A Plan to Revitalize our Shopping District

By Jason Leach
Published August 01, 2006

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:

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.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By jason (registered) | Posted August 01, 2006 at 22:01:04

further to this piece....Hart Department Store opens downtown this Thursday. They removed a few storefronts in the Eaton Centre to make room for the new store. Why didn't they remove the stores from the east side of the mall so Hart could also face the street?? Again, lack of vision by our downtown mall owners. Or just a lack of creativity. At any rate, more shops and restaurants are said to be coming to the City's hoping a turnaround is under way.

oh yeah, and please take down the tacky banners.

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By Tim Jacobs (registered) | Posted August 02, 2006 at 12:16:54


Another excellent read. Keep going.

I couldn't agree with you more. I have always lamented that the Eaton Centre essentially walled itself off from the natural pedestrian flow of James ST North--what a disaster.

As we know from Jane Jacobs et al, sidewalks are the most important part of a city. Why alienate commerce from bustling street activity? Here's hoping that they do something to open up the street side of the mall.

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By inert (anonymous) | Posted August 02, 2006 at 13:25:10

King Street is scheduled to convert to 2-way between Wellington and Queen.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 02, 2006 at 14:46:11

King St 2-way conversion....yea, sometime in the next 15 years according to the city. That simply doesn't cut in my books. Show leadership and do the right thing NOW.

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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted August 02, 2006 at 22:01:04

Yeah, I'm sure it's that easy too. It'll be no problem tearing down the whole 403 interchange and finding room for the ramps, no sweat, it'll be a week at most.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 02, 2006 at 22:35:15

just to clarify...the city's 2-way conversion includes the area between Wellington and Queen. Although many in the Strathcona neighbourhood immediately west would like to see it converted to Bredalbane (just east of the 403). Eventually it would be nice to do the 403 area too, but that's probably decades away. The stretch from Wellington to Queen would be very easy. one lane each way from Wellington to John. 2 each way from John to Bay and 1 each way (2 during rush hour/parking off peak) from Bay to Queen (or Dundurn) Give me a can of paint overnight and watch out....2 way right through the commercial core (stoplights pending)

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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted August 02, 2006 at 23:11:10

Great, because westbound traffic isn't clogged up enough from wellington to john already. Haven't we learned enough about half-assed mickey mouse two-way conversions already? I'm not talking about the first phase of the john-james switch, but the end product we have now. They are both still one-way as far as most motorists are concerned since they made it such a pain to use any other way. I'm talking about the left lanes that become turning lanes, the reverse-timed lights, and st. joseph's drive is totally useless westbound.

While I'm on this, why wasn't bay street converted while they were busy prettying it up? another direct southbound street is sorely needed in that area, particularly to get to and from bayfront park. Bay doesn't get ridiculous amounts of traffic anyway, and most of your time on the street is already spent at a red light.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 03, 2006 at 07:58:49

"Haven't we learned enough about half-assed mickey mouse two-way conversions already?"

By any measure I can think of, the two-way conversions already completed have been highly successful:

  • traffic is slower, improving safety and comfort
  • business has improved on those streets
  • the sidewalks are busier with pedestrians

Highways are for moving people very quickly from one city to another. City streets are primarily for living and interacting. One-way achieves the former, whereas two-way achieves the latter.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 03, 2006 at 23:24:47

I have to agree with you both on this one. Yes, the job wasn't done properly on James and John South - it's like a one-way street made to look 2-way. A simple 2 lanes each way would have been fine with on street parking all the way down the 'opposite' side that the buses use (which, by the way it wouldn't kill the HSR to stop running a 1-way system on 2-way they've got to wait for the left turn at King and John). More parking is necessary and get rid of those stupid turning lanes at Charlton and Jackson (how many cars turn left here in a 24 hour period? 6?) However, traffic is slower and safer for cyclists and pedestrians. And new businesses have followed: Eden Thai, T4U Tea House and Sushi Bar, Incognito Restaurant and Wine Bar, Affinity Vegetarian Restaurant. Over on James South - Bistro Parisien, Platinum Unisex Clothing, James St Book Cellar, St Antonio's Italian Restaurant and some new office/web design firms along James South.
With some tinkering this 2-way project could be wonderful. So far it's been a success though, even with it's warts.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 04, 2006 at 23:13:39

further to this piece....the opening of Hart went fabulous. it's a good store for downtown. Nicer than I expected. A straight up department store. the entire downtown/jackson/eaton centre area was jammed with people this week. amazing what good momentum can do.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted August 13, 2006 at 21:00:05

Some intriguing suggestions and observations. But I still believe that (comparisons with Toronto notwithstanding, because it's apples and oranges regarding activity and density) the key to revitalising the downtown core is to get more people living there. Urban planning in Hamilton (read that as: focusing on the living spaces) seems to have been non-eixstent for the longest time, more energies spent on outward expansion to the 'burbs. It's very, very difficult to reverse the trend of 'outward cocooning'. Returning a city's vibrancy is not just a matter of bringing new retail businesses in. You also have to have the people to support them. And from what I've seen over the past year since returning to Hamiltonia...there ain't no 'there', there where the demographics are concerned.

