Working to Restore the Core

The Central Neighbourhood Association just held its first public meeting in recent memory, bringing together a room full of people genuinely and energetically interested in using their talents to make things better.

By Theresa Nicholson
Published November 07, 2011

In advance of Thursday's Evening with Jason Farr at City Hall, Town Halls Hamilton has been working with local neighbourhood associations to highlight some of the issues important to them. These topics will inform the agenda for the event on November 10.

Central District, Downtown Hamilton, or how she's affectionately known by her residents - "The Core".

Hamilton was established in 1815 by George Hamilton. He founded the public square in what is now known as Gore Park, which to this day remains the centre of the city.

I remember, as a child, my mother taking me "downtown" to shop at Kresge's Five and Dime. The lopsided wooden floors, the smells, and the treasures that could be had for a nickel or a dime: all of these memories play vividly in my mind.

A couple of blocks west brought us to Eaton's department store and its caged elevator, operated by properly dressed ladies wearing white gloves. It didn't matter what floor we went to, as long as I got to ride on that elevator.

From there, a trip to the Hamilton Farmers Market located at the corner of York and and James Street for fresh fruit and vegetables brought to us by local farmers.

One hundred and seventy four years after its opening, our market still stands. Even though the downtown is a not a good iteration of what it's been in the past.

As the President of the Central Neighbourhood Association (CNA) for the past three years, I've mostly been working solo, struggling just to keep the lights on, as it were. This past week, we held the first CNA meeting in recent memory.

To have a room full of people genuinely and energetically interested in moving forward with not only addressing immediate concerns, but also using their sizable talents to imagine ways to return the Core to a state more reflective of what Hamiltonians deserve from their downtown... well, I can't describe how nice that was.

As a result, here's a quick list of hot topics, issues we feel deserve attention:

Even if we're not making comparisons with the past, we've got a lot of work to do in order to make things better in The Core. The CNA is looking at Thursday's event with Councillor Farr as a fresh start towards a new beginning.

Theresa Nicholson lives in the Central neighbourhood of Hamilton. She's been a home based caregiver for the past 10 years and has been President of Central Neighbourhood Association for three years. Before that, she was an active participant in the group.


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By TnT (registered) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 08:11:39

As goes the Gore so goes the core.

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By SarahMatthews (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 08:49:54

Thanks for the update. Great to hear that CAN (I love that) is revitalized.

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By Manichean Mall (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 10:09:42

I sympathize with the sentiment but I honestly don't hold out much faith for "Re-purposing of Jackson Square" unless you're planning on infiltrating the executive branch of Yale Properties or buying it off them, as a Barrie-area developer did this summer with the The City Centre: . For better or worse, it's the economic engine of downtown, and I'm not sure if previous administrations had the forethought to build community consultation mandate into Yale's lease (which expires circa 2070). Developers with tens of millions to spend, well, they can usually catch somebody's ear.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 11:14:12

Here's one. Level Delta Bingo, the Thrift Store, the Convenience Store and the Hamilton News Stand and replace it with a smaller rendition of 260 King St or the Gore Building. You can leave Cheapies alone though, that's the cutoff point. Then do the exact same thing with Mahal Restauraunt, the former South Side Men's shop and build a new Right House Style Plaza with Condos over the entire Parking lot behind the buildings. You can leave Scotiabank alone, that would be the cutoff point.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2011-11-07 11:15:00

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By KingAndJames (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 14:06:09 in reply to Comment 71092

I disagree. While the Gore building may be a success in terms of getting more people living on that block, to date it has failed at attracting any new street-level retail.

While I'm dubious as to the overall net benefit of Delta Bingo, it's still an active use of the property, and I think that building still has a lot of potential and shouldn't be 'leveled'.

What we really need is incentives for owners of these properties to keep them clean and keep ALL levels occupied, not just the street-level retail. If you look up while walking east on King between James and John, you'll see that several properties are not leveraging the upper floors for any meaningful purpose. It shouldn't be cheaper and easier to leave things vacant. It's not that nobody wants to live in these buildings, it's that the owners aren't even TRYING to turn them into rentals. For an answer to this confusing phenomenon I'd start to look at how the property taxes are structured.

As for the South side of Gore Park, I'm not sure why you singled out Mahal in particular, but I'd consider it one of several bright spots on that block.

