Downtown Bureau

New Building a Milestone in James North Revitalization

If a proposed new building on a vacant lot at James and Vine goes ahead, it will mark an important milestone in the ongoing revitalization of James North.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 05, 2012

If a proposed new building on the vacant lot at on the northwest corner of James Street North and Vine Street goes ahead, it will mark an important milestone in the ongoing revitalization of James North.

Sign at James and Vine showing a rendering of the proposed building
Sign at James and Vine showing a rendering of the proposed building

The property owner, developer Jack Beume, has posted a rendering for a new three-storey, 10,000 square foot office building he plans to construct there if enough tenants step forward. He already has a tenant who can fill 30 percent of the building and hopes to fill another 40 percent by the end of the year.

If he pulls this off, it will cap an amazing recovery for a street that was written off as a lost cause just a decade ago.

Beume plans to merge the parking lot with the adjacant vacant lot to construct the new building
Beume plans to merge the parking lot with the adjacant vacant lot to construct the new building

Bootstrapping Revitalization

At the start of last decade, James North was in such bad shape that even its own former councillor wrote it off. Former Ward 2 Councillor Ron Corsini told residents: "Forget about it. Shops and businesses are never going to return to James North. They're gone forever."

One of the biggest advantages of James North is that it retained a continuous streetwall of intact two- to four-storey buildings. Thanks to that gift from the past of cheap fixed investment in square footage, the street has since been able to pull itself up by its own bootstraps.

James North was tamed and converted to two-way in September 2002. With traffic moving more slowly, curbside parking and safe, welcoming sidewalks, the street finally got its chance to begin recovering from a long, painful decline.

Slowly, steadily, early adopter entrepreneurs started to bet on James. They bought buildings cheap and renovated them to allow retail on the main floor and apartments or condos upstairs.

Many storefronts started out in the arts - galleries, art supply shops and so on - more as labours of love than cash cows. But the street felt good and people came. They came to the stores to shop, and they came to the apartments to live.

Ethnic grocery stores opened and thrived. Old restaurants found new clientele and new restaurants followed. Coffee shops, pubs and concert venues joined the mix.

Soon, creative professionals were locating on James North as well, both fueling and drawing from the increasingly palpable energy on the street.

The bootstrapping continued on several fronts. Gallery owners collaborated on monthly Art Crawls that drew thousands of visitors who rediscovered James North and went forth to spread the word about the street's ongoing revival.

The Art Crawl, in turn, leveraged an annual Supercrawl that has exploded since its launch in 2009, growing to an amazing 50,000 attendees last year and expanding to two days this coming September: Friday the 14th and Saturday the 15th.

New Construction

It's one thing to buy an undervalued existing building and renovate it, and for decades this has been a well-understood way to revitalize a flagging neighbourhood. As Jane Jacobs famously wrote:

Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them. By old buildings I mean not museum-piece old buildings, not old buildings in an excellent and expensive state of rehabilitation-although these make fine ingredients-but also a good lot of plain, ordinary, low-value old buildings, including some rundown old buildings. ...

If you look about, you will see that only operations that are well established, high-turnover, standardized or heavily subsidized can afford, commonly, to carry the costs of new construction. Chain stores, chain restaurants and banks go into new construction. ...

But the unformalized feeders of the arts - studios, galleries, stores for musical instruments and art supplies, backrooms where the low earning power of a seat and a table can absorb uneconomic discussions - these go into old buildings. Perhaps more significant, hundreds of ordinary enterprises, necessary to the safety and public life of streets and neighborhoods, and appreciated for their convenience and personal quality, can make out successfully in old buildings, but are inexorably slain by the high overhead of new construction.

As for really new ideas of any kind - no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be - there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.

But when a developer seriously proposes the big capital risk of a new building, that means the overall value of the street has increased to the point where bigger tenants paying higher rents start to see a new building as an investment worth making.

