Arts Group Wants to buy Downtown Building

By Jason Leach
Published March 22, 2007

Fabulous news in today's Hamilton Spectator, as Hamilton Artists Inc. tries to buy the downtown building that housed Jerry's Man Shop to create an art complex.

I have visions of a major arts complex with galleries, café space, and astreetfront patio. I don't know exactly what the Inc has planned for here, but I'm sure it'll be a massive boost to downtown Hamilton.

We all know that our friendly neighbourhood councillors in Flamborough and Ancaster will vote against this idea to release already-approved money early.

The other councillors around the table should be more than willing to approve this request given the impact it will have on our downtown.

We've seen the same scenario time and time again when Red Hill project managers come before council requesting millions more, or a local developer wants new land re-zoned or deals cut on servicing costs. Those requests are usually granted due to their importance to council.

Downtown is the heart of the city and the face of Hamilton. I've just read the recent BIZ Magazine piece on Jerry's and they spare no expense in describing how bustling and prosperous James and Cannon used to be before the trucks took over.

Jerry's was a big story in the city and rightly so. The fact that a local group is clamouring to grab that space for another major anchor to the booming James North strip should bring smiles to the faces of all councillors (except the aforementioned Hamilton-haters) and make this a rather easy decision.

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 trey (registered) | Posted March 22, 2007 at 15:51:02

I think the space should remain retail. I'm all for the Inc. moving to James North. However I feel that space is too small.

Here's what the Inc should do.

  1. Move to James North, perhaps the vacant 2/3 floor building a little south of Jerry's just past Cannon, same side. It has a marqueeish front, large windows, i think blue facade.

  2. Ground Floor. Space for TV commercial shoots and studio space for film, green screen and high ceilings for booms and lightboxes. Also a stage at the back to accommodate small performances, say 100-150 seating.

  3. Second Floor. Gallery and Exhibit space for visual art, poetry readings, book clubs. Both first and second floor should be able to hold artist functions. Where people gather and say how fabulous everything is. Third Floor. Administration.

Keep Jerry's space as retail. A flagship retail store like Guess, Diesel Gap, Roots, (bring back Beaver Canoe or Cottonwood). I think the space is too small for the proposed function. Unless all they intend to do is move their Jackson cubicles to James North, complete with a snaling Lawson Hunter. Retail benefits the most from corner exposures and a store like that would seed more street retail seen in other cities, but absent in Hamilton. It would also mix the uses more.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2007 at 10:07:34 in reply to Comment 5968

Speaking of bringing retail into downtown, I'm really hoping that MEC could be convinced to move to Hamilton. Imagine MEC coming in -- they could take half of an entire floor of the Hamilton(Eaton) Centre, or the main floor of a larger building -- they would attract tonnes of smaller stores going after the same demographic. I'm so insane about it I even set up a website :-)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 26, 2007 at 08:55:05 in reply to Comment 5977

You know what I'd love to see in Hamilton? An Organic Garage:

Hamilton needs a local retailer with a similar buying and pricing philosophy.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 23, 2007 at 13:27:55 in reply to Comment 5977

It would be curtains for Adventure Attic, although my loyalty to them has diminished somewhat since they abandoned Westdale.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2007 at 13:58:05 in reply to Comment 5988

I also do not think it would be "curtains" for Adventure Attic. The problem with AA was always that it was too small and too overpriced., and I have always thought that it was because of lack of competition. Moving out of Westdale and operating exclusively out of Dundas seems like a bad move in my opinion. Dundas is inching toward being a retirement community and lacks convenient transit access. The clientele that frequents outdoors stores tend to arrive by transit and by bike. They should have moved downtown!

Anyway, bringing more of this type of business into Hamilton (especailly downtown) would be really great.

Excellent location ideas. I plan to ride around this weekend and see what kind of "lease" signs I see floating around. I also think it would be cool if they moved to 220 Dundurn south (where the lofts were supposed to be). It seem slike just the right size for them with office or loft space on the top floor.

