Revitalization

Bratina: Sell City Hall

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 04, 2009

Councillor Bob Bratina (Ward 2, downtown) just replied to my letter to Council with another appeal to his fellow Councillors to consider selling City Hall, a case he has made previously on more than one occasion, but to no avail.

His reply is as follows:

The best solution to City Hall would be to sell it. There's a very good chance the building could be retained with all of its heritage attributes, including marble, under private ownership.

The building floorplates are actually better suited to other uses, such as hotel or residential, and not well-suited as an office building, as all of us understood in working there.

The renovation costs completely defy reality. The Camco building, which is a similar steel-girder frame building, is being renovated for about $130 dollars per square foot, as opposed to $390 dollars per square foot [for City Hall], triple the price.

The renovation of the Victoria-MacKay building across from the Cenotaph - a building that was vacant for 30 years and almost completely rotten, with a national heritage designation for its metal cladding - was done for less than $90 dollars per square foot.

So we are paying for two outrageously expensive buildings - City Hall and the Lister Block - at double, triple, and perhaps even quardruple typical building costs, then having to endure sad jokes like making a human terrarium under the Council chamber.

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 GrahamM (registered) | Posted February 04, 2009 at 14:05:14

I don't personally know Councillor Bratina, but his comments regarding the glass enclosure seem awfully short sighted.

In the Spec article he says,

"...the city is kidding itself if it believes the indoor space will make City Hall more of a gathering place. "I don't see the value in spending that money," he said, adding City Hall has never been welcoming. "It's just a forlorn place beside a highway.""

While I don't see the advantage of the glass enclosure, I think its extremely unfortunate that the current character of Main Street would be used as an excuse to not try to improve that or any area of Hamilton.

Instead of accepting current conditions as a given, Councillor Bratina, the rest of council and the citizens of Hamilton should imagine and dream of how things could be. That's the only way we'll build the city of our dreams.

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By first things first (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2009 at 14:17:06

@grahamn - I think bratina's saying if main street is a 'forlorn highway' we should probably fix THAT problem before we worry about whether city hall is a welcoming 'gathering place'.

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By GrahamM (registered) | Posted February 04, 2009 at 15:24:22

@ FTF - I agree - I just don't think the arguement should be based on, "Well its in a crappy area, so don't bother spending money."

I think that the area is only going to get better if we tackle projects. Bratina seems to dismiss City Hall because of its location and the fact that no one is there now. Personally, I think that the buildings in that specific stretch are very rich in character and that the open plaza in front of City Hall holds a lot of promise for the city.

For comparisons, Nathan Phillip's Square is, in my mind, too big to be occupied by effectively by the public. However, the plaza in front of the ROM, which was specifically designed to as a public plaza, creates, in my opinion, the kind of out door public space that activates a city street.

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By Meville (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2009 at 01:15:25

"For comparisons, Nathan Phillip's Square is, in my mind, too big to be occupied by effectively by the public."

uh.. wha? There's like events that fill that place up all the time. If anything it isn't big enough for the crowds I've seen countless times there.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2009 at 10:14:28

At this point potential buyers might wait for the city to gut the heritage elements for them, and then buy it, demolish the whole thing as having no heritage value, and turn it into surface parking so they can squat on it until the LRT is built, then resell it at a profit.

First things first, as for Bratina, I think you're giving him too much credit if you think his "forlorn highway" comment means "we should fix up Main Street first." He's advocating selling city hall, NOT making Main Street 2 ways so we can do proper renovations which the people can enjoy. He wants to cut and run to a part of the city that isn't highway! I guess it hasn't occurred to him that there are numerous businesses on main street, and if they were all to just "cut and run" as he is proposing the city should do, then Main street really would be nothing but a highway.

We didn't ask Bratina for crazy schemes that council will never agree to. We asked him, and the other councillors to use their heads when it comes to what they spend their money on. Obviously he used the invitation as a chance to stand up on his soapbox and deliver his own speech. Quite rude really.