Razed city blocks east of James North
Razed city blocks east of James North

James North has traded on its existing stock of intact buildings for the past decade. With all of the new value it has generated for investors, a successful new construction offers new hope for the vacant lots nearby - particularly on Hughson North and John North, which have suffered the indignity of entire city blocks razed between King William and Wilson.


Update: The building is going ahead and construction is underway.

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.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 14:12:09

Hamilton has no clue how amazing the future of downtown could be if good development takes place on all those lots in the core. We could add 25,000 people to the core in a snap once the market is there (and assuming city hall doesn't try to turn every condo proposal into a 6 storey box).

This project on James North would do wonders for the street...that block from Vine to Cannon has to be the worst on the whole strip. I don't foresee anything useful at the Asian market site anytime soon, but if the rest of the block could be rehabbed and add a new building to frame the corner, it would be a great transformation.

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 03:47:19 in reply to Comment 79222

I'll bet that 90% of passersby don't even realise that Asian supermarket is open. You'd never know it to look. It's hard to know where the front door is even!

Anyway, rehabbing this block would be massive. If this building goes ahead, the rest will likely get fixed up shortly thereafter.

Incidentally, how long has Mr Beaume owned this property? Methinks he's been sitting on it for a verrrrry long time. It's about time something got done.

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By Muesli (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 05:26:08 in reply to Comment 79264

According to one of the news reports on this Now Leasing sign, Beume has apparently owned this lot for the last 40 years but has been waiting for the neighbourhood to gentrify before introducing plans for a development. He first did so five years ago when he proposed a similar project on the parking lot at 1 Vine but neglected to erect a sign and so garnered much less media hype.

Trivia: Beume also lays claim to another milestone moment. He owns and perhaps developed the mini mall at James and Wilson. That opened in 1987, apparently trading on the redevelopment of the Eaton Centre (opened 1990), which I believe was the last new build on James North.

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 21:21:13 in reply to Comment 79265

40 years?!? Totally uncool. Rather than waiting, he could have triggered the James North renaissance but instead he's made things more difficult for everybody else.

And if he's in any way respon sible for Centre Point at James and Wilson then he's got some serious fence-mending to do!

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By Correction (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 16:55:59 in reply to Comment 79265

He has owned the parking lot for quite some time but only recently picked up the vacant lot adjacent to the North.

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By gordo (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 14:25:42

today's new construction is next century's old building

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 16:49:01

I recently opened a music shop on James Street and certainly couldn't have any hope of success if it were not for the hard work and foresight of those who bought and restored buildings when the street was near rock bottom. I also realize that the ongoing development of the street will lead to higher rents in the old buildings as well as the new, which I'm prepared to face in the coming years. If I ever get rich and expand, a couple units in this new development would be perfect!

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted July 20, 2012 at 07:23:36 in reply to Comment 79234

What kind of music shop - selling CDs/vinyl or instruments?

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 21:24:20 in reply to Comment 79234

Good luck!

James North has a funny effect on people. I've even considered starting a business.

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 16:55:52

Hamilton developer, Hamilton architect, Hamilton planner... nice! Jack Beume in the Spec today, "There is a buzz to the street. The street is waking up... I really like Hamilton. I always have, even with all its warts and hairy sores."

Jonathon, I hope you get rich and can move into the building.

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By Repointing (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2012 at 10:49:13 in reply to Comment 79235

Let's hope the rendering is the low yardstick and not the high one. Sometimes the result is only superficially similar to the rendering.

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/580640--dust-free-asbestos-free-demo-continues-save-for-the-west-wing

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By Sagacity (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 18:53:34

So many developers would have been content to take their ball and go home after a proposal met with a tepid market and neighbourhood disdain, as Beume's 2007 proposal did. Kudos to him for that. Hopefully this project comes to fruition and is more glamorous than most of his other builds, which are frankly pretty banal/horrific.

