By Graham Crawford
Published January 17, 2011
The "Build New in the West Harbour" or "Renovate Ivor Wynne Stadium" choice is not a Ward versus Ward debate, and never has been. Nor has the debate been just about a stadium location, or even just a football team, although sometimes I have to wonder about the last one.
In my view, it has always been about maximizing taxpayer's investment of their $45 million in Future Fund dollars. Here are two obvious questions I think we have to ask ourselves.
Which of the two locations has the greatest potential to spur residential intensification?
Which of the two locations takes the greatest advantage of existing critical mass?
This decision is about more than major league sports. It should also be about major league residential development spurred by significant government investment in the area.
This includes medium density (6-8 storeys) to higher density (12-18 storey) condominiums and geared to income rental apartments (full market rate to lower income), all with views overlooking the harbour, the escarpment and downtown.
Residential intensification triggers an increase in service-related businesses - everything from grocery stores to dry cleaners to restaurants, etc. Why? Because they have built-in customers in the immediate neighbourhood.
Adding commercial space in or near this higher density residential is a natural extension. That means people working in the area every day, using the services in the neighbourhood. This is already happening, on a smaller scale, on James North.
Residential intensification means greater property taxes from a smaller footprint. Think in terms of a couple of thousand residents versus a few hundred on the same amount of land (and roads, and sewers, and water mains, etc.).
As much as it would be nice to think that the IWS site is as attractive to condominium and apartment developers and residents alike, I think people would be hard pressed to find a developer, a bank, or a real estate agent, not to mention potential purchasers, who did not think the West Harbour was more attractive.
It's within walking distance of the harbour (both summer and winter), James North Arts District, Farmer's Market, Library, downtown core, Copps Coliseum, Art Gallery, and so on, all of which have witnessed investment in the past number of years.
This isn't a put-down on the IWS neighbourhood. I lived on Leinster Ave. years ago and honestly loved the neighbourhood. It's an issue of scalability.
If you accept the more attractive location premise, then residential intensification also helps makes the case for a GO station on James North versus Gage Ave. much stronger.
GO service will bring in both visitors and residents. For visitors who want to visit Hamilton for all that we have to offer, including football, GO service makes it easier.
For residents of Hamilton who want to (must?) work in Toronto, GO service makes residency much more attractive. They won't all live in condo towers in the WH, but some of them will want to if they can walk to GO station from home.
Another potential audience is the downsizing/retiree market either, some of whom have purchased condos in the Witton Lofts project on Murray St. Being able to go into Toronto with ease makes the location more attractive for them too.
Attractiveness equals saleability. Saleability equals access to capital. Access to capital equals development. Development equals property tax revenues. Etc. You get the idea.
The sad truth is Hamilton does not have the luxury of fostering this kind of development in many locations across the city at the same time. It's also a sad truth that we'll be lucky to get one area going, not two or three, at least not in the next 10 to 15 years, or likely more.
It's a great idea to spread the wealth, but only if you've got a lot of wealth to spread, and the wealth that is spread has the highest possible impact. Dissipated investment runs the risk of having minimal impact. Getting a little for a lot. We have only one Future Fund and we are about to use the majority of its capital on this single project.
The fact is, the IWS site is much more limited in both its size and, therefore, its scope. The plan already calls for sacrificing the Timmis stadium for parking, presumably from which the taxpayers will receive zero revenue.
The Scott Park School is privately owned. There's a brand new school across the street on Melrose.
What replaces the three baseball diamonds at Scott Park? More parking? Maybe kids don't use any of these existing recreational facilities, but I thought they did.
What about the Jimmy Thompson Pool, which is where I learned to swim - at the hands of Jimmy Thompson, I might add. The IWS site is completely bounded by single family residential. There is no obvious room for high density residential.
Sure, we can imagine buying up and turning all of the industrial buildings north of Barton into new development, but you really have to ask yourself what would cause developers to be more interested in this area than the WH and nearby downtown sites which are currently parking lots? (see Question #1)
It's not that there will never be any such development near the IWS site, but let's face it, Hamilton is many years away from the IWS site and surrounding area being selected as the next hot place in which to invest hundreds of millions in high density development.
It's an issue of leveraging existing critical mass. It's a matter of leveraging what you've actually got. You don't have to be an urban planner to see where Hamilton's urban critical mass is at the moment.
Look, I don't know for sure where this will end up. Anybody who says they do is, I think, forgetting that until last week the IWS site wasn't even on most people's radar.
I applaud Lawrence for his impassioned, and might I add balanced, approach to saving Ivor Wynne. I believe honestly that I understand where he's coming from, it's just that I don't think it's the best investment for Hamilton to make.
It'll be OK. But, you know what, I'm even more tired of accepting OK as our standard in Hamilton than I am of this whole stadium debate. And that's saying something!
Sorry, but building half a stadium for all of the money just doesn't work for me.