Leveling things indiscriminately is how downtown got to be such a mess in the first place. We can do better.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 16:25:24 in reply to Comment 71100

I'd add more further, but I will say Mahal is actually a very nice establishment. I don't find the place offensive at all save for the condition of it's neighbors and the upper levels of the building, which may be beyond their power to fix. Really I should have noted the convenience store/payday office instead of Mahal as it is a bright spot. It's just Mahal is a much more memorable landmark then "That payday, or that convenience store"

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 11:48:05 in reply to Comment 71092

I have to ask why?

Is it the businesses you don't like? The style of building? The way they're being maintained?

Is there any way to address your concerns other than demolition and rebuilding? I'm presuming here that you have valid concerns that you simply haven't expressed.

What exactly is the purpose of demolishing the existing buildings?

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 02:24:04 in reply to Comment 71094

I will gladly qualify the why's. Lets start with the Delta Bingo area.

1 - Physical Appearance - The buildings themselves are tacky, tired or outright offensive (in the case of the News Stand) on the inside and incredible dated and worn down on the outside. It's unsightly mixture tan brick and dark grey exterior in a predominantly red brick/white/grey concreted area. It looks like a brutalist windowless warehouse attached to several irregularly jutted buildings as the Salvation Army Thrift store rises like some monument to meagerness and only reaching some degree of leveled architecture around Cheapies who used the yellow and colors to match their signage and product displays to a certain degree. The back is another depressing, decaying parking lot with rusted fire escapes and balconies where it also serves to further highlight the excessive street parking problem in the core. It is the singularly ugliest thing on King William, boasting no Windows, being oppressively close to the curb which limits the ability to be turned into something nice like the neighboring Right House.

2- Clients - Delta Bingo, The Salvation Army Thrift Store, The Hamilton News Stand and The Payday loan center attract a certain kind of client which damages the social profile of downtown. Now I'm not going to say these businesses don't have a right to exist, nor am I going to say everyone who frequents this locations is an undesirable, but given just how many times I've seem beggars, people screaming at one another or other sketchy looking characters here is far too numerous to count. These locations should be staggered away from one another instead clustered together, or as a type of "Vice St." off to the side (like say Lundy's Lane is in Niagara Falls) of which King St right next to Gore Park, clearly is not. You want a neat, tidy, cultured core so to attract and make it a business/urban center, what a core should be.

3 - Limited Improvement/Reuse Options - With the exception of the thrift store, these are 2/3 story developments. They lack the capacity to be adaptively turned into higher density developments. Now, I'm not a structural engineer, but I somehow doubt that they are able to have another three or floors added to them without costing more the buildings from scratch. The only route for exterior expansion or improvement is the elimination of parking behind the buildings which any redevelopment/alternate business will need to utilize to an extent and may also suffer from ownership issues pertaining to the parking lot behind it. The incredibly narrow nature of these buildings (save for the Bingo Hall) hamstrings their use and only the bingo hall has enough space to really accommodate interior improvements or make an exterior improvement with a partial demolition. More importantly there is little reason to ever make these improvements to beautify the area as the exsisting businesses have an incredibly static, consistent and regrettably depressing client base by nature and will likely stick around until a large jump in property taxes or some kind of expropriation occurs.

4 - Cost of repair - It has been my experience that throughout Hamilton the two/three floored buildings that sit directly on the city sidewalk on major streets are the buildings most frequently in ill repair. Barton St is the prime of example of this. This is due to the need to get much more red tapped filled, expansive permits for work/scaffolding/sidewalk closures etc. for exterior repairs and are often suffering from property values so low that the "owners" simply can't afford it or be bothered with the hassle of maintenance. Now the tax code for the core might also have something to do with it, but given that many of these buildings are quite aged, the cost of repairs tends to be high. Conversely, they lack sufficient size/density bring in more/larger income tenants/management who can maintain a larger building.

5 - Lack of History/Culture - Now I am for preserving buildings that boast some form of historical significance, provided that they still can be functional. These buildings don't qualify. They are pretty much as close as you can get to a boxes made of bricks. Buildings with history and culture should be preserved, buildings that are old, bland and repulsive should give way for something new.

