesses, so the municipal government helps meet them in the middle with a little incentive.

The only difference here is that we're being straight-up mercenary about it instead of more subtle and diplomatic.

Instead of "well, we're going to provide infrastructure subsidies and tax-breaks and we've got some road-widening and highway-access plans to help coax the businesses into this area" we're just being straighforward: half a mill if you want to set up a proper grocery store downtown.

Permalink | Context

By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 14:04:28 in reply to Comment 79157

Even a gift of $650K is peanuts, really, considering the costs of real eatate and construction, to say nothing of operating costs.

This is a cheerful incentive but I have my doubts about it serving as a magic carrot. What it should do is clarify how ramshackle the downtown economy really is.

Permalink | Context

By blah (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 10:14:33 in reply to Comment 79150

That's right, it's okay to subsidize DiSantis or Maple Leaf but don't you think of spending public money where most of the people live.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 10:36:42 in reply to Comment 79155

But that's different...we're giving gobs of money to one or two people...this is using tax money to benefit thousands of people. Can't have that.

Permalink | Context

By highwater (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 10:44:22 in reply to Comment 79160

Yes, but they're thousands of the wrong sort of people who don't finance re-election campaigns.

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-07-05 10:44:39

Permalink | Context

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 20:02:34 in reply to Comment 79160

Jason, I think this is one of the few times I actually agree with you.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 10:08:13

I think they'll come around on this eventually...and I think King and Bay will be where the store lands...hopefully as part of one of the new condo complexes planned for the area.

Amazing to hear some of the councillor comments...they don't think twice about subsidizing sprawl, knowing that no matter how many new homes are built, we never recoup the subsidy...yet here they won't approve something that will quickly be covered by new development. They even had letters of support from prominent builders who've built condos downtown and want to build more. My long-standing view that council doesn't really care about downtown gets easier and easier to prove.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By sakajawea (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 10:47:23

what we need is a coop market. something that the community owns. I think it would be great fit for downtown hamilton.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2012 at 13:52:14 in reply to Comment 79162

A community group is working on a downtown co-op. I like the idea of a co-op and I hope they succeed, but a co-op isn't the same as a grocery store and can't really serve in its place.

What downtown needs - what all vibrant places need - is diversity and choice: a grocery store and a co-op and specialty stores and a farmers' market and neighbourhood grocers, and so on.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By lorne (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2012 at 11:14:54

Thanks for this excellent report Ryan. I remember the last time there was a downtown grocery store presence, The Barn, at York and Hess, and whenever I was there it was always quite busy, so there seems little doubt that the demand is there.

However, while I guardedly support the kind of incentive that your article addresses, I do have to wonder why no one has sought to set up shop downtown in recent years, given the pent-up demand.

Comment edited by lorne on 2012-07-04 11:15:40

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Borrelli (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 13:38:44

Good article, Ryan. It's gone some way to reducing my antipathy for this handout, but I still have a bunch of reservations. I know when the issue came up at the BNA, we were miles apart from consensus.

Many residents recognized that there are plenty of options for groceries downtown, they just don't look like a traditional supermarket. As a result, a few people resented throwing money at a potential competitor for existing businesses who have been down in the core for ages, and worry that a supermarket will put pressure on these independent grocers and markets.

As someone who's lived downtown for six years now, I am not eager to go back to the days of empty store fronts on James N. because these vendors can't compete with a box-store with an urban façade.

If Council decides to support this, I sincerely hope they do their homework and consult with existing businesses downtown and confirm that they are on side. Otherwise I just see this as picking favourites and interfering with those "market forces" that we're supposed to be bowing to these days. It's not like rent downtown is super expensive--if the demand were really so "pent-up", why don't we already have more grocers downtown?

Comment edited by Borrelli on 2012-07-04 13:43:51

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2012 at 14:10:15 in reply to Comment 79165

Check out Appendix F in the staff report. The consistent message from the developers cited - New Horizon (City Square Condos at the old Thistle Club in Durand), Core Urban (Witton Lofts in the West Harbour and Herkimer at Bay in Durand), Sergio Manchia (The Annex on Rebecca Street), Spallacci (Terraces on King), Silvestri Investments (Cityview Terrace at Caroline and Napier) - is that downtown needs a grocery store to be a truly competitive location for new condo and apartment developments. That is what the developers themselves keep hearing from people who might otherwise consider a move into a new urban building.