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2007 at 11:37:15 in reply to Comment 5977

i would be all about the MEC idea. i'd even put my member number on a petition for it if there was one.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2007 at 12:31:50 in reply to Comment 5982

So who's going to organize this campaign?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2007 at 13:06:26 in reply to Comment 5985

I've already organized the petition. It's linked above but here it is in clickable format:

Also an encouraging reply from MEC:

"You're right the GTA can support more than one store and MEC has been attempting to find another location that meets our needs. We were very close to a location in Burlington but it didn't work out. -If you see locations in the 15,000 sq ft range with good transit, car access etc. that could be made to meet the Leed Green Building certification, please get the realtor to contact MEC!"

So if anyone can suggest a location, bring it on!


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By Connie (registered) | Posted March 26, 2007 at 19:36:59 in reply to Comment 5986

Excellent work, folks!!

Wow what a concept ... whatever you want, go after them!!

While you are at it, get me a STARBUCKS, eh?! Sorry ... tims just doesn't cut it compared to a decaf soy latte!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 09:59:14 in reply to Comment 6047


Would you settle for a locally and idependantly purveyed fair trade decaf soy latte?:-)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2007 at 10:47:14 in reply to Comment 6059

I highly recommend the Bad Dog (disclosure: I'm friends with the owners and my wife works there the odd weekend). Their brew is hands down the best in the city. If you're looking for straight coffee, the Colombian fair trade stall in the Farmers Market (behind the east escalator) is a close second.

As for the funding to buy Jerry's, I'm glad council decided not to release the funds.    /ducks/

  1. They don't have matching federal and provincial money yet, so this could lead them into a financial squeeze from which the city would be under a certain amount of pressure to extricate them.

  2. I don't know how I feel about giving three quarters of a million dollars to an arts group to buy a new centre. It seems to me that Artists Inc feels entitled to a public subsidy for their efforts, but I'm not sure how much of that will actually go into building public amenities or strengthening the community.

Sky Dragon established themselves under their own steam, bootstrapping up from nothing and building an impressive community organization with real buying power. They earned every penny they've got, they're not beholden to any government or corporate interests, and they have a healthy respect for fiscal prudence.

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By Mixed Media (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 12:08:01 in reply to Comment 6065


Come on! This is truly disheartening to read. The Inc. was approved Future Fund money - just like a whole lot of other organizations including Mohawk College. If this wasn't an artists' organization asking for funds early - I'm sure the story would be much different. From what I hear and I hope to receive a transcript - but some of the councilors were downright insulting to local artists. From what I understand Skydragon received some funds from Unions and other organizations to get their start. So saying they did it all on their own may be a bit misleading. I do give them tons of credit for what they are doing there though. The Future Fund was set up to spark projects in the community for the future good. As a business owner on James North - I only saw the Inc moving into that corner as a positive for the community and my business!

I guess this means same old same old at City Hall.
2004's dirty word at city council: activist
2007's dirty word at city council: artist

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2007 at 14:22:37 in reply to Comment 6067

Hi Mixed Media,

I'm not saying I oppose investment in the arts. In this case, however, the Inc was asking for the municipal money without having received commitments from the higher levels of government for the rest of the money - which was a condition originally attached to the funding.

That's fiscally irresponsible no matter your political inclinations (and I think mine are pretty clear). They shouldn't be diving into a major financial commitment if they don't yet know where the rest of the money is coming from.

My secondary point was more of a musing than a hard assertion, and I'm sorry if it came off more strongly than I intended. I just think $750,000 is an awful lot of money - plus the hope of additional commitments from other levels of government.

Just what are they planning to build? If they had to, would they be able to do it for less money? Can they generate more of the money they need through their own efforts?

I think these are legitimate questions; and asking them is not the same as reflexively phoning in dogmatic answers.

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By artsyfartsy (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 15:58:30 in reply to Comment 6074

Ryan's got a point. Imagine if they took 750 grand and gave it out in small grants to artists to start downtown businesses.At 20 thou a pop, that could fire up 37 new Mixed Medias, Print Shops, Loose Canons, art crawls, art buses, etc. 37 new businesses opening in storefronts that are boarded up today. 37 new places to go downtown. I bet that would make a bigger difference than sinking it all in one company with a bunch of coordinators on salary.

