Downtown Bureau

Council to Vote on Connaught Plan

If it seems like there are a lot of 'ifs' in this proposal, it's because there are.

By Jason Leach
Published September 14, 2009

With Wednesday's Council meeting approaching and a final decision expected regarding the Royal Connaught Hotel building, I've been informed of a few more details about the project that should be discussed that night.

Royal Connaught Hotel (RTH file photo)
Royal Connaught Hotel (RTH file photo)

Facade Restoration: The builders are going to completely restore the facade of the building as well as the grand lobby. The lobby appears as though it will be used for the market rental portion of the building.

Also, if a new hotel is ever needed at this site, the builders are suggesting they will build it adjacent to the current hotel on the east side and use the old lobby as the new hotel lobby.

Proposed Grocery Store: The builders are also suggesting that they will build a grocery store on the east side of the Connaught as part of their retail component. This is obviously welcome news in our attempts to add more residents to downtown Hamilton.

Also, the grocery store may be built with the ability to build a new hotel tower over top of it in the future.

Incidentally, if it seems like there are a lot of 'ifs' in this proposal, it's because there are. All of these issues should be more clear on Wednesday night.

The rear of the Connaught sits empty and underused as a surface parking lot (RTH file photo)
The rear of the Connaught sits empty and underused as a surface parking lot (RTH file photo)

Street-Facing Retail? I wasn't able to find out what will become of the old street-facing retail along the Gore. My fear, like many others, is that there will be a push to eliminate it - similar to the battles that have gone on at the Lister Block and the fate of its retail arcade.

If we're going to add hundreds of new residents downtown, we need to start bringing in appropriate amenities to serve them.

How to Do This Right

Despite strong feelings by many in the community (myself included) that the Connaught should be preserved as a hotel, if the attempts to save it are unsuccessful, we are going to be seeing 200 market rental units brought on stream in the Gore.

I don't think anyone will argue this is a bad thing in itself. All large cities have huge rental towers in their cores.

The social housing aspect is probably the more contentious issue here due to the oversaturation of that form of housing downtown already.

But let's take a big picture view for a moment. What basic services would a family or college students like to see at their doorstep if choosing to move to this location?

The aforementioned grocery store is paramount and if council agrees to proceed with this project, I would suggest that they get a written guarantee from the builders that a grocery store will be brought to that location.

Just in that few block of Catharine Street from King to Hunter there are several hundred residents in Terminal Towers, Landmark Place and the Columbia College residence.

Retail shopping may be another amenity that folks would like to see added in greater demand downtown. Is anyone at city hall banging down the doors at stores with a downtown presence in other cities? I'm thinking of the usual suspects - H&M, American Apparel, Mexx, GAP, etc. - but even Winners would be a great addition to the downtown area.

We need someone in downtown renewal or EcDev to be courting these stores every day. Successful cities take work to create. They don't just happen on their own.

New Park Space

Finally, how about a look at some new park space? The upcoming revamp of the Gore should turn it into a more functional urban plaza with events, shopping, music, patios, water features, and so on, but I think right now is the right time for the city to get moving on their proposed park at John and King William.

It needs to be a top-notch urban park with big trees, water pads, kids play equipment, benches, gardens, walkways, and all the amenities.

With improved facilities downtown we may see a new demand for downtown living. That, in turn, that may lead to the day when folks with great vision like Harry Stinson can get financing for landmark projects that become another focal point downtown and add new residents to a growing core.

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

33 Comments

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 15:01:26

The city can get all the written guarantees it wants from these developers. The truth is that the parties involved are so well connected with both council and staff that they will be able to violate the guarantees with impunity. In the absence of very serious political pressure (which is invariably lacking in Hamilton) the city will never enforce a contract against the aptly named "consortium". In fact, I can assure you, as is so often the case in City of Hamilton development deals, the lawyers on both sides will negotiate knowing full well that the clauses of the agreement they are drafting are pure window dressing.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 15:01:42

"I'm thinking of the usual suspects - H&M, American Apparel, Mexx, GAP, etc. - but even Winners would be a great addition to the downtown area."

These would be great additions, however, these stores are not located downtown because the people residing in the core are low income. As a result we have dollar stores, Salvation Army discount, and Hart. This RCH development into subsidized housing is the exact opposite of what downtown needs.

I don't beleive any of these "ifs" at all. The developers are just putting them there to fool council.

I have a feeling that if this project gets approved the whole building is going to go assisted living. Many people will not want to rent or buy in a building that also has assisted housing units (I know I wouldn't). When faced with low demand for market prced units the building will be forced to go entirely welfare.

Hamilton is being conned once again on this one.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 15:04:54

What other property does this consortium own? Just curious.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 15:10:38

Great article, Jason.

Let's face facts. There is a pretty obvious link between crime and poverty. Low-income housing + H&M? Not going to happen.

I do not trust this proposal. I think this plan should be halted immediately. We'll never see the potential of this city or downtown if we let it become more dense with poverty.

Let's try something new and different: City creates a fund, purchase all of Connaught land & building and hand it over to the citizens of Hamilton.

Each (concerned and interested) citizen could buy into the land, just like investors buy into developments.

With the help of a planner, I am sure a group of dedicated citizens could use social networking and all sorts of communication platforms to really engage and provoke ideas.

Tax/spending whistleblowers should note that once this building is filled with poor people, the eventual rot and deterioration will surely cost more down a very familiar short road.

It's not time for NIMBY, its time for CHANGE.

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 15:13:41

Window dressing is right. How many times have we seen revitalization proposals with pictures of trees and people everywhere? And then it gets built and it's just a barren landscape. The Cannaught owners can propose ground floor retail, supermarkets and up scale condos all they want but NOBODY WITH ANY MONEY IS GOING TO LIVE DOWNTOWN!! And they are less likely to do so now we've added 100 more low income houses.

Hamilton's downtown revitalization folks (yes that's you Ron Marini) need to decide what downtown they want to build and understand what it takes to get there. Drawings and proposals are all well and good but unless you have something to offer folks with disposable cash - like efficient transit, safe streets, parks, schools, theatres, shops - they are never going to live or visit there.

This proposal does nothing to advance the vision of what downtown should be. A vacant building (even successful downtowns have lots of these) is better than this.

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By The Godfather (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 15:24:15

I am sick and tired of being embarrassed by the downtown we have in this city. Full of bums.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 15:28:02

With respect to quality retail locating in the core, it's not very likely until you get a shift in property ownership. Sure, location and taxes and property values are major considerations for retail network managers shopping new locations, but equally important is the working reputation of the landlord. The way it usually works is that managers retain counsel who specialize in commercial real estate to advise them on risks associated with certain landlords. Major retailers almost always hire Toronto lawyers and these lawyers don't know anything about the (relatively) small time landlords who own most of the property downtown. They'll be advising purely on the basis of reputation, and the reputation of non-corporate Hamilton commercial landlords is quite notoriously bad across the country. Big companies don't want to deal downtown because they know there'll be headaches and legal fees. This is not something that's likely to change until property values increase to such an extent that the small time landlords have an incentive to sell to corporate landlords with whom major retailers are comfortable dealing with.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 15:30:41

This is a great line synxer: " It's not time for NIMBY, its time for CHANGE." Well done.

I agree with the above post that written guarantees are complete garbage, but I think each of us needs to let council know that a) we disapprove of this in this building, and b) IF you're going to go ahead and approve it anyhow, WE are holding you responsible for how it turns out. If we build another regent park 40 years later I hope it costs each and everyone of them their jobs. We need to let them know that they are making this decision with one of our most famed landmarks. They'd better find more private partners, more government money, more anything that allows condos or a boutique hotel to be added to the mix, along with a good grocery store, attractive urban design, a cafe with patio at the Gore Park portion. Not more glazed glass with more friggin offices ala Eatons on York. Let's hold councils feet to the fire. After all, WE are the ones paying for this.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 15:44:35

"I don't beleive any of these "ifs" at all. The developers are just putting them there to fool council.

I have a feeling that if this project gets approved the whole building is going to go assisted living. Many people will not want to rent or buy in a building that also has assisted housing units (I know I wouldn't). When faced with low demand for market prced units the building will be forced to go entirely welfare.

Hamilton is being conned once again on this one"

They're not putting them there to fool council; they're putting them there so that the proposal appears more politically palatable to the electorate. Council in Hamilton is much, much more politically savvy than it's given credit for. In fact, it's so damn savvy it's downright slimy.

You're absolutely right to suspect that the whole project will go assisted living. But again, you'd be foolish to imagine that council and staff don't suspect - or even know - this themselves.

I sometimes think that Hamilton has become so corrupt, both politically and bureaucratically, that it can no longer be saved through conventional democratic process. The whole Connaught scandal just reinforces this belief.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 15:56:51

"If we build another regent park 40 years later I hope it costs each and everyone of them their jobs."

They should all be well out of those jobs by then. That's one of the issues with the short-sightedness of a council that would allow a proposal this ridiculous to go this far. This council points at the mistakes of the past generation and the next will point back at this one.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 16:00:31

Jason,

Good luck holding council's feet to the fire. The degree of political apathy in Hamilton is simply staggering. How do you think they get away with the sh*t that they do?

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By synxer (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 16:07:48

Tammany,

Hamilton + Political Apathy = Sam Merulla.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 16:13:14

JonC wrote:

They should all be well out of those jobs by then. That's one of the issues with the short-sightedness of a council that would allow a proposal this ridiculous to go this far. This council points at the mistakes of the past generation and the next will point back at this one.

Off topic, but this is a good argument against term limits. If term limits are introduced, councillors will never have to deal with the long term consequences of their decisions.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 16:15:02

Yep. But in fairness, I've met and had to deal with Merulla on a number of occasions (well, twice) and I would not say that he is the most shamelessly corrupt member by any means. That being said, he really is an idiot, an absolute brick. The fact that he could be elected to the council of a major Canadian city bespeaks a truly sorry state of affairs.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted September 14, 2009 at 16:16:07

Council will say that this is the only option on the table. "It's better than nothing" They'll say they are worried the building will be neglected if we don't take this deal. Why don't we a. Enforce the property bylaws so that the owners maintain their building or b. If the owners want to off-load it buy it off them for a fair sum and maintain it ourselves? I would rather have my tax dollars go into purchasing and maintaining the building than giving it away on a project which will cost us more in the long run. A possible by-product of going this route is that Hamilton City Council would then a have a vested interest in making the downtown more viable (as if they don't already...) which may provide some incentive for them to make it more livable (something they don't do now for some reason...).

Honestly this has got to be an all time low point for Hamilton.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 16:18:39

The 'developers' should use Stinson's original plan with the little parkette beside the Fran's entrance, Grocery Store Podium, Second Tower (mixed affordable and market-rate) later on.

Hell, even if Nothing happens with the Connaught on Wed, they should STILL build a grocery store podium (with future opportunity to build ontop).

I can guarantee this grocery store will be just as busy as the Dundurn Fortinos & Stinson-hood No Frills, if not busier!

Scratch the affordable housing plan, build a Grocery Store in the empty lot instead, and THEN put the 'Connaught Lofts' on the market "With a Grocery Store at Your Front Step!"

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 16:24:08

I would not say that he is the most shamelessly corrupt member by any means.

Not shamelessly corrupt, just shameless.

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 16:28:35

Rusty,

Neither option is viable. With respect to option A, we will never see serious enforcement of contracts or development by-laws against politically influential developers. This rarely happens even in real cities with high levels of political integrity. It certainly won't happen in Hamilton (unless a reform administration is somehow miraculously voted in in the future). With respect to option B, Battaglia and friends would never let the property go (especially to the City) without an absolutely extortionate payment. Why do you think they bought a landmark building to begin with? Because they knew from the start that the hearts and minds of Hamiltonians still have a strong connection to the building and that if they sat on it long enough they would be able to leverage this into profit without risk.

The only viable option (and it really isn't viable at all if truth be told) is to have the structure designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and then to expropriate it under s.36(2) (the City in such a case would only have to pay FMV, which on the Connaught would probably be a few million at most). Again though, there would have to be very serious political will for this to happen, and it just isn't there ...

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By Dave Kuruc (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 17:44:34

Can I be the first to say how great it is to have "Tammany" around the last few days! Thank you sir for your great insights and welcome!

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 17:57:07

Really?, the grocery store idea is awesome, except for one problem. The government won't give out $17 million for it. It actually requires private money GASP for forward thinking ideas like that.

And just to clarify, my 'Regent Park 40 years later' comment was referring to us copying a horrible development 40 years after the original (which I just looked up and saw that it was built in the 40's, not 40 years ago. my bad). that makes it even worse. Something built in the 40's that is now being dismantled, and we might be copying a tiny piece of it here if we're not careful.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 18:52:15

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rMd6zFFV...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvyaUtjFY...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwHRQpjYU...

The Gap is one of the good guys?

You people are talking about inclusiveness, yet speak other words out the sides of your mouths.

You promote companies that use slave labour and you think you are about change for the better, what is wrong with you people?

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By adrian (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 20:04:16

They should all be well out of those jobs by then.

By that logic, all the councilors who supported the Red Hill Valley Parkway would be out of a job by now too. If only.

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By Zippo (registered) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 20:13:56

In order for a plan to be viable for tenants with jobs there would need to be room in the plan for a significant amount of indoor / underground parking (No, people with jobs will not live car free in Hamilton) Where are they going to put it without tearing the building down?

My guess is a slum tower is the real plan here

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By Limbaugh (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 23:24:27

Fire Marini first and then get rid of the downtown bums

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 15, 2009 at 09:08:44

Here's a link to a petition started by Reg Beaudry, formerly of Three16Lounge. He knows firsthand about the great 'mix' of people in the area.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/the-mad...

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2009 at 09:30:48

"Fire Marini first and then get rid of the downtown bums"

The fact that Marini supports this is very disturbing. Just exactly what accomplishments has he made since he came on board?

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By beaslyfireworkstechnican (registered) | Posted September 15, 2009 at 10:39:58

i'm trying to stay impartial here, but there is a great mix of people downtown. It might not be ideal for everyone's goals all the time, and it might not be easy to mix goals like housing, economic development and transparency in local government. so it's messy, but we all live here, and we all take part in the decision making processes.

but these are citizens in a city that we all care for, and comments like yours sound a bit confusing from a pastor (aren't you guys supposed to at least some sort of compassion for everyone, especially the poor?).

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 15, 2009 at 10:58:02

I live downtown and absolutely love the urban mix. I'll let Reg speak for himself, but let's just say it's a fascinating look into the realities on King East when you know a shop owner who faces it everyday. The stories never end and I've come to realize that the mix certainly appears to be more heavily loaded to the poor end of the spectrum. Compassion for everyone is exactly right, but that doesn't mean I need to support cramming all the disadvantaged or poor into one area.
In the same way, I don't like having all the rich and well off separated into an area by themselves. We need a heck of a lot more of everyone downtown.

Sorry if my comments seemed harsh. Certainly not the intent (again, a meetup at the plucker would sure help eliminate the wonders of online chatting. haha)

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By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2009 at 11:10:52

beaslyfireworkstechnician,

I like how you describe "transparency in local government" as a mere goal.

But transparency isn't just a nicety. It is not to be thought of as just something that we would like to have. It is an absolute prerequisite to functional democracy. And since we don't have reliable transparency in the decision making process, I question whether we really have functional democracy at a local level in this city.

I would like to believe that "we all take part in the decision making process" but that just isn't true in Hamilton. This project is being forced down the public's throat to benefit a group of very well connected local players. This fact is just so blatant on the face of the deal that it can't be denied.

As for the poor and the disadvantaged, the developers sure as hell don't give a damn about them except to the extent that they serve as a basis to collect a fat subsidy from the government.

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By beaslyfireworkstechnician (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2009 at 11:47:00

>Tammany

Excellent points. See you thursday?

>Jason

Once again, i appreciate your well thought out posts. i think we both understand why these kinds of conversations need to happen over beer.

otherwise, we all end up like: xkcd.com/386/

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 15, 2009 at 13:52:54

Exclusively affluent areas are sterile. Exclusively poor areas are unsustainable. I think the poor of our city deserve to live in sustainable neighbourhoods. This proposal leads us away from that.

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By Historian (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2009 at 18:39:43

When the Connought was indeed Royal and Hamilton was a class city and we shopped at the Eames, Right House and Finches Department stores for upmarket items and at Robinsons and Eatons for everything else have sadly given way to tacky, tacky and the outrageous suggestion that a Winners could be an asset. Growing old in Hamilton is to sink deeper and deeper into the mire of decay as we watch our once proud city crumble. Pretty soon it will be alright for all City Council members to wear baseball caps to meetings.

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By Factoid (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2009 at 16:42:55

Tammany and Kurac belong together. Somewhat similar to that film dumb and dumber! Perhaps combining both your brains would come close to equaling one brain. This forum and the Kurucs and Tammany's of Hamilton is the reason I moved out of Hamilton. They just make things up as they go along hoping people just believe that because its written it must be true. Your distorted views are not only lacking in facts and intelligence its simply refective of the sad state of your insignificant existence.

You poor idiots.

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