I know it's possible to buy all your groceries from a variety of small stores and the market. However, we need to think not just about what will benefit people already living downtown but also about what will draw new people to move downtown. To do that, it needs to be able to offer a convenient, accessible larger-format grocery store.

The good news is that city staff seem to have built a good understanding of what an urban grocery store looks like into their evaluation criteria: built into an existing building or on a vacant lot, part of a larger, more diverse mixed-use facility, emphasizing walking and transit rather than just driving, and providing a mix of products and services that distinguishes it from what is already available.

Permalink | Context

By Steve (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 16:34:00 in reply to Comment 79170

All successful developers who could incorporate the space for a small'ish grocery store into their developments.

Sorry, I'm not sold that $650K is enough to bring any supermarket into downtown. Before Toronto started getting all the "urban" stores of large chains, there were small independants and small footprint chains like Farah's who served residents with a wide range of goods.

It's a process and you can't skip a step or you will be required to go back to complete it later. First convenience stores, second small independant/chain grocery-type stores, then the big guys.

Besides there are plenty of options in Downtown Hamilton, you just can't expect to live a suburban lifestyle of one-stop-shopping. That's just one thing separating downtown from the burbs and makes downtown living all the better.

Permalink | Context

By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 08:59:52 in reply to Comment 79187

"you just can't expect to live a suburban lifestyle of one-stop-shopping. That's just one thing separating downtown from the burbs and makes downtown living all the better."

Great point.

The proposed grant has the target of a 22,000 square foot store. How much parking will such a store be required to have? If this is going to be put up on a block downtown, and it's going to be hellish to walk to like Dundurn Plaza or the Food Basics on Barton. Really, walking across the parking lot of Dundurn Plaza to pick up a few groceries, I always think I might as well live in the 'burbs.

There are a lot of options for food in Hamilton's core. That map that City staff spent however long preparing, misses most of the places I frequent to buy my groceries. I think the fact that they think the answer is one single massive store catering to a "broad customer base" shows how little imagination they have.

Permalink | Context

By adrian (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 12:59:13 in reply to Comment 79201

There are a lot of options for food in Hamilton's core.

I think this focus on food is missing an important point, which is that families rely on large grocery stores for a lot more than just food. I can meet most of my family's food needs just by shopping on Locke South, let alone venturing down James.

However, we also need such mundane but important items as diapers, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, garbage bags, lightbulbs, cat litter, and so on. In addition to these items, we require certain food items that are really expensive in smaller stores, such as the biggest box of Raisin Bran money, packs of yogurt containers, cheap cheddar cheese (my kids eat cheese like crazy), etc.

Relying on small stores for these items would probably increase my grocery budget by at least 50%, and that's just not tenable for my family.

Permalink | Context

By borocanuck (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2012 at 09:18:59 in reply to Comment 79287

Adrian, where do you buy these things now?

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2012 at 09:10:36 in reply to Comment 79201

Staff seem to be well aware of the diversity of food choices downtown.

What they keep hearing, however, is that a lot of people don't want to move downtown if they can't enjoy the convenience of a full-service grocery store. That, in turn, is hurting the market for downtown condo / apartment developments.

It's possible to have a grocery store with an urban form - dense, mixed-use building with a streetwall opening onto the sidewalk and parking in the rear or underground - and most successful urban downtowns have them. That preferred urban form is part of the eligibility criteria for the incentive.

Permalink | Context

By Wellman (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2012 at 07:15:37 in reply to Comment 79202

"Most successful downtowns have them"

But is it the egg or the chicken?
Most successful downtowns have a lot of things that Hamilton's lacks. Instituting them would not neccessarily transform the downtown into a successful urban hub.

If this takes place, independent of a mid-to-highrise residential development, my guess is that the store would be attached to convenient surface parking. My understanding, and it may be slightly off, is that underground parking is considerably more expensive to put in place than surface parking. The estimates I've seen are $30,000-$40,000 per spot. (My guess is that average is derived from some fairly sizable structures. Smaller underground structures might contain certain fixed costs without being able to realize the benefits inherent to higher-capacity structures.) A budget of $650,000, for example, would seem to cover maybe a couple of dozen parking spaces at best. As has been suggested here before, my money would be on a site between Hess and Bay, King and Main. (If that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, Danny's No Frills welcomes your business.)

Just out of curiosity, when was the last time a new building, residential or otherwise, was built downtown containing underground parking? I can think of a number of retrofits, but am having trouble coming up with a new example. Would it be the Century 21?

