Downtown Bureau

Pondering What Might Have Been

While other universities have figured out how to embrace integrated downtown campuses, McMaster remains addicted to four-storey box buildings more suited for the North Service Road in Burlington.

By Jason Leach
Published June 19, 2009

I have lamented on RTH in the past about the fact that so many urban cities in North America are blessed with universities and colleges that see their role as more than just an in-class educator, but also one of urban revitalization catalyst, with real-world educators creating exciting, livable urban environments through their strategic locating of downtown campuses in an urban, city-building design.

Here in Hamilton we have one of Canada's leading universities in the classroom, but possibly one of the worst when it comes to embracing its massive potential in our downtown core.

I was excited a couple of years ago when David Braley gave $10 million toward a McMaster Health Centre. One of his strong stipulations was that the centre be located downtown.

Braley is a well-traveled man and sharp businessman. He's seen the massive effect that university campuses have had in downtowns of other cities such as Portland, Tacoma, Montreal and so on. I thought it was a brilliant move by him, and possibly the only way McMaster would ever locate any substantial portion of it's operations downtown - by being forced to by a large donation.

Sadly, we are now seeing the same old business model from McMaster after negotiations fell apart with Hamilton's School Board.

Today's Spectator reports that developer Brian Otis (from Toronto, no less) has offered to give McMaster a $2 million piece of land right downtown, mere steps from the school board site.

That's right - he wants to give them the land. Do you think he understands the value of urban university campuses?

McMaster has turned down his offer and is now leaning towards building this massive health project in the McMaster Innovation Park.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Mac actually has it in for our downtown. A $10 million gift and now a $2 million piece of land are still not enough to convince the school to break out of its suburban business park mentality and actually do a wonderful, urban project that would not only raise their profile, but also be a tremendous boost to the city's downtown and very convenient for the site's 75,000 annual patients.

Publicly, we've been told all along that a downtown locale close to convenient transit was necessary for this project. Residents near the Innovation Park can brace themselves for close to 75,000 new vehicle trips annually trundling through their neighbourhood.

The University of Toronto seems to have figured out how to grow and expand their university in the heart of Canada's largest downtown. McMaster is addicted to four-storey box buildings more suited for the North Service Road in Burlington. This is becoming a wasted opportunity for a signature project at a prime site in downtown Hamilton.

Imagine the impact an additional 75,000 people would have on the businesses in Jackson Square, Hess Village, the Farmers Market and along King Street.

Instead, we're going to do what we do best - stick them all on the 403 and watch them curse under their breath in a traffic jam at Aberdeen.

As is case far too often in Hamilton, we're left to ponder what could have been.

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

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By hunter (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 10:07:20

wow, what a wasted opportunity. hopefully otis can find another partner interested in free downtown land.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 11:00:28

Not to mention that it will be occupying space in the Innovation Park that could have gone to industries that would have been paying corporate taxes. The whole point of the Innovation zoning designation was to provide for spin-off industries, now a much larger percentage of the available land will be occupied by the university itself, with the resulting loss of spin-off potential and revenue.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 11:25:49

Jason said: "A $10 million gift and now a $2 million piece of land are still not enough to convince the school to break out of its suburban business park mentality and actually do a wonderful..."

While I do say that I wish McMaster were building on the original proposed site within downtown, to say Innovate Park as an option equates to "suburban business park mentality" is sensationalism.

I can walk to MIP from the downtown core in roughly 10 minutes.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 12:07:08

synxer, my 'suburban business park' comment is referring to their prevalent style of architecture and designing their campus and Innovation Park as 4-storey, boxy, suburban business parks.

A downtown site could have added several floors and been a great urban campus, similar to what other big city universities do downtown. Imagine if U of T only built 3-4 storey slab buildings in downtown TO?

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 12:27:14

Jason,

McMaster University is one of the best schools in Canada and it is an huge net contributor to this city's economy and reputation. They are doing their best to bring the health centre to the core and I would like to remind you that this university is also building the innovation park on a former brownfields site.

What more do you want this university to do for this city?

Just because they don't have a big enough presence downtown (at least to satisfy you) you feel that you can dump all over them (they do have continuing education programs in the old courthouse).

I find it amusing that you dump on Mac for not investing more in the core yet you work as a pastor at two suburban churches. Why don't you write an article on RTH bashing your organization for not investing enough downtown?

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By Tim Jacobs (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 12:56:48

The U of T, Ontario College of Art & Design, and Ryerson University are three of Canada's leading universities. They are innovative, imaginative, and all three happily anchored to their urban environments. You're quite right, Jason, each of these schools has found innovative ways to be part of the city theyre in instead of walling themselves off from Toronto. McMaster, sadly, sees Hamilton as an entity best avoided, and doesn't really realilze that both destinies are intertwined: the better Hamilton does economically, the better it is for McMaster.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 13:03:12

McMaster has been part and parcel of putting some workers into poverty. Jobs that were full time work have been contracted out, wages forced down to minimum wage, no benefits either.

McMaster serves the elite in our community, should it not be looking out for those that struggle as well? Why throw people out of work, why not adopt a living wage policy?

Why should those at the top be making hugh dollar amounts, benefits, pensions, and so on, while denying workers? Something wrong when an institution that is suppose to be about learning, steps on those who are less fortunate, the working class.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 13:23:57

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.