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By Manchu (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 19:49:17

A hopeful sign when a parking lot owner decides it's time to put up a building. Let's not let him down. He might own other more notorious lots nearby.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 21:09:50

I'll believe it when I see it. The cynic in me tells me this site will be as active as the Hamilton Grand.

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By Period Piece (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 13:10:00 in reply to Comment 79243

http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showpost.php?p=3136398&postcount=2

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 21:13:02 in reply to Comment 79243

New Building A Millstone, etc.

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By Marion (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 21:15:01

With city work orders offering a choice between repair or demolish, it's no wonder buildings were razed during the lean years. Who wanted to put money into an old building when a vacant lot was more valuable? Especially when you paved it and added yellow lines. Nice to see the turnaround.

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By PipeSmoked (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 22:17:44

Doesn't this concern anyone? This guy is probably one of the worse speculators of parkinglot space on James and now he is being heralded as a hero cause he is going put "a decent coffee shop" in this building. What a jackass. This will not aid thestreet, it will kill it. All of the corporate intrest in the street (and some of it is hidden behind goodwill like in an old laundry/flophouse) is discouraging and hurtful to the little guy. No body in the arts and music industry is going to be happy with the place turning into SoHo. Instead of artists you will have box stores. The fancy-smancy furniture stores are the next step in this. How long before the guy just shoves a Starbucks and a Bank and a Law Firm at the end of the street. Lots of people making a bit of money is the way to go, not a couple of greedy aholes hijacking the whole thing.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 23:35:54 in reply to Comment 79247

Isn't that just a bit of a leap?

I could agree if he was proposing a 20-storey office building or condo, but it's the right scale for the street and will add to the mix of uses.

Mixed use really means mixed use - homes/apartments and stores and restaurants and services and offices etc.. If this attracts some financial/professional employment, to me that will just add to the mix that James has become.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 23:11:40 in reply to Comment 79247

If he's able to 'shove' a starbucks, bank and law firm onto James North I'd have to give him credit. Starbucks has never touched downtown Hamilton until Locke St. It's not like they're begging to get in. Banks have been fleeing for the burbs for years. Law firms exist in great numbers downtown, so that could certainly make sense, but if he lands those first two tenants, it's quite an accomplishment.

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By S McD (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 01:08:15 in reply to Comment 79257

I don't know how many banks have been fleeing downtown for the burbs. I was aware of relocations (Bank of Mtl from King&James to Main&Bay) and amalgamations (TD King&Hughson and TD 100KingWest) but didn't a new bank just open downtown at One James South this year? Am I missing some greater trend?

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 09:47:31 in reply to Comment 79262

perhaps I'm thinking more of the neighbourhood banks downtown such as ones that have left Locke South, King East/Main East Sherman areas....BMO on James N and TD on James S seem to be the last holdouts.
I think Gore Park lost a couple that merged with offices in Jackson Sq, but I suppose that's not really leaving the core...I probably should have said 'street-front banks' on downtown retail/neighbourhood streets.

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By Status Whoa (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 23:04:23 in reply to Comment 79247

He's been squatting on a parking lot for 40 years waiting for the market to hit that sweet spot, and was biding his time slapping up faceless strip retail across suburbia (the aptly named Spartan Plaza, among others). It's not exactly the heroic back story you'd hope for, but it's arguably bootstrappy and it'll do in a pinch.

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By Balance (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 23:52:29

Has anyone met this guy, I have, he seems to be a big cynic of downtown and is here to make a dollar for himself. We've heard about this for years. When I've spoken with him, he's never had anything good to say about the downtown.

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By S McD (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 01:29:42

Most downtown law firms tend to be located within three blocks of the courthouses, for logistical reasons.

Remember that this is being proposed as a three-storey, 10,000 square foot building. That's, what, 3,400 square feet per floor plate? Plenty of existing spaces downtown already fill that bill, and still go wanting for banks and law firms to lease the space. The closest equivalent to that scenario thus far has been the arrival of MoneyMart at the mall across the street. (I guess that's banking of a sort.)