6 - High Potential Location - This lot like many in Hamilton has a High degree of potential that is currently being squandered. It is on King William and Hughson which means easy underground parking access. It is down the street from Theatre Aquarius and also near Jackson Square. One needs only to look to the success of Filmwork Lofts to see that a condo development could work here. The problem is that no developer is going to touch it with the existing businesses surrounding it, or likely will deal with the existing buildings which are too small and dated to easily adaptively reuse like the old spectator print building.

So pretty much a mixture of "Don't like the businesses, find the block ecstatically unpleasing, can't see any sane businessman moving in if the current businesses moved out (save for major renovations to the Bingo hall, which would still be repulsively ugly) and the personal belief that a large scale medium density condo development with underground parking much more beneficial to this block and the core, regardless of if a storefront was located here or not.

Perhaps I should rephrase as I'm not so much as look for the removal of these buildings but something to replace them specifically with medium density highrise condos between 8-24 floors and getting away from the density lacking, poorly maintained 3-4 floor developments.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2011-11-08 03:53:36

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 11:53:53 in reply to Comment 71115

That's quite a lenghty response, I'll try to keep mine brief.

1. Physical appearance - Many of the buildings you cite do have charm that is hidden either physically, or by their present poor condition. That's no reason to "tear down the building" not by itself anyways. Look at 118 James St. N. What did it used to look like, all boarded up with siding over the upper levels? Look what it's become now. You have only to look across the other side of John St., where rennovations are underway on what I'm sure you would have previously dismissed as an equally dilapidated and useless building that should be "torn down". Physical appearance is a poor reason to trash a building in my humble opinion. It's a good reason to force owners to maintain their building, and to pass bylaws that regulat what you can and can't do with the facade (i.e. cover it up with giant signs ala subway).

2. Clients - Tearing down the building will certainly get rid of the current businesses (although as a poster above noted it's odd you singled out the indian restaurant previously...what's wrong with them?). However there' no guarantee a new build will bring better clients. If anything a new build could (a) sit empty like the Gore Building and the McKay building are or (b) end up with the same types of tenants. Tearing down a building seems like a rather EXTREME way to get rid of the tenants of that building, especially considering the substantial cost you're proposing the city undertake.

3. Limited Improvement/Reuse Options - While I agree that these particular business are unlikely to ever become "high density" developments, I don't see why Gore park, the downtown core, needs to have high density right on it. Would it not be sufficient to have high density surrounding an historic core? In fact I'd prefer this, to keep some of Hamilton's historical character. Look at Front St. in Toronto, just east of Union Station (east of Scott to be precise) around the Flatiron building - many of the buildlings there are small 2-3 story buidlings with a park in the middle. Continue eastward and you see further 2-3 story buildings and a new small low-rise condo development. This is a stone's throw away from Front and Bay, union station, and some of the most expensive commercial real estate in Toronto. Yet these buildings are not being "torn down" to make room for higher density development. Maybe we want to look at this area as a model of what our downtown should be like, as the two are not very dissimilar. Why do we want to tear those buildings all down and make 15 story condos? Do we want to lose that history and that "human" scale around Gore Park? I think this should be discussed, and it's certainly not clear to me that we should definitely demolish these buildings because something higher density in front of gore park is "better".

4. The cost of repair is likely high, but I don't think it's any more than the cost to raze and rebuild. Also there are plenty of well-maintained smaller buildings which would suggest that you don't need "large businesses" to make a go of the repairs. Look at the Black Forest Inn, the rennovations happening at the corner of John and King, Capri restaurant (around the corner on John), and the wide variety of well kept small art venues on James St. North. If they can maintain their buildings, then surely it shouldn't be difficult for the owners (not the tenants) of these buildings to do the same. The building owners should maintain their properties in a good state of repair, and if they can't afford to because their rent is too low and they won't make a profit, they should sell the building to avoid their failed money-losing venture and give someone else a chance. As it is the building owner is making a profit at the expense of needed repairs and causing an eyesore - and potentially a hazard, for the rest of the community. In essence we're all subsidizing their profit.