Permalink | Context

By Ersatz (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2012 at 17:16:24 in reply to Comment 79321

Terraces On King apparently has five levels of underground parking totalling 40K+ square feet.

Permalink | Context

By Borrelli (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 11:05:29 in reply to Comment 79202

What they keep hearing, however, is that a lot of people don't want to move downtown if they can't enjoy the convenience of a full-service grocery store. That, in turn, is hurting the market for downtown condo / apartment developments.

A lot of people don't want to move downtown for a lot of reasons: We're facing closing schools, institutional employers are leaving, some people think it's a social services ghetto, and the existing mix of residents is often cited, too. Yet somehow a taxpayer subsidized Sobeys Urban Fresh is going to be the spark to change that?

Sorry Ryan, I follow you down the rabbit hole most of the time, but I still see this more as desperately chasing potential development dollars based on the word of self-interested actors. Of course developers are supportive of a subsidy that makes it easier for them to market condos--because it's totally risk-free for them.

And though this $650k has been framed as relative peanuts, I would much prefer that money go into a bigger, well thought through development opportunity than this half-baked plan to entice Sobeys, Loblaws or Metro to open a store that they don't think they currently run profitably.

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 08, 2012 at 09:13:46 in reply to Comment 79211

I'm loving the fact that this discussion is unfolding. It needs to be a much broader one, but this is an excellent start.

What I hate is the conflation going on, where the idea of subsidizing a major chain has become this bugaboo, where the strength of argument of having what is a necessity in an urban, residential setting is questioned.

-People aren't interested in moving into the downtown-core because it's simply not appealing. This isn't a social decision, this is a personal lifestyle/desires decision. (Even being a modest adventurer, I don't think I'd be inclined to move there right now.)

-Why is a proposal to get a touchstone development 'desperately chasing potential development dollars'? Is that how badly we're fuckled in this city in terms of genuinely seeing things for how they are, that we're essentially so beaten-down that we get ourselves tied into knots as we're discussing the issue?

-I've never seen this whole notion of getting a supermarket downtown as having anything to do with a 'half-baked plan to entice...' and all that. I resent that on many fronts, once again we've got this 'Us vs Them' paradigm unfolding, one that has some pretty clear social issues attached (not a problem in and of itself)...ESPECIALLY when we're dealing with a Council that simply does not have the vision or the leadership or the cajones to actually face up to the the problem at hand, one that's been mouldering for a quarter-century now.

I really think we need to start looking at the bigger picture, because the one we've been going over so far is pretty limited, pretty entrenched in stuff that's simply got to be mitigated and compromises injected in order for us to get anywhere.

And I say 'we', because I believe we (the people) should be setting the tone of the discussion.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2012 at 11:13:53 in reply to Comment 79211

I still see this more as desperately chasing potential development dollars based on the word of self-interested actors.

That may be the case. We don't know until we put out the RFP. The great thing about this is that it won't cost the city any money to solicit proposals.

If nothing comes in, then we will know that either it's not enough money or the market just isn't there.

On the other hand, if proposals do come in and one of them meets the evaluation criteria, it still won't cost the city any money until the developer actually commits and builds it.

Similarly, the loan won't be forgivable unless the store stays in business. With a new grocery store downtown, it will be easier to finance new condos and the investment will pay for itself with new tax revenue.

The proposal is by no means risk-free for the developer - $650K just isn't enough money to take away the risk of a grocery store - but it is pretty close to risk-free for the city because we don't pay unless a developer delivers the goods.

Permalink | Context

By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 14:55:08 in reply to Comment 79212

Similarly, the loan won't be forgivable unless the store stays in business. With a new grocery store downtown, it [MAY] be easier to finance new condos and the investment [MAY] pay for itself with new tax revenue.

Let's at least try to be honest Ryan.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2012 at 06:50:12 in reply to Comment 79227

Let's at least try to be civil, Kiely. By all means, disagree with my arguments - but you don't need to accuse me of dishonesty.

It will certainly be easier to finance new condos downtown if there is a full-service grocery store there. This has been identified over and over again as one of the major barriers to greater residential intensification in the core.

Permalink | Context

By Vraniching Point (anonymous) | Posted July 21, 2012 at 13:40:47 in reply to Comment 79266

Deliciously ironic that the luxury Witton Lofts was made that much more viable by its convenient proximity to the Barton Food Basics.

Permalink | Context

By Borrelli (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 11:30:22 in reply to Comment 79212

That may be the case. We don't know until we put out the RFP. The great thing about this is that it won't cost the city any money to solicit proposals.

