Special Report: Casino

Hamilton Arts Council Opposes a Downtown Casino

A casino is engineered as a self-contained experience that shuts down congress with the community outside its doors and draws a disproportionate share of its revenues from the most vulnerable among us.

By Stephanie Vegh
Published December 19, 2012

As the voice of Hamilton's growing arts community, the Hamilton Arts Council is deeply concerned that the positive trajectory of our city's culture may be irreparably altered by the addition of a casino to downtown Hamilton.

The recent and widely acknowledged growth of our arts sector has encouraged urban renewal in downtown Hamilton on the steady foundations of community involvement, adaptive reuse of our heritage infrastructure and efforts to engage rather than exploit the core's socioeconomic challenges.

A project as disruptive as a casino not only places the future of our arts infrastructure and the health of our most vulnerable downtown residents at unconscionable risk, but also contradicts the Secondary Plan for downtown Hamilton, a plan which cautions against the impulse towards large, simplistic intervention:

In fact, experience across North America suggests that Downtown revitalization most often results from a collection of seemingly modest actions by individuals, small businesses and community organizations. ["Putting People First: The New Land Use Plan for Downtown Hamilton." City of Hamilton Planning and Economic Development Department, Amended May 2005. Section Secondary Plan Principles, page 6.]

There is nothing modest about the accomplishments of the arts in our downtown core. The arts in Hamilton have been identified as a vital attractor of talent and investment since the National Post first drew widespread attention to Hamilton's cultural scene in 2006.

This call was amplified with articles in both GridTO and The Toronto Star in the last month alone commending Hamilton's grassroots arts community and the growth made possible by its contributions to Hamilton over the past ten years.

The positive impact of the arts has been embraced most recently by the City of Hamilton's Planning and Economic Development Department, which welcomed the Culture Division into its fold in 2012 and has continued to feature attractions such as Supercrawl as success stories that define the emerging shape of our downtown core.

What has been achieved to date through private investment, public dollars and immeasurable amounts of sweat equity is a cultural renaissance that invites meaningful participation in downtown Hamilton.

This was achieved by no single monolithic act or institution; rather, the arts grew in partnerships like the monthly Art Crawl, which invites visitors to explore the arts from one storefront to the next and engage freely in shared public spaces.

Furthermore, Hamilton artists and their organizations have worked closely with downtown Hamilton's social services to develop community arts programs to address poverty and alienation, particularly among Hamilton's youth.

The Urban Arts Initiative's drop-in centre and Centre3 for Print and Media Arts' NuDeal program for teaching creative enterprise to youth are but two examples among many of the arts' positive involvement in our downtown neighbourhoods.

By contrast, a casino is engineered as a self-contained experience that shuts down congress with the community outside its doors and draws a disproportionate share of its revenues from the most vulnerable among us, placing the residents of our Code Red neighbourhoods at heightened risk.

In terms of business model and scale, a casino is incompatible with the culture of free enterprise, creative engagement and hope that has allowed the arts to thrive and breathe new life into downtown Hamilton.

This creative transformation of Hamilton's national image cannot be preserved in a casino's physical proximity and social shadow.

If downtown Hamilton seems like an attractive location for a new casino development, it is due to the work done by our grassroots arts community to make these neighbourhoods increasingly attractive places to live, work, and invest.

A drastic deviation away from the community-driven efforts of the arts and creative industries without our consultation or consent is an insult to all who have thrown their finances, families and futures into their collective hope for a better city through the practical investments and hard work upon which all of Hamilton's proudest achievements have been built.

Stephanie Vegh is the executive director of the Hamilton Arts Council.


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By jason (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 18:20:39

This is a well-written piece, and I'm glad to see a local institution present a well-reasoned argument for their position (I'm looking at you HWDSB). I do have one devils' advocate question though - hasn't the local arts community held fundraisers and other events at the bingo hall on King Street? That place preys on the poor just as much as a fancy casino would.