5. Lack of History/Culture - I'm certainly not an expert, and if you asked me, I would say that Pagoda building at the corner of King and John has absolutley no historical value whatsoever, but I'm told it's one of the few pre-confederation buildings in the city. So I'm not going to say I know or don't know that there is historical/cultural value in these particular buildings, but I feel that they have some value simply through age. These buildings were there when your grandparents used to sit in Gore Park and enjoy the original Gore Park Fountain - is that not historical enough? Can we only keep buildings that have a plaque on them?

6. High Potential Location - I agree, downtown Hamilton is a high potential location, and there are many high potential things that could be done down there. I agree lofts and high density development needs to surround and envelop the core, but I don't agree the stores on King St. itself, between John and James, have to be demolished for this vision. I don't want to live in a sea of condos, and I don't want to be faced with large condos when I drive down this strip, I'd rather have the condos off to the bank, and have a historic and human-scaled core betwee James and John. I wouldn't be as opposed to your plan in other parts of the downtown (say the north side of king william, between John and Hughson), or east of the core (although there are some nice buildings that way too). But I think we should strive to maintain our historic core between James and John.

Also, I think the Delta Bingo would be a great parel of land for a potential urban grocery store - the lot seems big enough, there's lots of bus access, and maybe they could do underground parking for those woh do need to drive there.

As an aside, I'd just like to say never underestimate laziness as a reason for why things are they way they are. It might not be necessary to "tear everything down" as we did when Jackson Square was built (how well did that work out?). Often time adaptive re-use can happen successfully, but most people, and this is aimed at many of the existing landowners, are either too lazy OR too risk-averse to make anything happen.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 14:56:37 in reply to Comment 71136

on the discussion of limited reuse options, I found this encouraging:

A tired old building that really is one of the ugliest downtown being renovated into nice office space. I could see reuse potential at the bingo hall by restoring the art deco elements on it's exterior and build a new 4-5 storey condo building up from the centre. There could be more potential in some of those buildings than meets the eye.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 11:51:02

re: Building Appearance By-Laws - I agree 100%. The corner of King and James and King and John both have at least one anchor building that is in terrible state. Crumbling stained broken stucco, broken shutters in bad need of painting, etc. etc. If you're gong to own a building, you should have to maintain it. Little things like the appearance of buildings goes a long way towards the impression of a place.

Ideally I'd also like to see something done about those signs that cover all three floors of the building (i.e. subway) that's not appropriate at all for downtown Hamilton, and they shoudl be made to restore the exterior appearance of the upper floors, even if they don't want to do anything with the inside. We deserve better than a giant sign.

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By Manichean Mall (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 12:38:17 in reply to Comment 71095

1 King East should really be a five-storey (equal height to 14 James North and 11 King East, maybe taller. Kind of weak that half of the architecture at the city’s nexus (the NEWS axis of King and James) is a one-storey mall entrance and a decrepit three-storey that's home to a convenience store and sketchy jewellers.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 04:02:28 in reply to Comment 71096

I fully agree, a big complaint I have with much of downtown is the three-four floor buildings that don't align with their neighbors. They lack density, they are in frequent ill repair and seem far too thin and inadequate for most retail businesses.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 12:01:11 in reply to Comment 71120

The three corner buildings along King there are all in scale with each other, and only slightly shorter than the one building north of them on James. So I don't see them as being terribly out of scale with each other.

As for being "too thin" for most retail businesses, the corner building itself is of a fair size (including the nail salon, national pizza and the jewellry place) if it was all used as one or even two units it would be decently sized. I'm not certain what condition the upper floors are in but they would also be fair sizes. Certainly in Toronto a retailer might locate on one or two floors of a building this size.

The questions are: 1) Does the landowner want this or care who he rents to, so long as he gets the money? 2) Are there any retailers interested when you have the mall across the street with its own vacant units in a high traffic area?

Just becuase you build it doesn't mean they will come.

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By Manichean Mall (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 14:39:02 in reply to Comment 71137

To my eyes, having strong verticals at the crux of the CBD would be more impactful, more inducative of density and vitality at the heart of it all. (Dream on, I know.) I'll concede that having some proud, signature three-storey buildings (eg James/Main's Landed Bank, Hamilton Club, Bank of Montreal) might be equally impactful. That's not what you find at King/James.

To my eyes, it's an underwhelming statement when you arrive at the crossroads of a city and find that you're looking at a convenience store in a squat, scabby three-storey, a dissolute city park(ing lot), a bank tower that essentially closes at 5 and a mall entrance that looks like a subway intake. Forgetting the northern neighbours, look across the street in any direction and you find neighbours who are much less bashful in their aspirations.