Very true.

The proposal is by no means risk-free for the developer - $650K just isn't enough money to take away the risk of a grocery store - but it is pretty close to risk-free for the city because we don't pay unless a developer delivers the goods.

Sorry, I meant the condo developers who are saying, "Yeah, great, let's have a grocery store!" not the supermarket developer.

Permalink | Context

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2012 at 11:45:23 in reply to Comment 79216

Fair enough, but these are condo developers who are already investing in the lower city. They've got 'skin in the game' as the saying goes.

Permalink | Context

By Opportunity Knox (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 22:46:33 in reply to Comment 79217

And their properties will be worth more if there is a supermarket in the vicinity. I value their input but IMHO they are not entirely disinterested observers. Moreover, many if not most of these developers went forward with projects after the Barn/A&P was shuttered forever. Mightn't that suggest that the situation is equally a failure of will among developers?

Permalink | Context

By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 09:47:40 in reply to Comment 79202

In the report, they do make mention of "small" Asian supermarkets, and a total of 24 "specialty food stores" in downtown, and then somehow claim that downtown lacks a supermarket because these stores do not sell bulk cereals in sufficient variety (check it out, that really is the primary failing of these stores that they identify).

I admit that they do say that the desire for a supermarket is "often expressed." How often or where isn't very clear.

The way this is all stated, and the eligibility criteria chosen, they are looking to provide free tax dollars to either Loblaw, Sobey's, or Metro. We've got a lot of choices already- since these choices are apparently, I can only assume that City staff are looking for the convenience apparently only offered by one of the chains. How giving money to one of the dominant players in the sector will help consumers is beyond me.

Permalink | Context

By zaatar (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 19:03:25 in reply to Comment 79206

Those places appeal to invisible minorities. Look at Council's complexion and understand the disconnect from downtown.

Permalink | Context

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 07:05:58 in reply to Comment 79187

You seriously think that Farah's is/was (not sure if they are still around, I think Hasty Market bought them) more than a convenience store? Really?

Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2012-07-05 07:06:15

Permalink | Context

By Borrelli (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 14:41:43 in reply to Comment 79170

Interesting appendix, though more because only developers' opinions are cited and provided. Maybe existing businesses would be just as positive, but it would be nice to see emails from them supporting the subsidy.

As important as it is to chase the next investment, I would put far more weight towards the responses of existing businesses than on the speculation of rah-rah developers.

Permalink | Context

By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 14:29:52 in reply to Comment 79170

Shame that the City didn't consider this deficit when the Terraces or Annex were being built/retrofitted. Those buildings have had a hell of a time finding tenants for those spaces.

Anyone taking odds that we'll see it go in between Bay and Hess, Main and King?

Permalink | Context

By Robbie K (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 09:43:29 in reply to Comment 79174

I live in the Annex. That retail space is very small (2000 square feet I would say). The reason they are having issues with leasing that space is because the condo corporation has condo fees tacked on (at the same rate as residence), so when looking at renting the place, you automaticaly have to tack on 1000$+ a month for fees.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2012 at 00:51:47 in reply to Comment 79174

With its location right next to a parking lot and the large Denningers, the Terraces itself would've actually been an ideal location for a grocery store, or Denningers taking the grant money to spend on an expansion into the field.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 14:23:49 in reply to Comment 79170

next time all those developers should send in letters telling council that if they approve the grocery store, they promise to build town homes from here to Caledonia. Council will approve it in a snap.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 14:31:55

Sounds good to me ... i live near Gage Park on Cumberland .. and im tierd of the NO FRILES set up something like Fortinos or Sobeys good meats with a Butcher on site and freash Vegs and freash Fish as well

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2012 at 14:43:00 in reply to Comment 79175

There's no Denninger's out there? That's surprising the way Denninger's permeates throughout this city.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2012 at 17:32:20

The people who are most distant from supermarkets live right downtown. If you live west of Queen, north of Wilson or east of Walnut, you're probably within a kilometre of a grocery store. This shortfall, as I see it, is primarily about serving the needs of those who live right in the heart of downtown.

And EcDev has already put its finger on the sticky nature of pitching that demographic:

http://www.investinhamilton.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/DowntownProfile.pdf

By their own estimation, downtown represents about a fifth of Ward 2's entire population, but is also overwhelmingly made up of single, childless renters in low-income households.

There are 23,400 jobs downtown generating an average salary of just under $54K, but only 8,300 residents (~5,300 of whom are LICO).