Sorry if my question brings the trolls out in full force...I'm simply asking this sincerely in order to see how locals arts groups gauge the difference between the two facilities. Cheers

Comment edited by jason on 2012-12-19 18:20:57

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 19:11:16

Hopefully the Trillium Foundation doesn't keep score.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 19:52:31

Really Jason. Really. Who is trolling on this one right now?

This is a wonderful letter that captures the spirit of downtown's new life. Thank you for adding to the building case against a downtown casino.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 20:48:19

I completely agree that this is a fantastic letter and you're right, it captures the new spirit of downtown. I'm merely asking a question that I've heard over and over during this debate. I've kind of shrugged it off up until now but thought this would be a safe place to ask it. I'd rather hear the response from a local arts spokesperson instead of some craziness on the radio.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 20:58:04 in reply to Comment 84199

It seems like trolling because most people can see the huge difference between a rundown bingo hall (which no one's excited about anyway) and a brand new full-service casino.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 22:56:58 in reply to Comment 84194

I am all for shutting Delta Bingo down personally and bulldozing that entire block up to Cheapies.

Seriously, the Bingo Hall (of which I never see well adjusted people outside of), a not so good coffee shop, The Hamilton News Stand/Show World (How does such a place legitimately stay open in the age of the internet), the Salvation Army thrift store, a convenience store and a payday loan center (How many of these three kinds of businesses do we have in the core?).

All in a block that holds no special architecture, little to no heritage and looks like an awful un-uniform mishmash from the front facing and a ugly mess of decaying asphalt surface parking, unstable metal balconies, oddly placed hydro poles and dissolving brick from the back. The only redeeming feature is the Capri retro signage, which is on a separate building entirely. This is a block I'd happily see leveled to see a 10+ story Condo development with underground parking.

And now for the down voting, because I suggested tearing down a set of buildings.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2012-12-19 23:10:33

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 23:14:57 in reply to Comment 84204

Nevermind this block serves as one of the few ugly breaks in the art-like ascetic of King William, with the Lister Block, the Right House, Brick textured street, various small cafes, film-work lofts and of course Theater Aquarius

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2012-12-19 23:16:05

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By me, me and me! (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 07:41:12

Great letter Stephanie. However not like past letters and posts on this site you lack stats. I'm interested in the financial impact the Art's community actually has on the downtown area. Is there anybody out here that can provide the municipal, provincial and federal tax that is contributed by the arts community in Hamilton?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2012 at 08:03:51 in reply to Comment 84210

We could start by tallying all of the businesses on James North which are galleries, (or are thriving because of the galleries) which otherwise would be receiving vacant building tax credits.

But how do you put a value on the positive press the art "scene" has generated outside of the city, and the resulting growth of interest in our core?

As far as I'm concerned, the burden of proof is upon the casino proponents to show that their project will be an economic driver. So far there has been nothing beyond the promise of creating the same number of jobs as are being destroyed in Flamborough, and the 5 million kickback (that we already get at Flamborough).

The arts community has demonstrated their value. Now I'd like to see some real stats from DiIanni, Mercanti, and their puppets on council.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2012 at 08:28:18 in reply to Comment 84204

I won't downvote you, because your post was not rude - you are clearly sincere.

But I will challenge your assertion that the solution to this block is to tear the buildings down.

Heritage or no, the removal of existing structures is horribly wasteful by nature. It also quite often results in a building that is worse for the street life than the one it replaced, since our building codes and zoning bylaws no longer allow the type of streetwall that makes for great cities.

I won't go building-by-building but there is a lot of heritage on that stretch - the "mcdonalds" building at john/king for one, several of the narrower retail buildings, the Capri as you mentioned, but also the entire stretch up John North, including I might add, the building that houses my business.

What we have on that block is a continuous streetwall on King, from Hughson to John, and continuing around the corner up John to King William. And you propose razing the entire thing? Seems a bit rash to me.

Tearing down buildings because they are "ugly" or because the building owners stopped caring, or because there is too much loitering by those who aren't "Well adjusted" is the kind of thinking that dragged us down to the bottom from which we are trying to climb. We lost Market Street and York to that line of thinking, and look what replaced it.