My eyes. Two cents.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2011 at 13:15:43

To me the biggest recent change that's hurt Downtown's culture is taking the buses out of Gore Park. Before, Gore Park was well-used as a waiting area for bus-transfers. Now? Dead and creepy.

I'm a huge fan of Fred, but I think that one was a mistake. And while the pedestrianization plan he put forth would've been better than the parking lot we've got now, I still think that bus stops were the best thing for that area. Building the Main/McNab thing was a good idea, but it moved the positive influence of waiting passengers out of the core. And, of course, it's even further from John Street, which is the main "downtown" stop for many busses.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 16:01:55

I don't see how taking buses out of Gore can be seen as a bad thing. The fact that people were there waiting for buses before was kind of fake. They wait for their buses and when those come, they take off. It gives the "effect" of people but they aren't actually using the park because it's there, they just have to wait for buses there. The negative effects of traffic, fumes and noise was not worth the fake population in the park, I think. I compare it to how the Lister Block was restored into 9-5 offices versus mixed-use. The building is full of people from 9am to 5pm, then it's dark during the nights and weekends. If it had been mixed use there would be people living and shopping there at all hours of the day, not just using it for work.

The Gore Park problem is further compounded by what Ryan pointed out. It's like gutting a building and then not restoring it. They didn't follow through with the important part of making it attractive to people who want to be there for a reason other than waiting for a bus.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 02:45:27 in reply to Comment 71103

I have to agree with this. Gore Park is substantially more beautiful now that people aren't always waiting for the bus here. The massive decrease in cigarette butts, trampled vegetation and more sedate atmosphere has made Gore more into a Park.

Regrettably, I don't think we are going to see it's pedestrianization because the city has a bottomless, mindless hunger for any form revenue due to it's inability to act fiscally responsible, halt the urban boundary, stop deficit spending and demand higher density to better leverage infrastructure.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2011-11-08 03:57:55

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 16:13:41 in reply to Comment 71103

this is accurate. If the south leg of King was just bursting with business due to the bus stops that'd be different. It wasn't. Nor is it with parking meters. When's the next election??

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted November 08, 2011 at 06:12:52 in reply to Comment 71104

When's the next election??

I've never understood this approach to change...and I still don't.

Why will things be different 'next time'?

What's going to change?

Specifically, which portion of the 'Great Governance Formula' are you looking at with your wistful longings...?

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-11-08 06:20:05

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By Stump (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 07:29:44 in reply to Comment 71121

Agreed. GMunicipal government is largely incapable of affecting meaningful change. Its solutions sare largely to ask senior government for money to address its planning foibles, then squander it in PR exercises, and repeat on an annual basis with a woeful expression.

Want to restore the core? Move downtown, work downtown, spend money downtown. Create a market dynamic, because City Hall can't get much further than its own forecourt.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 18:38:39

Does it fall under the category of it is better to have something rather than nothing. We should be happy to have a bingo hall, porno theather, donut shop/drug dealer port, money lender because if not we would have boarded up shops. Is it possible these business actually drive out other investment? I don't know if that is just my elitist progentrification attitude!

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 19:48:24

comment from banned user deleted

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 03:40:37 in reply to Comment 71106

You should correct this to "High Class" strip clubs in themselves do nothing to dissuade certain kinds of businesses. I can't think of any business that would want to open up shop next to Hamilton Strip.

Also the Hamilton News Stand isn't a strip club from my understanding. It's literally a boothed porno theater which many suspect is a front for criminal activity, simply because how the heck in the day of free Internet porn can there be a demand for boothed porno theaters.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2011-11-08 03:43:47

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By FenceSitter (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 06:39:33 in reply to Comment 71118

I would suggest by the people I see hanging around this place, they may not have internet access or a computer.
As for the criminal activity, I cannot argue that one.

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By Club Supersexe (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 20:26:22

^Not from my recollection. The blocks with strip clubs are the worst on a street that is otherwise superbon fantastique!