How many years of adding 120 residents (which I believe is the annual average) will it take to achieve some sort or optimal balance?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2012 at 09:36:30

It's such a big deal for some (on Council) to consider a downtown grocery store/supermarket...grant or no-grant...because ...because... Because the people who shrug or pull a face at the prospect drive. They're disinterested. If you listen to the 'outsiders' commenting, or in the way they ask the questions they did, it's quite clear that there's disinterest going on. Never mind the complete and utter disconnect.

I'm sounding cynical here, but I guess I'm a little fed up with the shitty stewardship that's been provided the downtown core for more than two decades now. And this council...even the outlying members...seem quite prepared to add to this legacy. '

I'm not saying that Council should make it their business to make this happen in the form of a grant, and there are other ways to make things happen if you really, truly believe in the merits of things happening, period. But I guess I've reached the point where I'm tired of the tenor of Council.

Meh.

What a wishy-washy mishmash most of the proceedings at 71 Main Street West consistently seem.

The sad thing is that in the two weeks since I wrote that, we've only seen more examples reinforcing my final statement.

Permalink | Context

By DowntownDowner (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 22:25:33 in reply to Comment 79203

I can't agree more with Adrian here. It is a total mess.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 14:51:09

Lots of grocery stores downtown. Let's be honest about what this money is hoping to attract: a major chain grocery store selling boxed frozen food catering to "non-ethnic" tastes. If you want fresh produce downtown has plenty of stores that offer that. Fresh bread? Ditto. Meat and fish? Again small stores exist. But if you want a President's Choice frozen meal in a box you need to walk or take the bus to Fortino's.

If the neighbourhood can support a grocery store, it will. Handing over money to attract a major chain to an area their own market data seems to indicate is not viable isn't a long term solution to a largely manufactured problem. People point to the money handed to developers in other parts of the city as a reason to allow this to happen, well two-wrongs don't make a right folks. What has macroeconomic engineering accomplished in other parts of the city over the past few decades? Has it been good for Hamilton? Do we have a proven track record with these types of schemes? Why will this be any different? Will the numbers still ad up after 5 years or are we just going to "rent" a grocery store for that long?

We have a very healthy community of independent grocers and the market in downtown Hamilton. Wooing a big chain for them to compete against, subsidized by taxpayer money, all for the promised "If we build it they will come" (who?) doesn't pass the smell (or common sense) test to me.

Throwing money around may buy you friends… but generally not the ones you want.

But meh, what's another 600k right?

Comment edited by Kiely on 2012-07-05 14:52:39

Permalink | Context

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 21:19:23 in reply to Comment 79226

We can't all afford convenience store or boutique pricing. Bring on a chain store if it helps keeps costs to affordable levels. If I want to pay for something top shelf, I'll go to the market and pick it up.

Permalink | Context

By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 08, 2012 at 08:58:03 in reply to Comment 79246

B&T and Grace aren't boutique, Pane del sol sells some of the cheapest bread in the city and the market often has excellent prices on produce.

I don't think you know what I'm talking about.

Permalink | Context

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted July 08, 2012 at 21:08:36 in reply to Comment 79322

Probably not, since they don't advertise, I've never heard of them, and have no idea how they stack up price, selection or quality wise.

I shop at the market. Depending on what, where and when you go you can find deals, but not always. I pick up my bread from the Italian bakery there (bottom floor near the back since a loaf is $1.50. Some of the produce is competitively priced but if you don't get there by 9 it's all picked over or gone completely.

I don't think you know what you're talking about.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By lakeside (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 14:59:26

People have commented about pent-up demand ,a large customer base and good future prospects for a downtown supermarket. You think about it and wonder how could it be that no major supermarket chain wants to set up in the core?

Are they mad? They have extensive well-developed supply chains that are already serving their stores in the suburbs and just outside of the core. How much more effort would it take to service one more store just a couple kilometers away?

Why, it almost seems like they don't know a great opportunity when it presents itself; wouldn't first-to-market benefits flow to the company that has the vision to set up here before the inevitable rush of me-toos follow in kind?

I've been thinking about this a lot, looking for the strongest reason for those players' decisions, year after year, to not set up shop in the centre of one of the largest cities in the Province. Thinking about how they run their distribution empires, I think I may have stumbled upon the reason for this puzzling situation.

I would like to propose that the reason major grocers will not establish themselves in downtown Hamilton is: Mixed Income.