A quick story: I visited city hall to inquire about their assessment of the % of retail versus residential in the building. They asked if the residential was currently rented, and when I said "no", the entire conversation derailed to them talking up the vacancy tax rebate and grabbing papers for me to fill out to apply. When I told them I planned to either move in or rent it, they were unfazed. The clerk actually started filling the paperwork out FOR me. She was desperate for me to apply for the vacancy rebate.

This is the attitude that's causing problems. We need to stop rewarding building owners for keeping their buildings empty. We need to enforce minimum property standards. We need to come up with some sort of plan to allow those whose upper floors became warehouses long ago to legally (and with minimal red tape) change them back to residential units.

I must insist that the change you want to see on that block can happen with the existing buildings, and it can happen faster and more productively than a tear down and new build ever could.

But we have to make it uncomfortable for speculators and we need to reward owner-occupiers.

What will save that block is the changing of hands of these buildings away from speculators and toward people who want to have a business or home in the building they own - those who have a stake in the neighbourhood.

The speculators have one goal: keep the values as depressed as possible so that they can buy up as much land as they can so that they can "cash out" when a condo developer comes knocking.

Stop giving them ammunition.

Comment edited by seancb on 2012-12-20 08:30:17

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2012 at 08:34:16 in reply to Comment 84206

What will fix this is infill development on King WIlliam, not creating another streetwall gap on King, John and Hughson.

Infill won't happen until parking lots are taxed appropriately.

We will never be a real city as long as the tax rules create a situation where a parking lot is the most profitable land use.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 09:02:21 in reply to Comment 84197

I suppose I should have broadcast that as humour.

"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."


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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 09:11:13

If downtown Hamilton seems like an attractive location for a new casino development, it is due to the work done by our grassroots arts community to make these neighbourhoods increasingly attractive places to live, work, and invest.

Hear hear! I think this explains a lot of the defensiveness and organization the city is seeing around the casino issue. Those like Councillor Whitehead see a downtown as a shared dumping ground for risky mega-projects, while those of us living and working downtown see it as a work in progress, representing countless hours of investment and effort by risk-takers who, years ago, saw value in our hollowed-out downtown.

Let's stick with the Downtown Secondary plan, invest in slow, sure growth, and let Mercanti and his minions build a casino up on Stone Church to ensure the "driveway-to-driveway experience"

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By context (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 09:26:44 in reply to Comment 84216

There's been a lot of attacks and defensiveness on this and your bit sounded like an attack. Context context context.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 09:31:00 in reply to Comment 84220

He can build it next to his existing hotel and convention centre.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2012 at 09:51:59 in reply to Comment 84220

It's worth noting that most of the existing casinos in Ontario are in downtown locations, away from the main QEW/403/401 arteries.

A highway-visible casino located along Canada's busiest expressways could be a tremendous win for OLG, and we could keep it away from Hamilton's vulnerable downtown.

Go East Mountain. Or maybe Confederation Park.

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By Steph (registered) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 10:16:30 in reply to Comment 84199

Jason is correct - the Hamilton Arts Council, like many community not-for-profits, raises funds through Delta Bingo for our community programs and services (these funds are restricted and can't be used for general operating). It's an inherited practice of the charitable sector and one which we're committed to phasing out of our organization within the next three years - sooner if we can - as it's no longer compatible with our mission and role in this community.

The difference between a bingo hall and a large-scale casino has already been pointed out here, and I'd add that of course the Hamilton Arts Council has no interest in denouncing the entire institution of gaming - only the specific impact of this casino, at this place, at this time.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 14:36:19 in reply to Comment 84230

Thanks for the reply Steph. Much appreciated. Good to hear the context of your organizations press release. Honestly, I haven't followed the casino debate all that closely (too many issues to track in this city), so it's good to hear that you're concerned with the location of this project, not slots or casinos everywhere. Cheers

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2012 at 15:19:38 in reply to Comment 84204

Your wish is now coming true on the south leg of Gore.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 16:23:17 in reply to Comment 84204

Good points, well stated. I'm not sure I agree entirely with the clearing of buildings...but, that said, under the right circumstances is can be a positive path forward.