And I found the comment about getting the (cars and) buses out of Gore to be hilarious. You want mass transit...but you don't want it in the -admittedly concentrated- downtown. What would your suggestion be, then?

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By Steeltown (registered) | Posted August 14, 2006 at 17:00:25

City Hall is working up a plan to relocate the downtown transit station to somewhere else other than Gore Park. That report should come out this year. If I had to take a bet the old GO bus station at John St with all those parking space will be the future transit station.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted August 15, 2006 at 09:44:46

OK. So we move the 'transit conglomeration vector' to the old bus station on John Street. But that doesn't change the fact that 'downtown' in Hamilton's case has an identifiable area, the very area we're discussing. Buses still have to come through/close to this area, otherwise you're effectively making it harder for people to make coming into the 'downtown' a habit. (You don't want car traffic, you want public transit). And most of the people I currently see downtown use transit. So you're going to make it less convenient for them to do so?!?

Many cities have a 'turnaround' area for transit downtown. Brighton, UK is an example I can think of immediately; a good portion of their buses 'stop' along the 'high street' (main street) right outside the downtown shopping mall. Churchill Square Shopping Centre.

I think any effort in this area is a waste of energy. You're trying to solve a problem that not only doesn't need to be solved at this point, but shouldn't be solved. You need to first build up the inertia of the downtown. Then deal with aesthetic concerns like buses routed around Gore Park. (You can't change the colour of a wall until the house is actualy built.)

My pet question in all of this is: 'What is Hamilton currently doing?' What are Hamiltonians working at? What's the core of the city? It used to be steel and manufacturing. Is there a concerted thrust these days? What's the city's profile, its function? Personally, I don't sense that there's a direction for the city. To me it seems to still be floundering. My belief is that before anything can be done about 'redevelopment', there has to be forward movement in this area. Is it health care? Is it education? (We have two post-secondary institutions...) Collingwood had to redefine itself over the years, from what it used to be (shipbuilding, etc) to tourism. And there were some awful growing pains along the way. But it's on its way now. (Not that everyone thinks its movements are for the good...) Hamilton should avoid trying to essentially 'pretty itself up' before having a better infrastructure in place insofar as what it is, where it's going, why people should move here. Otherwise, to paraphrase the song, 'She's just a 3 dressed up as a 9...'

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted August 15, 2006 at 12:25:25

Hi Scmadrian,

Those are all great questions and objectives. I think you'll find, if you dig around in the archives of RTH, that they've all been discussed to some degree, but it's good to be reminded of them and your point is well taken.

wrt your transit in Gore Park comments - please don't close your mind on this issue. What you appear to be arguing is that 1. We need to make transit convenient, and dropping people off outside of the Gore is NOT convenient, and 2. This is not really even an issue and is definitely not a priority for the revitialization of the downtown. Sound fair?

Here's my take:

While you site transit in Brighton as an example of a good downtown transit system I am thinking of examples from other European cities, and I look at the needs of transit users/car drivers and pedestrians as a whole. Just as we can't turn the entire downtown over to car users - by allowing our freeways to ride right over it - neither can we give it over entirely to other modes of transit - like the bus. We need a good balance. So what we (well me at least) are saying is that Gore Park needs to cater more to pedestrian and cyclist modes of transit. Remember that it is pedestrians/cyclists - aka slow moving traffic - that brings business to the core. They need to have a pleasant walking experience or they won't come back - this is paramount. Now I know you will say that "we need to get these pedestrians into the core in the first place" and I agree. But the truth is that parking a bus round the back of the Plaza - 2 maybe 3 minutes walk away - is not going to kill people. And the benefits of pedestrianizing Gore Park - as can be seen in Public Plazas all over Europe - will be immense. - As for priorities I agree that everything you say is important. The truth is that we (RTH) do not advocate doing all of this in sequential order, rather we should be doing many things concurrently. There are a few articles on RTH - I forget which, you'd have to dig around - that talk about our image and the need for us to identify our target economic hubs and build on our strengths. I agree this is critical. But it's a separate discussion from the topic of transit in Gore Park. The reason this has been highlighted is that it is a concrete and doable item that has been proven to attract more customers to the downtown. It should absolutely not be done in isolation - there are many other factors that need to be addressed too - but it can be done, and it will work.

Thanks for chiming in.


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