What, you say? But isn't mixed income one of the things that makes a given area a better functioning community. Isn't inclusiveness essential to the creation of a successful City that continues to grow and prosper; a place for all?

Yes, of course. But, how does mixed-income fit into the picture for large grocers, who routinely split their brands into as many as five different price points in the same market? All of the majors do this.

In the near east end people are positively spoiled, by local standards, by the presence not one but two No Frills (Loblaw owned) locations, just a few kilometers between. Toward the wealthier west end we have Fortinos (now also Loblaw ownned) serving primarily people with cars. In other markets the same company operates under additional names like Zehr's, Valu-Mart, Independent, Maxi, Superstore, and others.

Each one of the sub-brands is tailored to a specific demographic. Stores are carefully situated, decorated, and priced to fit into a specific point on the price spectrum, a division that they've created over years via acquisition of rivals and price-splitting. You can buy that same can of peas at a wide variety of prices depending upon which store you shop at. It might be only 89 cents at No Frills but could be $1.45 at a Loblaws in Forest Hill. The other stores the company owns would feature the exact same can of peas, coming through the same distribution channels, for varying prices in between.

Each neighbourhood gets the store brand that fits with it's demographic profile. If a neighbourhood experiences gentrification then a Valu-mart may be upgraded to a Loblaws, for instance.

The other companies maintain the same division between their self-defined micro-markets, just the names are different.

So here's the problem, perhaps:

What brand of store would Loblaw Cos. put in at say, Main and Caroline?

If they put a No Frills in then relatively wealthy downtowners and office workers will be getting that can of peas at a price that is below what they would be willing to pay, which could draw more-profitable business away from their Fortinos outlet a couple kilometers to the west.

If they put a Fortinos or Loblaws in then they might worry that the up-market tone of those stores, carefully created by layering in more attractive store finishing, shelving and lighting, wider aisles, in-store bakeries and the like, could be diminished by the presence of conspicuously lower-income shoppers. Those same shoppers are unlikely to buy the premium-priced products that provide the profits to pay for the fancier stores' interiors.

I'm not saying that I like how the biggies have segmented the market but it makes sense to keep this in mind when trying to find a way to break the logjam which keeps stores of this scale out of the core.

Maybe there is some way for the biggies to address this stumbling block, with a little help. But they may not want a solution for what to them is not a problem.

Or maybe the right company would not be one of the major majors. It may be more appropriate to solicit a company on the next level below the majors.

Maybe Highland, Avondale, Fiesta Farms, Big Bee or someone else like that would like to create what for them would be a flagship store here. Those players wouldn't face the same conundrum as the majors: cannibalizing their own (perhaps over-developed) sub-brands.

Comment edited by lakeside on 2012-07-05 15:15:22

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2012 at 17:40:26 in reply to Comment 79228

You raise an issue that's been brought up on this site and elsewhere: What do people who envision a 'revitalization' of the downtown-core, specifically between King and Cannon, James and Wellington to look like? Specifically, who do they think that developers will be keying on?

A 'mix' is a nice concept. But the truth is that in order to have this huge gem of a portion of Hamilton be developed, it's not going to be leveraged to 'affordable housing'. It's possible that some of it will fall within that category, but doubtful that the tremendous inertia will be reversed and magic unfold primarily within it.

Ironically, this ties into a comment I made in another thread today here as well as an op-ed I published on my own site, both dealing with understanding what precisely we're talking about. Because it would be a shame (as well as a shock) to find that the redevelopment of our long-abandoned downtown-core would end up alienating people who have been patient for change to come.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2012-07-05 17:41:36

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2012 at 15:58:07

Spelling error in title. How many times did I read that and not notice?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2012 at 16:27:25

Arrgh, fixed. I bet you read it fewer times than i did.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 18:18:37

Longo’s 48,000 sq. ft. supermarket connected to the new Maple Leaf Square condominium and retail complex in downtown Toronto is a good example of a new full-service urban grocery store approachable from street level. It seems to have some underground parking but it does not have acres of adjacent surface parking.

Before voting next Monday on whether or not to loan/grant almost $10 Million to Vrancor for its Homewood Suites hotel/condo development, Hamilton city council should direct staff to explore with Vrancor and any interested supermarket chain the feasibility of roughing-in space for a full-service grocery store (though probably smaller and less opulent than the new Longo’s supermarket in Toronto) as part of or adjacent to the Homewood Suites complex.

