My wife and I spent yesterday in Toronto (again) and she dragged me through the Eaton Centre and Bay on Queen. I'm not a shopper by any means, but was absolutely amazed at how many people were in both of these retail buildings.
We had lunch at Baton Rouge in the Eaton Centre along Yonge (another no-no for me eating in a mall). It was great. The sidewalk width there is similar to James St along our "City Centre", but Baton Rouge has installed one of those sliding garage doors so it felt like we were sitting outside.
All along the Eaton Centre wall on Yonge there are new storefronts with attractive glass entrances into the stores, which also face the interior of the mall.
We chatted at lunch about the dearth of retail activity in downtown Hamilton and did a bit of brainstorming about how a Bay, H&M and maybe Old Navy could really begin to transform our downtown.
I'm going to do some demographic research on the area from Dundas to Gage Park I believe this area would really take to these stores being in the core, especially since there's nothing else nearby without driving to the suburbs.
I don't know how well, or often, our downtown BIA's or the owners of Jackson Sq/City Centre "sell" our city and surrounding neighbourhoods to these large retail establishments, but having lived downtown now for five years in Durand and now Strathcona, I've noticed the never ending parade of shopping bags from all my neighbours coming from the Bay, Gap, and so on.
Not only would this business catchment area take to top notch "familiar" retail in our core, but I believe folks from all over the city would begin to come downtown again for Saturday shopping.
Some people say this will never happen again, since all these stores exist in the suburbs, but the burbs don't have the Farmers Market, a pedestrian south leg of King with markets, buskers (neither does downtown, but I'm hoping one of these decades we will), a Central Library, cafes, ethnic eateries and patio spots along King William, James North and Hess.
Next year the new Gore to Shore shuttle comes back in the form of vintage trolleys, the west harbour is fabulous and hopefully like Toronto we'll start seeing events every weekend downtown, not just a few per year.
I would urge all interested parties to pursue this idea. I would also suggest the following are quite important in seeing the downtown come back to life:
Improve the façade of Jackson/City Centre similar to the Eaton Centre in Toronto: rollback walls for a patio feel, attractive entrances and appealing architecture. We've got a couple of small patios operating now in Jackson PAM's and Walts new rooftop patio.
Change King and York from high-speed one way's to normal two-ways. I was amazed at my three times in Toronto during this past two-week vacation how we'll be walking along Queen or John with patios, people everywhere and full of life and suddenly come to Wellington or Simcoe and the street is empty and devoid of any life. Studies have proven that only New York City, which has a population density more than double the next densest city in North America, can sustain vibrant urban life along multi-lane one-way streets. Why Hamilton continues to try is baffling to those of us who desire a turnaround in this city.
Put together a business/demographics plan and begin to aggressively court these major retailers. They aren't going to come here on their own. I'd love to see the same effort put into this as we put into free parking plans. Hamilton's core is growing with young people and young couples. They are shopping you can be sure - but not downtown. We can either give up on downtown retail, as it sounds like some have in the past, or aggressively turn this thing around.
Encourage street retail/commercial uses in new buildings rethink this urban braille plan that eliminates the chance for patios or market stalls on various streets. Work it into the streetscape as we've done on King William.
Get cars and buses out of the Gore! Seeing all the artists and musicians set up shop on Queen West and Kensington Market areas on a Saturday was fabulous. We need to encourage this sort of animation downtown, not cater exclusively to vehicles.
I'll do my part, which is limited as a resident, but would love to see a new campaign become front and centre by politicians and BIA folks. I'm sure the people of Hamilton will be glad to see our elected officials and business community begin to rally together for the betterment of our downtown.
By the way, I spent $100.00 in the Bay on a couple of new pairs of pants I needed and a new shirt and jacket. I'd LOVE to do this in a vibrant downtown Hamilton instead of driving to Toronto.
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