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted November 07, 2011 at 21:36:41

I spend a fair amount of time walking in the core.  Here are a few of my "reasons" why it isn't "the place to be" just yet: 1.There are still way too many people just hanging around. Quite often they are not waiting for a bus.  They are standing there smoking; blocking pedestrians and dousing their butts on the ground. Don't dare say anything to them. Solution: Either put the smokers back inside (yech), extend the by-law somehow so they aren't hanging around out front (perhaps rooftop smoking areas lol).  How about digging up the old Gore underground washroom hole and make it THE DESIGNATED GORE SMOKING SPOT. 2. I agree with others that forcing the building owners fix up their properties would be a great idea.  The owners should also see this as a positive if they looked at it down the road. 3. I know it's the chicken and egg scenario but I want to spend my money in the core. We need a large grocery store and a large department store.  Unfortunately, they won't arrive until the population in the core warrants it.  So, hopefully such things as the Connaught will be re-invigorated sooner rather than later with some type of residents (be that students or condos or hotel or whatever).  Solution: If you live in the core, where possible, buy what you need there.  If you are shopping outside the core and the retailer asks for your postal code; give it to them!  They track where their customers live. 4. Make it a place to be by having the "right" things like small bakeries, coffee shops with patios, nightclubs etc.  Call them comfort stores. Not bingo halls, thrift stores, head shops, porn theatre, junk stores etc. These all serve a "need" but they are not needed in our core.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2011 at 22:29:13 in reply to Comment 71111

So why is a nighclub preferable to a bingo hall, thrift shop or head shop? There's way more violence and 9-11 calls associated with the Honest Lawyer, Tailgate Charlies or the (dreaded) old Fever than you'd ever witness with these.

You may not think much of these places or the people who patronize them, but beyond asthetics or class antagonism, what threat do they really pose? Poor people are spending money downtown, the businesses which serve them are open, paying their rent and taxes. There isn't much doubt that the landlords would take posh cafes and bakeries in a second over tenants like these, so where are they?

Correlation does not mean causation. Just because these types of outlets tend to locate in low-income areas does not mean they create them, or that prosperity will magically occur if they're forced out. A slightly less superficial analysis might suggest that these kinds of businesses locate where they can afford to open and where there's a market for them.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 03:13:45 in reply to Comment 71112

I think you just hurt your own point. These types of outlets tend to locate in low-income areas. The issue is that a successful core cannot be an exclusively low-income area. If it is, you can't attract development to make a successful business center/high density area which produces a larger net tax revenue for a city.

This forces your city to leverage taxes beyond that failing core to pay it's infrastructure and operating costs which in turn further adds to less development and thus employment and further degrades the available revenue a citizen has to work with.

Aesthetics are a much bigger deal then you give credit, especially for a potential new developer. A degree of gentrification is needed in a city core and more lower-income development needs to be mixed into the suburbs to compensate.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2011-11-08 03:28:51

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 09, 2011 at 00:44:34 in reply to Comment 71117

Cutting down all the cacti won't let you grow seaweed in a desert.

Economic development geared at wealthier patrons generally doesn't have much trouble displacing others when there's a demand. There isn't. Fail to address the reasons that there isn't "better development" going on downtown and all you'll accomplish by shutting down existing businesses is making the area even more miserable.

The "problems" listed above regarding the "Delta Bingo Area" could just as easily describe Queen West in Toronto, or enormous chunks of Montreal and New York. Old brick walk-ups with lots of interesting fire-escapes are the lifeblood of thriving neighbourhoods.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 20:27:31 in reply to Comment 71169

Quote of the day: Cutting down all the cacti won't let you grow seaweed in a desert!

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 09:01:58

comment from banned user deleted

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By anon (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 09:36:33

Regarding renovation of the unused upper floors on downtown buildings - good luck. Fire codes and bylaws basically make it impossible to put residential back once it's been removed. If a building's original residential layout is still in use, that's pretty much the only way it can work. But if a building has to be converted back to residential from another use (or if interior stairs and fire escapes were previously removed and need to go back in)it's simply impossible to do in many of these buildings. A 12 by 60 foot 3 storey building can not have two small apartments above the storefront because the entire footprint would be occupied by stairs if they are to be built to modern code. And the third level would need two staircases. So the only way to do it is to combine the upper two floors into one living space. Problem here is the layout is going to be a compromise and the market of tenants for that kind of space is way too small. I'm sure this is part of the reason that many building owners opt to take the vacant tax credit instead of renovating for tenants. I don't know what the answer is -- obviously the fire codes are written for very good reasons. But "moving people back in" is nowhere near as simple as it sounds.