Permalink | Context

By Vraniching Point (anonymous) | Posted July 21, 2012 at 16:35:35 in reply to Comment 79238

VRANCOR
• $125m development w/ 628 condo units, 311 hotel rooms and 20K sq ft of retail space (facing $80m, 152K sq ft McMaster Health Campus)
• Approximately a block from Copps Coliseum
• Median income of neighbourhood below the city average
• Between 2006-2011, population of the surrounding square km shrank slightly

MAPLE LEAF SQUARE
• $500m development w/ 872 condo units, 167 hotel rooms, 900 underground parking spots, 7K sq ft daycare, 230K sq ft office space and 110K sq ft of retail space,
• Approximately a block from the ACC and Rogers Centre.
• Median income of neighbourhood about twice the city average
• Between 2006-2011, population of the surrounding square km more than quadrupled

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1128354--census-condo-boom-driving-up-toronto-s-density


Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By DowntownDowner (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 22:28:18

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Permalink | Context

By borocanuck (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2012 at 09:44:39 in reply to Comment 79250

DD, I hear your frustration but an uplift is what everyone is looking for. Incomes of various levels living close to each other. That's a vibrant taxpaying community and what a downtown should strive for.
A bit more discretionary income is what will bring more services downtown. Too much money raises costs and drives out part of that mix. Its a delicate balance.

Lakesides excellent observations of how big businesses prefer homogenous consumers driving maximum profitability needs addressing. Presumably a mid-level store with a slightly wider range of priced goods would provide the best solution.
The bigger question is then to provide meaningful jobs for everyone in that same community.

Permalink | Context

By selfloathing (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 10:06:54 in reply to Comment 79250

This is why we can't have nice things.

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2012 at 07:25:55 in reply to Comment 79250

That is all it is.

Yup. 'Rage in Hamilton'.

So you're equating white people with 'the rich'. You're equating 'people with money'...essentially middle-class people, you know, the most besieged of citizens everywhere over the past forty years...with -seemingly- obnoxious, unconscionable behaviour.

Interesting. It's rather reminiscent of the generalizations and stereotyping that goes the other way.

I'd like to know how you see (through your lenses) the re-development of James-to-Wellington, King-to-Cannon/Barton.

Clearly you don't want to see 'white, rich people' creating development and you surely don't want them moving in. So I'm curious as to what you'd like to see unfold. And how you envision it unfolding, at the very least, given the nature of this city and how constrained it is initiatives-wise. (I'm talking about creativity in development, I'm talking about putting disparate pieces together to form a much better whole, etc.)

I hope you'll take the time to describe it all to us.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By TnT (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 08:00:14

Isn't that anti-gentrification just a red herring for people to squelch good ideas? I mean how can you exclude successful people? I can't see how this has moved along social/racial lines. This isn't America and we are not all living in the ghetto. Gets me down that Downtown downing of any progress.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 10:00:02 in reply to Comment 79270

apparently this guy thinks there are no rich people who aren't white. And apparently downtown Hamilton should aspire to keep anyone out who hasn't been sent with a one-way bus ticket from TO.

Permalink | Context

By highwater (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 10:06:44 in reply to Comment 79276

apparently this guy thinks there are no rich people who aren't white.

...and no poor people who are.

Permalink | Context

By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 15:49:38 in reply to Comment 79278

I know a number of poor families of all colours I could introduce him to...

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By ViennaCafe (registered) | Posted July 07, 2012 at 10:23:19

There are several challenges to putting a grocery store (and we really mean supermarket) downtown.

The first is the obvious one detailed here: politics. Municipal politicians have their campaigns funded by developers. The most expensive input for the product developers build is land. So they prefer unserviced greenfields to fully serviced downtown land and the role of council has developed to assist land speculators in winning their bets rather than best representing the city as a whole (and this is true of most municipalities). The fact that one councillor would suggest the money could better be spent on roads bears this out. Roads open up new greenfield development.

The second is amalgamation. It only requires a cursory look at the Hamilton ward map to show the downtown wards represent a clear minority on council. So when it comes to directing dollars away from sprawl to urban renewal ... well, good luck. It also explains, in part, the failure of two way conversion (note the two way conversion has been north/south and not east/west) and the foot dragging on transit initiatives.

The third is that businesses have concluded they need not service communities as in the past. Economies of scale demands local, smaller, neighbourhood based outlets be closed in favour of big box model outlets. And people--or consumers if you prefer--will get in their cars and expend their own resources for the same services to which they could once walk. So, it is not just grocery stores, but also banks and almost any other retail amenity you could name.