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By Mixed Media (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 15:44:22 in reply to Comment 6074

All good points Ryan and I guess time will tell what happens.

I just want to see positive things happening in Hamilton's Downtown - privately and publicly.


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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2007 at 15:49:15 in reply to Comment 6075

I think we want the same things, Dave. What I don't want is for the money to sink into a financial black hole. That would actually hurt the arts by making Council less willing to risk funding projects in the future.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 16:00:15 in reply to Comment 6076

the Inc has been around for 30+ years. I don't think we need to worry about them becoming a 'black hole'. So far, basically everything we've seen happen on James North has been grassroots, community-led (which is how it should happen). This is the first time (that I'm aware of) that a group has needed a favour from city hall (the money is already agreed upon, just the delivery from the feds was holding it up) in this district. And not surprisingly, city hall says no. You want to see hundreds of millions of city dollars invested into a black hole check the debt-producing suburban sprawl we've been subsidizing for years (and continue to do so today). Seems to me that if you're too grassroots, or not quite corporate enough the city doesn't bend. The AGH can get millions, but not the artist-run centre up the street??? I don't get it. The AGH deserved their money and the Inc. deserved theirs too.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 12:59:10 in reply to Comment 6067

The Inc should have told council they were planning on knocking down the building and replacing it with a huge parking lot and Walmart. Then council would be throwing money at them.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2007 at 13:34:53 in reply to Comment 5986

just found out - Hart is 35,000 sq. ft. So, MEC wants something roughly half that size with LEED reno potential. Hmmm, can anyone say Lister?? I'd like to think that 15,000 sq ft could be assembled quite easily along King or King William. What about the old Woolworth building? it's been empty since the city moved to Main and Wellington. No direct parking, but tons of transit and pedestrians. Anyone know the pedestrian count per year at King and James?? I always hear Toronto businesses talking about 18 million annual pedestrians at Yonge and Dundas. We need to find out that info here. City Centre or Jackson could easily assemble 15,000 sq feet. not sure what is planned for this new parking garage with ground floor retail at Main and Hess. What about the old Zig Zag Zebra space at Gore Park, or heck, if council denies the Inc their money, these guys could try Jerry's old space.

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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2007 at 01:47:53 in reply to Comment 5991

MEC in Hamilton would rock, just not in that turd of a mall.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 26, 2007 at 13:58:08 in reply to Comment 6011

if this MEC campaign actually works maybe we'll start some other ones. Why wait for the Downtown BIA to get off their duffs and do something when we can all just do it ourselves.

that 'turd of mall' can lose the turd status by landing some great retailers. Not sure how keeping out a destination store helps the mall recover. It's exactly what we should be bringing in.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2007 at 13:53:10 in reply to Comment 5991

Quick note regarding parking... their Toronto store has a single level underground lot managed by a third party. Their Vancouver store has a lot on the roof. Victoria from what I can tell is in the main floor of a larger building with no directly associated parking lot. I think they would only require proof of adequate parking nearby (pay parking OK) and not a dedicated surface lot.

I was also thinking LISTER right off the bat. They could occupy a whole whack of main floor space on the corner.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2007 at 13:29:04 in reply to Comment 5986

how big is 15,000 sq. ft?? depending on what they mean by 'car access' you might be out of luck. The city was looking to lure a number of retail 'outlet' stores (brand name stuff) a few years back, but they all said "no way". There are no storefront parking lots there...we must be in the suburbs. In my mind there is a ton of parking downtown, but I think these retailers don't count meters, underground or parkades - they only think in terms of 10 acre lots in the middle of nowhere. But, they do mention transit, so downtown scores huge on that... once we all can visualize 10,000 sq. ft it'll help to make some suggestions.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2007 at 13:30:05 in reply to Comment 5989

sorry, I meant 15,000 sq feet. is that like Hart or more like Le Chateau size??