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By GrahamM (registered) | Posted February 05, 2009 at 12:40:07

@Meville - ever been to Nathan Phillip's square in a group of 2 or three? .. the space in front of city hall overwhelms a small group.

a city organized party? sure - that works great. but what about informal use? somewhere people will go just to hang out?

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By GrahamM (registered) | Posted February 05, 2009 at 15:16:27

@Meville - ever been to Nathan Phillip's square in a group of 2 or three? .. the space in front of city hall overwhelms a small group.

a city organized party? sure - that works great. but what about informal use? somewhere people will go just to hang out?

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By OccassionalCommentor (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2009 at 16:12:30

Not sure why, but whenever this topic comes up -- the opposed fails to remember that the city has already agreed to and commit on tenures and retainers on the renovation of city hall.

These retainers are in the millions.

I do agree that city hall should be sold, tore down, converted into a park, etc. I want that, but unfortunately we can't do that. Doing so would push even more debt on the city.

There will be arguments...but in the end, you have to tell the tax payer why.

"Ooopps, lets reconsider" doesn't work.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted February 06, 2009 at 16:22:16

RobertD I think the last thing Bob Bratina wants is to "cut and run" from ward 2, since he is the councillor for said ward. I believe what he is proposing is to find a tenant better suited to the building and create a new city hall, which I suspect could be in any number of downtown locations.

Occasional Commenter I don't know the specifics, but forfeiting a retainer in the millions might be a better option than forging ahead on what I believe was a 70 million dollar renovation, in particular if we're getting hosed on the cost to renovate, as BB has indicated in his letter.

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By Bob Bratina (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2009 at 11:33:21

Thanks to JonC for succinctly framing my position. When I read the kind of vapid ignominy being passed by the likes of RobertD I wonder why I even bother trying to at least engage in discourse over issues of public importance. The City Hall forecourt has never been a significant gathering place because of the constrictions of Hunter and Main. It's not an evil place, it just doesn't work, nor is it likely to.
I can easily walk across Queen to get to Nathan Phillips Square, and the surrounding commercial areas provide plenty of people immediately close by to support public events taking place. It doesn't take much contemplation in terms of where people would come from or how they would get there to understand the problem.
If we were to remain at the City Centre, we could negotiate with Yale Properties to take the large rectangle bordered by James, King, the Stelco Tower, and the south boundary of the City Centre, remove the buildings, and create a large plaza that would be the "city hall" forecourt, and an ideal gathering place for the intersect of the East West and North South LRT routes. You would now have an enhanced Gore, which is a great focal point, but lacking in space for large public gatherings.
I'm too old to wait for the day when people come to their senses and realize that Main Street should be two-way. The two significant one-way arteries, Main and Cannon, are commercial and social wastelands. James Street has made an impressive come-back thanks to the two-way conversion, but there are enough souls lost in the thinking of 50 years ago that makes the automobile a body appendage, rather than an accessory. There is no sign in any of our traffic visioning that addresses these streets. I had enough trouble with James-John, and the York-Wilson conversions, which was lost in Committee and had to be won again in a subsequent vote. So RobertD can tilt at the Main Street windmill if he likes.
I have to say in conclusion that assinine statements about soap-boxes against one of only a couple of councillors who come close to being progressive isn't helping the cause of a greater future for Hamilton.

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By Hunter (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2009 at 06:02:25

I just want to thank Councillor Bratina for taking the time to come to RTH to elucidate his positions. It is appreciated.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 08, 2009 at 08:51:55

I agree Hunter. Also, perhaps Councillor Bratina can teach Councillor Merulla the fine art of coming up with a 'good' idea, as opposed to just any old idea. Lol.

