Today's Hamilton Spectator carries an article the Downtown BIA trying to attract more businesses downtown "to offset a 23 per cent office and retail space vacancy rate in the core", down from 28 percent five years ago but still among the highest in Canada.
This is a classic chicken-and-egg problem: with lots of empty storefronts and intimidating blocks, people are reluctant to go downtown. Without customers, business are reluctant to take the plunge.
One of the biggest problems is that the BIA is convinced the solution lies in accommodating drivers. Cars take up a lot of space for driving lanes and parking at every destination, and that actually crowds out real destinations worth visiting.
If the Downtown BIA is serious about revitalizing business in the core, it needs to advocate the following:
Eliminate parking requirements for residential and business properties and let the market decide. These requirements raise the price of constructing new buildings by tens of thousands of dollars per unit and take up valuable real estate. The streetwall of the new Spallacci Building, for example, is marred by two ramps to the required underground parking garage.
Install smart parking meters at the curbside that charge variable rates based on time of day, calibrated to maintain 15 percent vacancy. The money collected should go back to the neighbourhood for reinvestment.
Reform the property tax structure to stop punishing property owners for taking care of their buildings. The recent application to demolish a house on Main Steet and replace it with a parking lot is a tragic case in point.
Enforce property standards by-laws that require property owners to maintain their buildings. The advanced dilapiation of the Lister Block is a direct result of LIUNA leaving the upper windows open for years and allowing the elements to do their insidious work.
Build a fast, affordable light rail line across the city so people can get downtown quickly and conveniently without their cars.
Convert the rest of the streets back to two-way to slow traffic and make the sidewalks safer and friendlier for pedestrians.
These measures would begin a real transformation downtown that would free up capital to reinvest, attract businesses, and draw a lot more people downtown by moving back and by visiting on foot, bicycle, or transit.
The downtown could finally go back to being a dense, mixed, vibrant, healthy centre.
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