Councillor Sam Merulla wants to engage the community in a grassroots design effort to redevelop the site of the City Motor Hotel into a diverse, mixed-use, mixed-income project.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 22, 2013
Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla wants the city to take a broad, grassroots approach to the redevelopment of the City Motor Hotel site at the Queenston traffic circle.
The property is currently home to a 1960s-vintage motor hotel that is notorious for crime, violence, prostitution and drug abuse, but the City decided to seize it last April after a strong push from Merulla.
Just this week, Council voted to spend $1.96 million to buy the property from the fuzzy list of current owners.
Now the City has to decide what to do with it, and Merulla wants to make sure the project that results is community-based, not imposed from above.
In a telephone interview with RTH, Merulla said he wants to reach out to the community from the start to design a new development that the community supports. "I want to promote an effort of trying to bring everyone together who's interested in participating."
He envisions a process similar to Toronto's redevelopment of Regent Park, which is transforming a monolithic postwar housing block into a diverse mixed-income, mixed-use community.
Doing that with the City Motor Hotel property would entail "a grassroots approach to design and architecture," and Merulla wants to get people thinking about how that can happen.
"The first plan," Merulla explained, "is to eliminate the blight. Once we have a clean slate, we're going to have a residential, commercial, public transit hub development."
The City Motor Hotel site is already identified in the City's Nodes and Corridors plan for the east-west transit line as an important node on the proposed B-Line light rail transit line. "If you look at the Nodes and Corridors plan, it's already identified as such as a priority."
Merulla wants to get CityHousing Hamilton involved in creating some affordable housing, but he wants the project to be mixed-income, not just affordable housing. He also wants to undertake "an RFP [request for proposals] process to get the private sector involved to maximize the project itself."
He made a point of drawing a contrast with the recent Centre Mall redevelopment into a generic big box plaza. "I erred at the Centre Mall. I'm proud of it but it could be better, and I don't want to make the same mistake with City Motor."
At the time, urbanists criticized Merulla for not promoting design standards that would have created a more mixed development that interacted better with its surroundings. The single-use box stores face away from Barton Street into a large interior parking lot.
With the City Motor Hotel, Merulla is "encouraging everyone all over the city to be involved, but with a preference for people in the east end" who will live close to the project.
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