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2007 at 13:26:33 in reply to Comment 5986

Great stuff. I signed the petition and left this comment:

I am not currently a MEC member because there is no store close enough to make it convenient. However, I know many people who are very happy with your products and would definitely get a membership if a store were located in Hamilton. Note that this means I represent a potential new customer, not merely a customer taking my business to a different store.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2007 at 10:18:23 in reply to Comment 5977

please forgive me, I'm completely ignorant as far as retail goes...what is MEC??

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2007 at 10:21:58 in reply to Comment 5978

Mountain Equipment Co Op...

If you visit any of their stores in any major Canadian city, you'll see that it's surrounded by small outdoor gear shops, coffee shops, bike shops etc. Hamilton has so much going for it as far as outdoor activities... and lots of people take advantage of that... but there is minimal retail support of it (especially downtown).

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2007 at 10:22:46 in reply to Comment 5979

I just looked through your websites...very nice job. I would suggest you contact the administration at City Centre and Jackson Square....unless they get on board and push for this, you won't see anything worthwhile locate there. They've got ample room in those two malls for a place like this, a Bay, IKEA etc....bigger format stores that are popular these days. sadly, I don't think they put the effort into marketing our city and especially the booming 'young' population in our downtown core.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2007 at 10:37:07 in reply to Comment 5980

Excellent points. I contacted EcDev already, but really I want to wait and see if there is any significant number of current MEC members who want to see this happen. If we can't convince MEC themselves through numbers, then all the wanting in the world isn't going to matter.

The state of the Hamilton Centre is pretty dismal right now. Jackson square is looking up though, I find it a great place to go these days (especially compared to 5-10 years ago)

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2007 at 16:37:18 in reply to Comment 5981

ok..I sent an email to some councillor and local bigwigs. I got a response back from a great contact at city hall who works specifically with downtown area developments. Here was their answer to me directing them to this conversation and the 'bring MEC to Hamilton' website:

"Hey thanks for the tip. I got the perfect site, next to Hess Village and all the young folks who hang there. The bottom of the old federal building which fronts onto Main. Tough to create dwelling units on the ground floor but the floor plate is big enough for their needs, it has loading and there will be parking next door and on transit route. Another advantage is that the ceiling heights of the ground floor I believe are in excess of 20 feet. And beautiful exposure as you clear the rise on Main at Queen.
Do you have a personal contact or do you want me to explore this option with them?"

I told this person to contact them personally since their title at city hall will carry some weight...but also, Sean, I would get back to the person you spoke with and give this info since you were the original contact. by the way, if you could email me with that persons email address I'll pass it along to city hall. remember, the old fed building is at Caroline and Main...the city is about to build a new parking garage at Main between Caroline and Hess. who knows, maybe this will work?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2007 at 19:19:17 in reply to Comment 5997

I also spoke with a gentleman in Economic Development today and he'd like to talk to MEC. I don't have specific mec contacts yet but I am working on finding the direct line to the right people there. Jason, do you mind emailing me (there's a link on the mecinhamiilton site) and I we can amalgamate our info and efforts?

That site sounds just perfect.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2007 at 18:16:24 in reply to Comment 5997

if you log onto the MEC website you'll notice that most of their stores around Canada are located in old buildings that were vacant and then renovated. That would make the old Federal building a prime candidate.

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By Mixed Meda (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2007 at 17:41:30 in reply to Comment 5968

You are confusing Arts Hamilton (located in Jackson Sq.) and Hamilton Artists Inc. (located at James and Colbourne)...

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By Trey (registered) | Posted March 22, 2007 at 19:49:15 in reply to Comment 5971

Hamilton Artists. Arts Hamilton. Geez that's not too hard to confuse.

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By Trey (registered) | Posted March 22, 2007 at 19:47:30 in reply to Comment 5971

nevertheless. They better still make the site a destination. Keep everything I commented as is, except for the reference to Lawson Hunter. The same thing still applies.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 27, 2007 at 09:22:40

RE Jerry's Man Shop: The city did not release the funds early.