It will be interesting to see who signs on. Has anyone done a survey of Beaume's lessees at other mixed-use and commercial/retail developments? What does the Great Oz tend to attract?

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By Ezaki Glico (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 07:14:54

I tend to think of the Acclamation Lofts as the street's milestone: new, privately funded residential development that departs from the standard script we're used to seeing (bare-bones market-level rental units that make up the bulk of downtown residential stock). That project (announced three years ago) at least satisfies part of the chicken-egg construct. Does anyone have an update on that project?

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By TnT (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 07:53:53

I think this is great. Why the hating on development? I am more cautious of Vrancor developing a night club at the old Shoppers.

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By Road Cone (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 09:12:12 in reply to Comment 79269

I'm reading an even split.

The first word in the article is "If", and that's the hitch. This is a hypothetical milestone, as much a "serious" proposal as any that have enlisted an architect and generated a rendering. Which this developer has done before on this very corner, only without splashing out on a street sign.

I think the skepticism is valid, and I read the tone as "happy/hoping to be proven wrong".

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 09:50:44

Let's not forget, he's got competition weirdly enough after decades of no developments like this.

http://235mainwest.ca/

http://royalcourt.ca/

It should be noted that both of these projects were announced long before the James North one, and there is no action on either site yet. If I was a betting man, I'd guess that 235 Main West will get built first...and perhaps alone. Frisina is moving their head office there, so they've automatically got a hunk of the building occupied. Would be nice to see all 3 though.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-07-06 09:51:00

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted July 08, 2012 at 15:38:00 in reply to Comment 79274

I'm still hoping to see movement on the Royal Court property, but my cynicism is starting to set in.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 11:32:56

I tend to think of the Acclamation Lofts as the street's milestone: new, privately funded residential development that departs from the standard script we're used to seeing (bare-bones market-level rental units that make up the bulk of downtown residential stock).

I would see it the other way around. Acclamation will likely want 70% presales before construction begins as that is usually the condition for funding. Beume is willing to go ahead with 70% leasing, which amounts to a much lesser cash commitment, leaving the bank to finance for a longer term.

Once a condo is bought, the developer gets paid on completion. If the market tanks, the buyers have to eat it. Leased space leaves the building owner / developer prone to market fluctuations. I can only see a leased development as harder to pull off, and thus a stronger sign of improved economics in the area.

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By Ezaki Glico (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 12:27:16 in reply to Comment 79282

My comment was made in relation to the hypothetical completion of two proposed projects.

I would certainly concede that the bar is considerably lower for this project than the condos. I would still regard residential as the true "milestone," as I feel it addresses head-on the central imbalance of the downtown ecosystem, but I accept that everyone comes at things from a different perspective and awards distinctions based on subjective criteria.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 11:36:06 in reply to Comment 79282

Of course this guy could probably finance the whole thing out of pocket, but that is not typically how these guys roll. He will be making 8% with his own capital, lease the building out and borrow at 5%, making 3% for nothing while raking in the rent. God, I love capitalism. Oh well, it's how cities were built for a long time.

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By Stylette (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 13:01:58 in reply to Comment 79283

You forgot the Hamilton Downtown Property Improvement Grant Program.

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By LOL (registered) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 14:48:13

IF you actually bother to read the sign it clearly states "up to 10,000 SQ. FT. per floor, which I believe for a 3 story building adds up to 30,000 Sq. Ft.

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By howaboutafalafel (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2012 at 16:23:22

"The closest equivalent to that scenario thus far has been the arrival of MoneyMart at the mall across the street. (I guess that's banking of a sort.)"

The developer on this building owns that plaza. I'm question him being a "fan of Hamilton" and caring about the vitality of the street if he feels like that is a suitable tenant for the neighbourhood.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2012 at 03:43:49

In my experience living on and around James North while all of this "revitalisation" has happened, I've seen very little from "developers". The success of the street, if anything, came from the comparative absence of big landowners like Stinson or Vranich. When I first moved into the area, one could still buy a full building for a hundred grand or so - and many did. It was people like Graham, Gary, Zena(sp?) and Dave who put endless hours of their own time in to bring people back to the street and bring the old buildings back to life.