I just take issue with demolition being the preferred and/ or easier way to deal with our historic buildings that, by no accident, have fallen into disrepair.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 16:47:22 in reply to Comment 84220

Fine letter and a lovely sentiment regarding the arts, but of course downtown Hamilton seemed like an attractive location for a new casin0 development 16 years ago, when two-way streets were still a pipe dream and Johnny Papalia still walked the earth.

"The prospect of a new casin0 in the Greater Toronto Area — maybe in downtown Hamilton — is sure to revive local memories of the Great Downtown Casin0 Debate of 1996-8....

The Hamilton-Burlington-Oakville area was awarded three licences and private companies were created to operate the clubs. One even took out a building permit for a casin0 in the near-vacant west end of Jackson Square, while Effort Trust took out a permit for a speculative casin0 in its Effort Square/Ramada Hotel building.

City council seemed to like the idea initially. In 1996 it created a downtown casin0 zone bounded by Cannon, Jackson, Caroline and Wellington streets where anyone with a provincial licence would be welcome to open a g@ming club."


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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 20:28:23 in reply to Comment 84213

I agree and disagree with some of your points. I will agree with you, a fundamental problem with downtown is a lack of population density. Density leads to better transit services, pedestrianization, better environment for smaller local businesses and better leveraging of infrastructure.

I want to first qualify my next point by saying, I'm not opposed to renovating, but renovation of an existing building without expansion is a drop in the bucket, and more often completely neutral in terms of increasing density. Sure, taking a small derelict building making it livable improves density, but it is peanuts compared to a new development that boasts a much larger footprint.

Even that as you stated, it requires considerable investment to renovate, not that building new doesn't as well, but the investment when completed, is superior in terms of density created, property taxes generated, property value increases and leveraging infrastructure.

You are completely right though, new developments require stronger business cases, which are now developing in Hamilton as the need for smaller, cheaper condos is now on the rise, due to aging Baby Boomers, Young Professionals and outrageously high property values in neighbouring cities. However, we can't simply refuse to see such potential business cases walk because we wish to leave because we are scared that a parking lot 'might' take it's place. Sure it's a possibility, John St is the perfect example, but so are new developments like the new Federal building development and the Chateau Royale which so far seem to be turning into success stories. That being said, the city needs to incentivize expansion/new development and do everything in it's power to ensure development does occur on a demolished building, which so far, it seems to be doing (finally).

I'm not opposed to adaptive reuse, but it needs to be coupled with expansion. The three floor storefront with resident units above paradigm that dominates so much of Hamilton isn't serving us well. One needs take a drive down Barton St. to see that. These developments are only viable when complimented by nearby high density (which most of the North End does not boast and the core has begun to create). Given the apparent age, disrepair, size and lack of space, expansion seems incredibly unlikely for this section of buildings, save for possibly the thrift store who nears larger density.

However, if somehow you could expand the block to the thrift store's height, replace the surface parking with sufficient underground parking entirely, and eliminate the existing less the desirable storefronts and make it into a residential development, I'd be all for it. However I'm fairly confident the costs of such a reuse would be far far greater and require a far better business case then starting anew.

Last I just want to comment that while the buildings are nondescript architecturally, still blatantly scream disrepair and age while all the grace of a decaying slum given the businesses which occupy them.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2012-12-20 20:43:16

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 20:33:43 in reply to Comment 84215

I will agree with this. The city is in desperate need of some kind of Parking lot surtax to dissuade this mass of surface parking.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 22, 2012 at 13:42:55 in reply to Comment 84279

We have endless fields of empty space here sitting ready for such high density developments.

If the business case was there, they'd be built by now.

Every building that comes down creates more empty space and weakens the business case just a little bit, pushing the condo dreams further away.