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By Save Yer Soul (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2009 at 10:57:38

I'm not always a fan of Bob Bratina's ideas, but I like that he, for this town, thinks outside the hat, which means considering what might actually work for communities, and why, rather than whether a project might be so easy to implement that council will have it done and be gone to other pursuits before anybody notices how poorly it works. That said Bob, your frustration is showing. Save yourself before you become a "leader" and/or find yourself babbling in your porridge.

And Ryan, please stop calling for "leadership." This city has way, way, way too many leaders already; people who see themselves in the cut and thrust of political battle, but little skill at performing the tasks at hand. Leadership is a political term. Leadership requires followers, the less questioning the better. Forget the MBA crap about good leadership building concensus etc. Blilding concensus is an entirely different skill that empowers and engages citizens in the process rather than appeals to their desires to get something, anything, done. This isn't easy, and leaders usually don't get the credit as a result.

And while we're at it, let's stop talking about Hamilton's potential. Potential is the result of failures to realize past opportunities. If this city had a dime for every time someone said it had potential, it would not need to actually develop any of this so-called potential. We should be embarrassed when people talk about the city's potential.

This is more than semantics. Use of language defines the objectives. If you want to "make a difference" invest in a property, form a co-op, open a shop, create a product, attend a rally, anything but wait to be led. Realize, rather than dream about, potential.

And if you're Bob Young and the city actually does spend $50mil+ to move you to a forlorne field out by the airport instead of to brownfields south-west of Dundurn S. and Main W. or some other juncture of GO, highway and civic transportation routes so more fans might handily attend future TiCat games, you have my heartfelt sympathy for becoming a victim of community leadership.

Location, location, location.

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By here (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2009 at 22:05:03

An excellent idea. Moving here 15 years ago, I was never impressed by the City Hall. It seems lost and out of place. Perhaps the barren space in front - without fountains and flowers most of the time - uglifies it. The City Centre, Lister Block, renewed Gore Park etc are all better ideas.

I never saw the City Hall as a heritage building. Quite frankly I'd tear it down and have buildings encroaching on the sidewalk. Any further back than the Family Courthouse is too far.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 09, 2009 at 18:29:54

Councillor Bratina,

My comments were in response to your words, not your thoughts, which I cannot read unless you put them in writing. My comments regarding main street were in response to those of first things first, who seemed to suggest we have to tackle main street first, and implying that was your suggestion. I am not advocating something be done about main street, or "tilting at the main street windmill" as you suggest. Rather I was pointing out to first things first that main street remediation is not one of your plans. A statement that you have verified.

As for your grandoise plan to move city hall services, it would have been nice if you had contained this in your original reply. Had your original letter included half the information which your discourteous follow-up contained I believe all readers of this board would have been better served. Not all of us are psychic like Jon C.

I continue to find your defence of your suggestion to sell City Hall counter-productive in the face of the settled intention of council to proceed with rennovations. By refusing to acknowledge the settled intentions of counsel all you manage to do is marginalize yourself and your suggestions in their eyes. That's how they will see you too, standing on your soapbox. I acknowledge that council is not progressive, and you face an uphill battle. Unfortunately in such a situation you might be better off securing small victories and concessions where you can, and hope future councils will be more progressive.

As for your tact when dealing with your detractors, I'm sure that doesn't help you win any votes on council either.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2009 at 10:52:53

Robert D Wrote: "My comments were in response to your words, not your thoughts, which I cannot read unless you put them in writing. [...] Had your original letter included half the information which your discourteous follow-up contained I believe all readers of this board would have been better served."

Lots of information and details about this idea have been put forth and discussed on this very site (and others). Every single article cannot contain every single piece of information. Look around for a bit before jumping to conclusions...

http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog.asp?id=1161 http://www.raisethehammer.org/index.asp?... http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog.asp?i...

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By another capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2009 at 11:05:24

Great idea Bob!

We could have gotten City Centre for a song years ago.

It looks like the old City Hall, big enough and in a great location.

Sell the current City Hall, use it to refurbish City Centre.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 11, 2009 at 11:52:38

Yeah. Because the buyers are lining up.

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