It's pointless to talk about "saving" downtown unless we talk about what we're saving it from. And that discussion can't happen without mention of decades of speculation which left properties as vacant buildings or parking lots in the hopes of an eventual James North-style "renewal".

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By PointofOrder (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2012 at 23:50:59 in reply to Comment 79310

All of those businesses that you mention above, are people running expensive hobby shops and not commerce. So a couple of millionaires open up their own galleries on James with minimal spin off business, it is a false economy. They are propping up the street with money that will vanish with them.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted July 09, 2012 at 08:00:58 in reply to Comment 79320

Not this old tune again. What an outrage that people with money invested in a street. That is how capitalism works. It isn't that these business people created huge sales profits, but rather they improved the image. Read the Jane Jacobs quote from Ryan above and you'll get the idea. Imagination will lead to the "cool" of the street and it's improvement. Please just stop the hating.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 08, 2012 at 10:10:05 in reply to Comment 79320

Because "commerce" did such a good job at revitalizing downtown over the past few decades...

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2012 at 08:00:50 in reply to Comment 79310

It's pointless to talk about "saving" downtown unless we talk about what we're saving it from. And that discussion can't happen without mention of decades of speculation which left properties as vacant buildings or parking lots in the hopes of an eventual James North-style "renewal".

Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.

http://www.raisethehammer.org/comment/79...

http://www.raisethehammer.org/comment/79...

http://www.raisethehammer.org/comment/79...

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2012-07-07 08:01:15

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted July 10, 2012 at 20:46:29

Not another three story...how can we ever expect to get real downtown density if we keep building and preserving these near cookie cutter, three floor stubs that have little architectural value. Add to the fact these developments seldom have underground parking, meaning yet more blacktop somewhere else and the developer has been sitting on the lot, I'm not so sure this is a good news story. Six floors or more is what I would like to see. Oh well, I guess it beats a parking lot.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2012-07-10 20:49:53

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By lol (registered) | Posted July 11, 2012 at 16:24:36

IF and WHEN that building gets built I hope that they do a better job of designing it to fit into the neighbourhood than the new condo at Dundurn and Aberdeen. All I can figure out is they must have bribed someone at city hall. If I owned either of the ajoining buildings I would be furious and looking for a way to blow it up with out harming my own. What an abomination.

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted July 12, 2012 at 13:49:34

one tiny snag in jack's plan is that the zoning on that stretch of james north is exclusively residential above the first floor. it seems to me, having a very intimate knowledge of james north, that if he had announced commercial main floor and residential on the second and third floor he would be presently contemplating adding a fourth and fifth floor. the office vacancy rate in this city is over ten percent. there are very few places to live on james street north. i really hope the city doesnt just roll over on the zoning issue. i would rather an empty lot for another couple of years than a building that eliminates the potential for new residential construction on that corner in our lifetime. we desperately need more people living downtown.

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By Pastiche (anonymous) | Posted July 16, 2012 at 08:07:50 in reply to Comment 79411

"the zoning on that stretch of james north is exclusively residential above the first floor"

So all of those artist studios are illegal? Or are retrofits grandfathered free and clear?

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By g (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2012 at 12:21:57

the zoning changes when you cross cannon heading north where a lot of the studios are. also, some of the buildings have had zoning changes done on an individual basis in the past, but if you build new it reverts back to the overall zoning of the area

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By dude (anonymous) | Posted July 27, 2012 at 11:07:16

In a way this would be good. The little guys can set up shop on Barton, or King East, or Kenilworth, or the Delta. There are so many opportunities for revitalization in the city.

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By dude (anonymous) | Posted July 27, 2012 at 11:09:14 in reply to Comment 79577

^^I mean gentrification/corporatization of James North

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