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By Born Toulouse-Lautrec (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 22:40:37 in reply to Comment 71125

This comes as close as anything I've seen to explaining the wealth of studio space in new James North conversions as compared to apartment space, even though the latter would arguably be of greater value to the street's chicken-and-egg dynamic. Almost all recent residential conversions I can think of in that area are two-level residences, often occupied by the property owner.

If you caught the renovation of the London Tap House, you might also remember that stairwells were a major part of that multi-million-dollar project: custom three-storey fireproofed steel staircase columns, slipped in through the roof via crane. That's often the real cost of giving older buildings an energetic second life, and it's a cost that very few seem ready to bear.

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By anon (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 08:10:19 in reply to Comment 71167

Unfortunately in Hamilton -- which could possibly be the personal injury lawsuit capital of Canada -- I would not expect the city nor the fire department to ever make progressive changes that expose them in any way to potential frivolous lawsuits. So even if a building is next door to a fire hall with a wired and monitored alarm, we will never see a logical bylaw variance that allows an exterior fire escape. Because the city would assume that someone might stub their toe on their way out of the burning building and sue them for approving the variance.

I simply don't see any way out.

That being said, the old buildings are still ripe for adaptive re-use, with studios or two level apartments being much more easy to make legal - it's just going to be hard to squeeze in higher density residential in many of them.

What would be interesting is if the city would relax the restrictions and allow multiple units in the houses surrounding the retail areas. These houses might be easier to make legal because they have more space around them and are usually not as tall. This could help fill the market for smaller less expensive units which are harder to put in the commercial spaces.

If anyone reading this owns a building - don't remove external fire escapes or un-do residential uses. You gotta nurture that grandfather clause!

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By al (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 17:11:11 in reply to Comment 71173

interesting stuff. But you'd still need to connect the injury to the variance, right? They'd have to know or failed to learn that exterior staircases cause injury. So there must be some sort of greater risk. That or the city's fear of litigation is so great they are irrationally risk averse.

It's interesting to think of these things as pricing phenomena, what price we pay to offset totally minor risks compared to the ones we implicitly take everyday. We either don't know or don't care to make it part of our policy-making.

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By Peter (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 10:08:35 in reply to Comment 71125

I know this might sound insane to some people but we need to loosen up a little in Canada. Laws on top of by-laws on top of codes on top of red's more than just a little difficult to get things done here.

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By anon (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 08:14:43 in reply to Comment 71126

My personal opinion is that at a minimum, exterior fire escapes should be made legal again. In 2001, there were 337 fire deaths in Canada. To put it into perspective, there were 2617 automobile related deaths (And some of those are also counted under the fire statistic). We would do better to save people's lives by getting them out of cars (or training them as better drivers) than by strengthening fire codes. (Not that we should pick and choose but we do need perspective sometimes)

Here's a thought experiment: Who is safer? A couple sleeping in their detached home in a third floor master bedroom with one interior staircase down to the second floor and one staircase down to the front door with a battery powered smoke detector? Or a couple sleeping in their 3rd floor apartment above a storefront with one interior staircase going to the front door and an external steel fire escape (whether stairs or ladder style) and an interconnected (and likely monitored) alarm?

What if the detached home is in a subdivision that is a good few km from a fire hall? Or further out of the city and a few dozen km from a fire hall? WHy are the fire codes more restrictive for apartments downtown that are a block from a fire station?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 09, 2011 at 18:22:08 in reply to Comment 71174

In practical terms, we all know exactly what the real-world outcome of these fire codes is: instead of living in slightly less regulated buildings huge numbers of people flock to the slums of Ward 3 and "student ghettos" of Ward 1 which are often completely unregulated (or at least unenforced).

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By anon (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 12:28:02 in reply to Comment 71126

Which is a major reason things don't happen downtown - it's simply not profitable enough here. In Toronto, the prices are so insane that all of the red tape is eventually worth it financially. Without the payout of places like Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, it's just not economically viable to do the work on the small scale buildings (the ones that we desparately need to be fixed). This is part of the problem with lots of small to mid sized cities who are losing everything to the big boxes, who generate their own economy of scale to create that profit at the end of the day.