The only way to build the business case is through organic growth and renovation of the current building stock.

This can happen through changes to our arcane zoning bylaws and ridiculously one-sided transportation system.

Your argument sounds to me like "the buildings are derelict because the buildings exist". The solution to the disrepair is to make it economically viable to restore them,not to tear them down.

Obviously the business case for renovating these smaller buildings is not quite strong enough (yet?) and until we reach that early benchmark, the condo towers will remain a distant dream.

There is absolutely zero need for removal of any buildings in pretty much the entire lower city.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted December 22, 2012 at 23:52:51 in reply to Comment 84353

I will agree with that, the only problem though, which is also the only problem with such a redevelopment of this parcel is that they are being sat on by speculators and it is neigh impossible to acquire the full property at low enough cost.

The builds themselves however aren't wholly derelict because they do have businesses that are there. Unfortunately they are all businesses that the core has a massive surplus of, or are businesses that I would like removed from the core entirely.

and no, the only way to build this business case is NOT solely through renovation. The fact that the Vranich development of the Federal building is the perfect example of that, and the fact he has proceeded shows that even if he had performed a complete demolition, the development would have occurred. This new building, without fail will have the higher unit capacity then the old development, thus adding density.

The core issue is getting the complete parcel at a reasonable cost, which is why the parking lots reign and why the city needs to discourage them through harsher taxation.

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By Mainstreet (anonymous) | Posted December 29, 2012 at 12:30:57

So,let me see if I got it right.Were going to accept gambling revenue from the bingo hall and Trillium foundation race track monies and when us thriving artists dont need it anymore(which will be very soon of course)we will kick them out of our downtown,stop vehicle traffic and thrive in our dreams.Wow what a solid plan.What could possible go wrong?Unless of course someone shows up with real money and real workable plans.

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By Dane (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 23:09:19 in reply to Comment 84532


This is so frustrating to me. Is the Arts Council saying that they are anti-gambling?

No, they are not suggesting that. Gambling exists. The government is involved and makes money. done. Does this mean one is not allowed to say they don't want more gambling? Of course not don't be naive.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 08:17:30

A poignant opinion piece about the Hamilton casino public consultation process titled “A funny thing happened on the way to the (public) forum” by Graham Crawford has been published in today\s Hamilton Spectator: http://www.thespec.com/opinion/article/8...

Mr. Crawford is to be commended for his efforts in gathering background and lead information about the upcoming public forums on the casino file and presenting them to the Hamilton Spectator readership in a very organized and constructive format.

While my views are largely similar to those expressed by Mr. Crawford, they differ on only two points:

1.“Concern 1: Rush to approve” or “Concern 1: Slow to approve”?

At the Hamilton Board of Health meeting on December 3, 2012, not only was Dr. Richardson’s report titled “Health and Social Impacts of Gambling” not discussed by the Board, the report was merely received, not adopted nor accepted in whole or in part, by the Board and referred to the Gaming Facility Subcommittee. As the Hamilton community hurdles into these two important public forums on the casino file, its Board of Health has not yet taken a formal position on Dr. Richardson’s report. http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/E61F...

2.Exclude Great Canadian Gaming From Presenting or Invite All Casino Bidders To Make a Public Presentation at Public Forums

While I agree with Mr. Crawford that Great Canadian Gaming, the operator of Flamboro Downs, is the only casino bidder making a presentation at the public forums and that part of the process seems unfair, the Hamilton community needs to ask Great Canadian Gaming whether the granting of a casino licence to them would ensure the continuation of horse racing at Flamboro Downs. Therefore, in the interest o fairness and full disclosure, rather than excluding Great Canadian Gaming from presenting at the public forums, all of the other casino bidders should come out of the woodwork and also make presentations at the public forums. Hamiltonians and city council need as much as information as they can get and ask as many questions as they can from both the local public health and the economic perspectives before this community can make a fully informed decision on the casino file.

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2013-01-09 08:21:14

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 08:40:32





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