Revitalization

Mayor Defends City Hall Foyer Proposal

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 17, 2009

In response to this open letter to Council, Mayor Fred Eisenberger sent me the following statement on the (now defeated) proposal to build a glass enclosure in front of City Hall as part of the renovation process (edited slightly for clarity):

City Hall is an important project with a significant expenditure of public money.

Two years ago I supported building a new multipurpose civic centre. Building new would have cost less in the long run, accommodated additional staff, and reduced our need to pay rent elsewhere.

I had concerns with the renovation option, but that said, that is the path we are now on. City Hall should be a people place inside and out. While I didn't agree with the renovation option, I have always said and continue to say that if we are going to do it, we should do it right.

Early on in the planning process, City staff had identified an option to increase the functional space at City Hall. The proposed (now defeated) enclosure of the entrance would have achieved this.

The Foyer space would have expanded the useable public space, included the Business Enterprise Centre and computer terminals, and provided a one stop, seamless customer service delivery counter, minimizing the public's need to go upstairs.

Regrettably, however, the project has been mischaracterized from the very beginning.

Clearly, in these uncertain times we need to be even more cautious with the public's money.

We are accountable and need to invest public money wisely. Funding for the project would not have been funded by a federal infrastructure grant, council's strategic capital fund or surplus from the renovation.

Additional useable space makes sense. Building while we are renovating makes economic sense. In these economic times, I respect the public's concern but I will always continue to believe in this community and aim higher for the hardworking citizens of this great City.

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 A-idiot (registered) - website | Posted February 17, 2009 at 17:55:51

Mayor Fred, did you ever consider lowering tax rates?

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 17, 2009 at 18:55:57

Mayor Fred can make this right by becoming a voice for a great public piazza with many amenities at city hall property as well as promoting a calm Main St with LRT, promenade type sidewalks, no trucks and no freeway. $2 mil from this glass box idea would help with the piazza and associated landscaping.

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By LaBamba (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2009 at 08:33:43

Fred: too little, too late.

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By Mike (registered) | Posted February 18, 2009 at 15:08:58

While I agree with a lot of the points in the letter, $2M isn't exactly a king's ransom, and there is something to be said about vision when it comes to city buildings. Europe would be a whole lot more boring without 2000 year old ruins, grand cathedrals and massive public works, and not that this is a real comparison here, but I'd prefer something with vision than a utility-first concrete vault-cum-foyer....y'know what I mean?

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By Mike (registered) | Posted February 18, 2009 at 15:11:52

While I agree with a lot of the points in the letter, $2M isn't exactly a king's ransom, and there is something to be said about vision when it comes to city buildings. Europe would be a whole lot more boring without 2000 year old ruins, grand cathedrals and massive public works, and not that this is a real comparison here, but I'd prefer something with vision than a utility-first concrete vault-cum-foyer....y'know what I mean?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 18, 2009 at 17:03:22

Ordinarily I would agree with you, but in this case, enclosing the foyer in glass would have obscured the pilotis and destroyed the lovely floating effect of the council chamber, one of the few remaining heritage features of this building. Exactly the kind of tone deaf move that could be expected in the absence of qualified heritage architects.

Council's treatment of the Mayor was deplorable, but they made the right decision this time. For the wrong reasons of course, but we take what we can get.

The Mayor should use what little political capital he has left making sure that the forecourt is an attractive public space that facilitates public gatherings and connects the building to the street. While he's at it, he should ensure that the street will one day be an attractive public space as well. If the rest of council has any class or vision, they will support him.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2009 at 09:57:14

I agree 100% with Highwater. The heritage aspects of this building have already been wilfully ignored by council. I'm just glad they didn't take it that one step further.

As for a public services (Business Enterprise Centre, computer terminals, and other things that we will apparently have to go to the second floor for), I'd suggest considering the relocation of the majority of these services to the Lister block (some functions are moving there anyways). Maybe it makes more sense to create that kind of interaction over there, where it's likely to help the surrounding businesses. If people go to city hall, it will be just to transact their business and leave (unless they need to fight a parking ticket across the street, get divorced next door, or stop by the CFL Hall of Fame or Whitehern), if people go to do the same business at the Lister block at least there is a chance, however small, that they may patronize the surrounding businesses. Maybe it's something as small as grabbing a sandwich at Reardon's! In my opinion anything we can do to get one extra person to see and discover a corner of downtown they've never been to is a worthwhile endeavour. There are many undiscovered treasures down there.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted February 20, 2009 at 08:32:21

How about making use of the already large, empty downstairs front part? All there was the last time I was there was an old chair, the security desk and a stairway to heaven...

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By Too Bad (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2009 at 14:09:45

Sorry Fred. You're a nice guy, but this only makes it more apparent that during your administration the city has frittered away additional opportunities and initiatives to build the downtown. Not all your fault, but when I consider all the boarded buildings and vacant space and that our "leaders" only seem to visualize knocking down more buildings for their latest fix, my knees buckle.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2009 at 15:41:07

Get with it Fred. People in Hamilton are fed up with the boondoggles and the high tax rates!

Bring back Larry DiIanni!!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 20, 2009 at 15:58:09

Yeah. Bring back DiIanni. More sprawl and big boxes will surely lower our taxes!

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By Ariel (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2009 at 17:39:18

Highwater...there you go again. Riding invisible hobby horses....our council is not getting things done...it isn't one person's fault but the collective leadership is missing. It wasn't before, like it or not.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2009 at 21:20:38

Better off without a leader than with one that is running for a cliff...

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 22, 2009 at 12:21:49

Man, this hobby horse is getting crowded!

www.raisethehammer.org/blog.asp?id=1219

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2009 at 23:44:21

Downtown is sadly lacking in places to just 'sit down & park it'. Sitting space with some shade trees with public facilities for local
shows, music/concerts,charity events, & taxpayer rallies against high taxes (LOL!) could all be accomodated by a public friendy gathering space. We could do many free things in that space from the onset of good weather into the Fall. Most cities have this kind of venue for public gatherings. It would bring in money, people, & more interest to the Downtown core. It could showcase Hamilton's diversity, & creativity.

Concerts, art shows, holiday events, cultural showcases, Hamilton history displays, events for local charities, maybe even a small outdoor cafe. I don't understand why these things seem to be so 'foreign & alien'? I don't understand why City Hall seems to want people at a very long arm's length from it & it's processes. I think the plaza, meeting place would be less expensive than either the glass enclosure or relocation of City Hall, & it will bring in some direct & indirect revinues to Hamilton as well as inspire some civic pride. A clean open welcoming place might inspire a little more co-operation & less divisiveness between Hamilton & it's former neighbours.

Other smaller cities do this, & many larger ones too. The most important part of Hamilton is it's citizens aka taxpayers.

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By Bob (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 17:06:41

Mayor Fred is an idiot. I can't wait to vote him the hell out of office. What he has done for this city is embarrassing.

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