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By The Godfather (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 13:24:40

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.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 13:46:44

^So now "the voice of reason" uses insults and insinuating to make it's points?

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 14:07:10

Captalist: I think you have that wrong. Shouldn't you who deem as being associated with dicators, where your policies are that only those at the top should have and the workers nothing. Just keep on beating your chest, you are becoming the obsolete.

Nice try on the spin though

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By RealityCheck (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 16:36:38

McMaster has been given the role of whipping boy unfairly here. While it is true they turned down the offer of 'free' land downtown, its suitability for what Mac plans was in doubt. And we don't know the conditions in detail. From Mr. Dreschel's article today, we know half of the plot of land bordered by Main, Caroline, George and Queen was being offered to the school. That is roughly one-third the size of the plot of land at the school board site previously being considered by Mac.

With regards to its location at Innovation Park, that indicates a desire on Mac's behalf to dovetail medical research and health delivery into one multi-purpose campus. There is the space available at this site for such a facility, it is already land that Mac has in its possession, and they do have a tight deadline to ensure the student practitioner positions are delivered as per their arrangement with the provincial government.

I am amazed at how quickly the honeymoon with the Innovation Park ended. What was once considered here as a beacon for Hamilton's promising future is now being regarded as nothing more than a suburban business park accessible only by car via highway 403. Of course, pay no nevermind that the park in actuality will be serviced by Hamilton's future LRT B-line.

As far as Mr. Otis' offer of 'free' land goes, and knowing that the other half of his land would be occupied by a big-box-style retail drug store, how would this development contribute to the ideal of building up our urban core?

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted June 19, 2009 at 17:15:33

I find McMaster frustrating because they do so much that's absolutely brilliant, but it's so geographically confined. To use space at Innovation Park meant for business purposes, as highwater mentioned, also defeats some of its purpose.

re: the comments made on McMaster salaries, however....

McMaster is hardly the poster child for unfair salary distribution or huge dollar amounts to those at the top. One could nitpick about a person or two at the very pinnacle, but Ontario public sector salary disclosure documents will tell you differently. Those 'at the top' are being rewarded a relatively paltry amount for positions that require, at minimum, a decade or so of education, and often decades more of hard work in their field atop that. Very few make it into these jobs without significant personal and financial sacrifice. The people who even make it on the disclosure list usually barely break the 6 figure mark.

That said, a living wage should be a no-brainer, but it's hardly fair to suggest their full-time employees' salary be cut to compensate, or for largely symbolic cuts for a coupple people at the pinnacle... go after Wal-Mart or another corporation actually screwing lots of people over, not McMaster.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 19:32:52

Meredith, I agree 100%. McMaster does so much brilliant, but it is geographically confined...or isolated.

Bang on. Some people on here can't have a civil discussion without acting like US news anchors yelling and carrying on.

Mac is great for Hamilton. The Innovation Park is great for Hamilton. This health centre would have been ultra great for downtown Hamilton.....it's a shame that we're going to lose it.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 20, 2009 at 00:22:47

Meredith writes: That said, a living wage should be a no-brainer, but it's hardly fair to suggest their full-time employees' salary be cut to compensate, or for largely symbolic cuts for a coupple people at the pinnacle... go after Wal-Mart or another corporation actually screwing lots of people over, not McMaster.

Yes, a living wage should be adopted, I agree but that should include all workers, don't you think?

So as a community leader why hasn't McMaster adopted a living wage policy for all its employees?

As part of a letter writing comapign I compassionately pleaded with the president of the university not to cut full time jobs that were to be contracted out to the temp companies, where workers are mostly paid low wages, no benefits, no job security. What about those families who were losing their steady income eh?

Anyways, where did I call for salary cuts?

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 20, 2009 at 09:35:51

anonymous wrote: "I'm sure they saw the opportunity to line their pockets once the school board site fell through."

By giving away a piece of their land??

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By JonC (registered) | Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:57:13

Based on the comments, by building a drug store on the lot next door, to service the 75,000 annual patients.

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted June 20, 2009 at 13:04:36

Is it true that Mac was once also offered what's now City Centre for free? Maybe Mr. Otis should offer his land to Mohawk or an out of town university if he really see's the business sense in filling it with students? Brantford and Orillia are both doing well with campuses from elsewhere.

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By Christine @ Centre for Continuing Educat (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2009 at 13:44:18

McMaster University, in fact, does have a vibrant presence in the heart of downtown Hamilton. The Centre for Continuing Education, located in McMaster's Downtown Centre (50 Main Street East, Hamilton), provides high-quality, professional education for individuals and corporate clients, offering over 300 courses and professional development workshops, and a rich menu of options for customized corporate training. Small classes and flexible learning options accommodate the unique needs of adult learners.

During the last academic year, nearly 3,000 people continued their education through the Centre's academic programs. Many more took advantage of the Centre's professional development workshops, computer training, and corporate and custom training solutions. While most students are from Hamilton and the surrounding area, the Centre serves distance students from across the world and corporate clients from across Canada.

The readers of this blog are encouraged to find out more at the Centre's website (www.mcmastercce.com), by visiting our facility in McMaster's Downtown Centre on Main Street between Hughson and John Streets or (for a third-party source) reading the McMaster University article in Wikipedia.

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By Whazat (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2009 at 15:31:28

There was more than one party involved in the negotiations to bring the facility downtown.

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