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By Jelly (anonymous) | Posted March 27, 2007 at 16:54:34 in reply to Comment 6058

I'm not at all shocked or suprised that the proposal was voted down yesterday- despite the many merits of the Inc's plans, the idea to move the Inc to Jerry's Man Shop has only been considered now for a few weeks, and from what I know of what the Inc was shooting for in their original proposal, Jerry's is smaller in scope than the original plan.

I think a feasibility study is probably the best idea for now- I see many organizations at this stage who make a push for their own building, and in the meantime everything else falls to the wayside and people get laid off, regardless of how much "fiscal prudence" they might exhibit. ;)

I think the Inc. needs to spend even more time to consider the full consequences of that kind of upheaval on the organization itself. Unexpected things will happen, and hopefully the organization and everyone involved is prepared for that.

I think this week was a bad time to be asking for that kind of money as well- after the provincial budget, every councillor is thinking of ways to cut back- there's a $5 Million shortfall in this year's budget, so considering that amount, $750,000 is a lot to ask for right now.

Yes, it sucks that the Future Fund was drained before you got a piece of it- but that shouldn't have come as much of a shock to anyone- council kept "borrowing" from it more or less since the fund was established, and the time to speak up about that was YEARS ago.

Obviously Councillors aren't very familiar with the Inc. and the good work it does- maybe if they had a better idea of the benefits of an organization like the Inc. they'd be more inclined to help out. But that's not their responsibility- it's the Inc's.

I know the Inc. is a great organization for artists, but that's because I'm an artist. Just about everyone's one-sentence understanding of this has been "Some arts group wants 3/4 of a Million taxdollars". It's up to the Inc. to educate people- sounds like a lot of work, but $750,000 is also a lot of money.

I do wish to see the Inc. make their plans happen, but I would hate to see it happen too quickly, in a way that risks dissolving the entire organization as we know it.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 11, 2007 at 19:59:44 in reply to Comment 6079

I haven't seen or heard anything in the media about this, so if this is old news please forgive me. Apparently a private sponsor has stepped forward and HAI got the building after all. Heard this from a HAI member at a drunken knees-up last night so I hope I have my facts straight. Maybe Jelly can confirm? Anyway, said HAI member bore no ill toward the city, recognized the bad timing of their request, and was pleased that the city had at least promised to fund their feasability study. But the upshot is they have the building!

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By doug (registered) | Posted April 19, 2007 at 16:05:15 in reply to Comment 6314

here is the inc's press release about the good news...

"The Board of Directors of Hamilton Artists Inc. are pleased to announce that the organization has secured the building at the north west corner of James and Cannon Streets (Jerry's Man Shop) for its future home and location for its Building Project. The building has been purchased and held in trust for the organization by an anonymous Arts Patron who believes strongly in the building's ability to act as a gateway to the arts district of James Street North. Hamilton Artists Inc. looks forward to working with the City of Hamilton, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, The Hamilton Community Foundation, The Threshold School of Building and Canadian Heritage to delivering the full extent of the Building Project.

Renovations begin Summer 2007.

Join us for an extra wild celebration on Saturday, April 28th at 7pm at Club Artopia. For one night only, we'll celebrate at 20 Murray St West (1 block West of James)."

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By yeah right (anonymous) | Posted December 26, 2008 at 13:00:04

Try maybe renovations to begin Summer 2009 now. zzzzzzzzz wake me when it's done.

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By yeah right2 (anonymous) | Posted December 26, 2008 at 13:24:15

THis is almost as bad as the HMP being torn down.

We now know that a parking lot occupies the HMP site of once was a functioning building, just minutes before it was demolished. And Jerry's Man Shop -- although not artsy -- still added to some badly needed street retail in that category. It was a nice functioning building suitable for fashion retail. Now it sits waiting for someone else to pay for someone else's 'idea'.

An idea is worth nothing unless you're willing to invest and provide more then talk. THis article is coming up on it's two year anniversary. How sad.

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