Overcoming these challenges is going to require something greater than the isolated struggles of urban activists fighting the same battles in different cities all over North America.

Permalink | Context

By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2012 at 11:49:27 in reply to Comment 79316

Great comment. Glad to see this kind of response to a substantive effort such as Ryan's here. (And in The Spec today.)

The first is the obvious one detailed here: politics. Municipal politicians have their campaigns funded by developers. The most expensive input for the product developers build is land. So they prefer unserviced greenfields to fully serviced downtown land and the role of council has developed to assist land speculators in winning their bets rather than best representing the city as a whole (and this is true of most municipalities). The fact that one councillor would suggest the money could better be spent on roads bears this out. Roads open up new greenfield development.

Absatively. And there's little to complain about re: the status quo as long as it's passively allowed to be sustained.

The second is amalgamation. It only requires a cursory look at the Hamilton ward map to show the downtown wards represent a clear minority on council. So when it comes to directing dollars away from sprawl to urban renewal ... well, good luck. It also explains, in part, the failure of two way conversion (note the two way conversion has been north/south and not east/west) and the foot dragging on transit initiatives.

Again, yeah. As for the 'Good luck', I get your cynicism, but considering that very little has actually been mustered over the years against this default, I can actually shift the cynicism to optimism.

The third is that businesses have concluded they need not service communities as in the past. Economies of scale demands local, smaller, neighbourhood based outlets be closed in favour of big box model outlets. And people--or consumers if you prefer--will get in their cars and expend their own resources for the same services to which they could once walk. So, it is not just grocery stores, but also banks and almost any other retail amenity you could name.

Once more, yes. There's no question that for the majors, what you're saying is their truth. But a) this means that unless we can find a way to leverage one into Jackson Square/City Centre, we're best to focus on a homegrown approach (co-op) and b) I have to wonder that if we hadn't seen the decline of Jackson Square, if the entire downtown-core had been better managed, were it still shining, would this issue seem like such pie-in-the-sky?

Overcoming these challenges is going to require something greater than the isolated struggles of urban activists fighting the same battles in different cities all over North America.

Finally, yes. 'Urban activists' in Hamilton comprise a very, very small number. Even those aligned with them don't amount to much. These battles will change only when we're able to properly muster the numbers that reflect the fact that Council works for us, that we're the Employers and they're the Employees. Until we accept our responsibilities, our authority, we'll see these situations unfolding again and again and again. (Next up? AEGD.)

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2012-07-07 11:50:00

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Oasis (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2012 at 13:41:30

"At street level, he proposes a Shoppers Drug Mart, LCBO outlet and a grocery store, which he'd like to see occupy two storeys."

http://raisethehammer.org/article/1586/vranich_shares_details_of_downtown_development_plan

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted July 11, 2012 at 16:43:42

Hmmmmm $50 million for a money losing football team to build a stadium in the exact same place they pissed and moaned for years that they couldn't make money in....... No problem.

$650,000 for something that could have lasting and positive change on the downtown.....Nope.

Cowards! Cowards! Cowards!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Vraniching Point (anonymous) | Posted July 21, 2012 at 13:33:02

Burlington's only downtown supermarket is a No Frills. It's around 2km from the Fairview Longo's and 3km from the Longo's Fortinos.

The Dundurn Fortino's is around 1.5km from the Westdale Metro which in turn is around 2.5km from the Main West Fortino's, which in turn is around 1.5km from the University Plaza Metro, which is around 1.5km from the Metro on Governor's Road.

The Dundurn Fortino's is around 3.3km from both Danny's No Frills and the Barton Food Basics, which are around 2.5km apart.

The Dundurn Fortino's is around 1.5km from Hess/York, one-time site of The Barn. There is apparently a restrictive covenant on that lot now.

There appear to be two sites far enough from existing supermarkets to suggest the possibility of a business case: Bay & George and Cannon & Wellington. The former seems considerably more likely than the latter.

Permalink | Context

By Vraniching Point (anonymous) | Posted July 21, 2012 at 18:38:01 in reply to Comment 79561

Typo: Burlington's downtown No Frills is "around 2km from the Fairview Longo's and 3km from the Fairview Fortinos."

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Stranded Debt (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2012 at 06:15:58

$650,000 should cover about two years' hydro.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By AJ (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2012 at 07:43:17

2 things.

1. Turning down the loan because it is 'a lot of money' is myopic short term thinking. Scary that a councillor holds power and is so short sighted.

2. Co-op grocery store sounds promising.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds