Revitalization

Bratina: Move Staff to City Centre Permanently

By RTH Staff
Published November 28, 2008

Yesterday, RTH published an essay by Sean Burak arguing that the city should move its staff to City Centre permanently.

Last night, in an online forum debating City Hall, Councillor Bob Bratina posted an economic argument in favour of such a move.

First, he compares the renovation cost per square foot, noting that City Centre at $110 per square foot compares well with City Hall ($375/sq. ft.) and Lister Block ($416/sq. ft.).

He also argues that the city could sell City Hall for $10-15 million with a requirement that the new owner retain the building's heritage attributes. With the savings, the city could afford to retain the marble. If the city sells to a private investor, the site will generate property tax on the order of $1.5-2 million a year.

He adds that the projected cost of renovating City Hall is still uncertain and could rise to $100 million and concludes, "to carry on withour current plan in lgiht of the current economy would be calamitous."

To pay for this extravagance we will push ourselves to the debt wall, eliminating any possibility for LRT, and incapable of providing for some extreme unforseen situation.

City staff are studying Bratina's proposal.

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By SayWhat (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 10:20:05

So someone is going to pay $10-$15 million for the property with the stipulation that they have to keep the "historical attributes"? Keep dreaming. Bulldoze the building and then you'll get the best dollar.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 10:27:10

once city hall is sold to a private owner it won't be long before it's destroyed or slathered in stucco. With all due respect, anyone who thinks otherwise hasn't been paying attention to the level of quality and craftsmanship we get in this city, along with the complete lack of regard for heritage.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2008 at 11:17:27

this building is protected, unlike even the lister.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 11:55:06

I know it's protected on paper, but that's not stopping council from going with concrete and aluminum in this current reno project. There's no way to enforce heritage standards on private owners when city council doesn't even follow it themselves.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2008 at 11:56:23

Actually, both the Lister and City Hall are similarly 'protected' under municipal heritage laws. Council is entitled to make exceptions to its own heritage bylaw, as it did when deciding to reclad City Hall in concrete.

The Lister effectively has more protection than City Hall, as it was also assessed by the Ontario Heritage Trust, who recommended that the Lister also be designated under Provincial heritage law.

The Province did not actually designate the Lister (and even tried to prevent the release of the OHT recommendation), but it was the intercession of Queen's Park that a) prevented Council from approving LIUNA's demolition request and b) provided the framework (via Alan Wells' ad hoc committee and a $7 million sweetener) for the eventual deal to rehabilitate rather than demolish and rebuild the Lister building.

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By Bob Bratina (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 12:22:48

The someone who may purchase the City Hall property will be getting one of the top two development sites in Downtown Hamilton at an attractive price. The cost to a private developer of renovating City Hall will not be $375 per square foot. That is the exorbitant kind of cost Governments typically pay because they are Governments. The Camco building at Innovation Park is being renovated for $135 per square foot. The Staybridge Suites hotel is a converted Post Office warehouse and is an excellent building, constructed at $100 per square foot. Jason needs to understand construction and contracting. The cost of construction of a high end condominium building in Downtown Toronto, with underground parking is around $200 per square foot. With the economic slowdown and downturn in construction activity, supply and demand would suggest prices will come down even more. Calculations must also include the requirement to lease a further 140 thousand square feet over and above the 200 thousand provided by City Hall, and 60 thousand by the Lister Block, probably $2.5 to $3 million annually on top of the 20 years of annual debt service costs for the $100 million. Off the top of my head I'd say we're looking at at least $10 million a year for 20years...$200 million dollars, against $50 to $60 million all in for the City Centre over the same 20 years...a saving of around $150 million. Wouldn't it be better to start building the LRT today rather than office space?
Bob Bratina

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By zach hargrove (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 12:47:04

Thanks Councilor Bratina for an exciting initiative and for sharing your comment here. (And thanks Sean Burak for putting your vision out ther!) This idea is so good, so "Duh, no brainer", I don't know why noone thought of it sooner!

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2008 at 13:33:10

lets get this idea on the front page of the spec then and see how the public thinks their money should be spent.

I am a strong supporter of heritage buildings and I rejected demolition of city hall from the very start and my long term hope for that building is complete renewal.

However I am also a big supporter of the entire city, and I think the benefit to the city as a whole woul dbe so absolutely enormous if we went through with this idea, that I'd even be willing to see city hall mothablled for a while until restoration becomes more economically feasible.

In fact, making this move now would accelerate our economy to the point that we might be able to retain 71 main west and turn it into a museum of hamilton's beautiful history - or something similar.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 14:52:37

Hey Bob, thanks for posting that info. Those renovation numbers are staggering. So basically the cost of renovating city hall BY the city ends up wasting about 50% of the money as opposed to if someone else owned it??

Wow.

I do think there is some merit in Sean's idea of a post-secondary (U of T etc...) locating at city hall. I guess I have a few thoughts on this:

  1. I HATE going to do something at the current hall-in-a-mall. It's so ugly and cheesy. I would be embarrassed to bring an out of towner with me and show them 'my city hall'.
  2. I LOVE the city hall building. Plain and simple. I think it's one of the greatest pieces of artwork this city has. I'd hate to see it ruined (like it currently is).
  3. City Hall needs to be a public gathering hotspot. Not just for rallies, but to have fun. Ice Skating, music events, festivals, cafes etc.... we can do all of that and more with the ample land at the current city hall. It would be impossible at City Centre Mall.
  4. LRT and some streetcalming on Main st would encourage city workers to walk the 3 minutes from city hall to Gore area once they are back in there. Now many of them don't because who among us with a choice would ever step foot on Main St??

I see your point financially, but have these other reservations about sticking city hall into an empty, underperforming, horribly-renovated mall.

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By Bee (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 21:15:10

I think it's rather fitting that city hall shares its building with a bunch of dollar stores.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 28, 2008 at 21:38:23

^ LOL

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By Bob Bratina (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2008 at 00:27:55

Jason,
There is another option regarding a City Hall option with a "presence" which you'll be hearing about. As far as public space you have to realize that the City Hall forecourt has never been a great gathering place. The Christmas Carol Singalongs Mayor Morrow tried to promote, the New Years parties, the Tiger Cat rallies, all pretty much flopped. The biggest real crowd was an anti-Red Hill rally which drew over a thousand people. There was a Grey Cup parade in 1999 that was pretty good, but Hamiltonians are not drawn to that space, never have and never will. It just doesn't work. No, City workers will not trek to the Jackson Square-Gore area. They never have, so what would prompt them to do so in future. It's an ivory tower at which staff arrive at the rear parking lot, bring their baloney sandwiches or eat a tax-payer subsidized cheap lunch, and go home, never to be seen by downtown mortals, restaurants or shops. If you lived and worked in the Core you'd understand the reality of it.

Although I have another candidate for the formal seat of municipal government, I would say that the Eaton Centre is a well-constructed adaptable building which might be an excellent candidate for an architectural redesign. The site would be much improved by removing a large rectangle of Jackson square at King and James that includes the small office building on the second level. That would create a public plaza allowing for an entrance-way from King and James to the "City Hall". Since LRT will be intersecting at that point we could also design a terminal facility, using the newly created public space. So you would solve many problems with just a little creativity. All of this is affordable. The $75 million and counting to do City Hall over has to include another $10 million for the fore-court and you would still have a less-convenient transit destination than what I propose. Whatever the case, the current plans are unaffordable, and unsustainable. Now is the time for vision and creativity on a blank sheet of paper. The two large parcels of valuable land at City Hall and the Education Centre could easily generate the taxes that will pay for a Downtown where people will want to live work and shop. For me they now only symbolize the failed dream of "urban renewal"

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2008 at 11:09:45

Thanks Mr Bratina for your vision here. I really think you are right - we have a blank slate right now. We are forced to spend money on city hall in some way. Let's do something amazing instead of just repairing the broken status quo.

Jason, I will respond to your points by number :-)

  1. You need to look beyond the mall. It will no longer be a mall either inside or out. Picture an interior like BCE place. Of course, city centre is not architecturally equivalent to that, but the inside could be opened up, walkways and escalators replaced by glass and elevators. Imagine what is goig on in camco - they are turning an old dingy warehouse/office building into a fantastic space with atrium and more. You have to consider city centre as a structure around which we can be creative. Money saved in this plan can be invested in making the centre majestic.

  2. Yes, city hall is beautifu. But given the current council position, and assuming there will be occasional hiccups down the road in terms of budget and timing, how likely do you think that it will be restored correctly? We haven't even started restoratin and the comromises have already disgusted the architects to the point of their quitting. Perhaps the best way to save city hall is to take a loss selling it to someone who can be forced to do it right - post secondary or whatever it takes.

  3. This has been covered elsewhere but the true public gathering space in hamilton is gore park. The forecourt has never been properly utilized as a gathering space. What will make that change? streetscaping? I don't think so. Jackson roof is gathering space. Gore park. King william could be pedestrianized, and combined with that parking lot at the corner of james to mage a great public space rightin front of city hall if it wer in the centre. You have to see the potential. We aren't talking about plunking them in the middle of a mall dead stop. This would be investment of our money in creating a great hall and great surrounding spaces rather than wasting money on renovating a building that half the city hates (and is willing to accept concrete compromises).

  4. Notgonna happen. THe inentive is just not there. City hall HAS TO BE in the CENTRE of our city, not across a highway from the true core, and facing the backside of the business district. The current location just does not work, and this separation of servants from their own city has cheated us for 50 years. It's time for it to end.

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By councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2008 at 16:08:01

I had planned to take my grandchildren to Disneyland but I am now seiously considering another venue, one at least offering the spirit of Mickey Mouse. City Council meetings are by far more fun, i'm taking the kids.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 29, 2008 at 17:24:15

Mr Bratina: Thanks for your views. I kind of agree with what you are saying for the most part. With the City Center acting as City Hall, it does get those workers downtown.

The media always reports the negative things about downtown but not the positive things. There are many interesting things to see and go to. One of my favorite spots is Skydragon, as it is a great meeting place, for like minded people.

The Art Crawl is another thing that is gaining visitors from outside downtown, the arts and creative people need to be recognized.

It would be great if we could have an open market concept where farmers, crafters, art, music can meet, where people can go an have a good time at a reasonable cost. Get the people involved, have open forums, a meeting of the minds so to speak where all sorts of people across the city can come together and brainstorm.

I also think that people should know about the labour history of Hamilton, it would be great to bring back the pride of the working people, to let them know that what they do is important to the bettering of this city.

I think we need to get beyond the view that those that struggle in poverty or the working poor do not have something of value to add to the community as a whole. We are all people facing an un certain future, better to have solidarity then division.

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By seen a few towns (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2008 at 21:46:56

Mr Bratina is right. Now is NOT the time to waste taxpayers' dollars. It is a time to save our selves. he city hall is nice enough but the idea of the front courtyard being used, shake your head, It is more of a paing stone moat to distance the castle from the common folk. I used to walk by there on a regular basis and the only use I saw was a CH TV truck as a remote location for the morning shao and that didn't last long. Maybe as a backdrop when City Hall was NORBAC HQ in "Regenisis". The employees drove in parked and left, period. No interaction with the city itself. I don't remember evergoing inside bt I have been to City Centre and JS.
How can you deny the shop keeps who pay taxes and are finally making some dough in the core by moving out.. No way that "Mall" is growing and the increased normal trafffic outnumbers the weirdos. The lower deck food court is like a picnic area for city staff. I remeber 10 yrs ago just the rummies in there and no business for those hanging on.
Think with some logic the City Hall is not big enough. Like a family of 5 moving into a one bedroom apartment. Do the math, City Centre exceeds the required space and the Lister Block over and above that. Put the Council chaber over there with a huge picture window.
Put the CITY into City Centre and divert the saved funds to LRT. This will raise your density.
And in a decade or so when we have lots of cash you could build a new city hall on the bay near the Discovery Centre.
Politics is not about the digs it's about proper representation and stewardship of the city's funds. The Economy is not well so spend accordingly.
City staff can get fresh produce at lunch and support the local farmers. Now that is a perk or use the library.

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By City Square (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 16:53:07

There are a lot of positives to this idea, but its success will hinge on finding an interested buyer for City Hall--Main St. Without that the numbers are all speculation. So far Mac has been mentioned, but not by anyone at Mac so far as I've seen.

The garage behind City Hall was built as a foundation for future expansion. Nice place for a condo tower. Could the property be split, for and aft? Would RTH posters put up for the type of co-op to condo project touted here in past articles?

Would City Hall and the forecourt be suitable as a hotel? Can Hamilton support more hotel rooms downtown? The city has significant tourism potential (that word again) but appears to lack a singular, high-profile attraction or focus.

One of the best aspects of this proposal is that it would push some of the retail space in that big shopping complex back out to the streets, where it belongs. Moving retailers from streetfronts to inside the mall has proven one of the biggest mistakes of the 60s-70s downtown urban renewal movement. Re-purposing more Jackson Sq. retail space, perhaps by expanding the city's trade-show and convention facilities there, might help drive the downtown economic recovery. Medical and health care industry trade shows and conventions are an area the city has not exploited the internationally recognized local growth of medical talent and expertise, I suspect.

Just trying to think outside the box, like The Brat.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted July 07, 2010 at 18:06:16

because there are so many private developers are falling over themselves to purchase any available downtown land

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