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By Mark-Alan Whittle (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 10:54:52

Does anyone know what's going on with the Federal building at 150 Main St. West?

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 11:26:36

You all know my views on what is aling dt so no need for me to repeat. But one thing that some people can help me with:

Why is dt Hamilton so bloody dark?? Can we please at least replace that yellow street lighting in the core with white lights to make the place look brighter and feel safer?

What do you guys think?

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By DavidColacci (registered) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 21:11:24 in reply to Comment 71135

I've often wondered about lighting, maybe architectural lighting on buildings?

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 13:27:54 in reply to Comment 71135

absolutely. It's annoying. I visit other cities with an identical feel or streetwall downtown yet ambient lighting and better overhead lighting makes a world of difference. New lights like the ones on Bay or York are great as they have lower sidewalk lights as well as overheads.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 12:05:28 in reply to Comment 71135

I think there is actually a lighting task force or something looking into lighting downtown...

Anyone know if I'm making that up or if it's true?

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By UNKNOWN (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 13:44:21

Its great to have all these solutions to some of the problems but frustrating when you cant do anything about it!

I don't buy into the cost arguement with updating and fixing up the older structures. Look at james St North those people are Artists and they are somehow finding ways to do it. The odd thing about that is james st north outside of Art Crawl Events is nowhere near as busy with foot Traffic as king street is.

Reality is that there is no quick fix and its going to take everyones part.

maybe its the collective people in the city who care about it and have some sort of skills coming together and volunteering there time and tallents to fix these places up. Imaging going to building owners and saying we will help you restore your building if you pay for the supplies. Just a thought I don't have any real handyman skills outside of being able to paint with a roller etc.

Anyway that would be a pretty reasonable thing to try, come to think about it.

Infact if anyone else wants to investigate that idea further shoot me an e-mail at and lets see what we can come up with.

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By JBJ (registered) | Posted November 08, 2011 at 16:10:04

I live in the core and have done so by choice rather than by necessity. We consciously decided not to buy a car and I am fortunate that I can rely of public transit to get to work. What downtown needs, I think, is a mix of various retail services and housing. The independent small businesses are awesome; we try to spend as much money at these places as possible. But I hate having to schelp down Barton Street to Food Basics for groceries (at least the stuff I can't get at the Farmers' Market) when it would be much better to have a grocery store nearer to King and James. The key, though, is housing. Mixed housing, meaning bringing together people from the working, middle and upper classes needs to be developed. It is not much good if all of your housing is geared to income. This will perpetuate the stereotypes that most people in greater Hamilton have about downtown: crime ridden, filthy, full of people doing drugs. However, if housing developments could include some geared to income, some units where the working poor could be assisted with financing, some units more posh and expensive, then this mix of people living and interacting in the core would create a definite vibe within the city. But governments at all levels have pretty much abandoned public housing for more than a decade and as many posters have alluded to, fire codes and by-laws can make renovating existing buildings expensive.

James North has thrived because the artists moved in when building prices and rents were cheap. As the street becomes more gentrified, the costs will increase and others hoping to locate there will be forced to look farther afield. There definitely needs to be some kind of long term plan to think about these issues but unfortunately such a vision is sorely lacking in Chairman Bob's Hamilton.

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By Detalumis (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2011 at 13:55:12 in reply to Comment 71155

I think it's the chicken and the egg thingie. I grew up in Hamilton, live in Oakville, would move back to a nice loft condo if the downtown looked like it did in say 1980 but it doesn't and I can't see that it ever will at least in my lifetime. A succession of inept politicians that encouraged urban sprawl and essentially moved all the businesses from Jackson Square (which used to be one of the most high priced rental spaces in Canada) up to Limeridge, and then filled the downtown with the poor - you know how in Hamilton the poor are morally superior and all that good stuff - has basically destroyed what little chance the city has of creating any vibrancy in the core. If I go downtown, I have what - one nice store to shop at, Miller Shoes, and then the Farmer's Market c'est tout. You have a handful of stores along James Street but all I remember is what was there a generation ago, and sincerely, I am too depressed about that memory to want to move back.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted November 08, 2011 at 17:25:09

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