Local News

Merulla Wants Grassroots Approach to City Motor Hotel Redevelopment

Councillor Sam Merulla wants to engage the community in a grassroots design effort to redevelop the site of the City Motor Hotel into a diverse, mixed-use, mixed-income project.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 22, 2013

Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla wants the city to take a broad, grassroots approach to the redevelopment of the City Motor Hotel site at the Queenston traffic circle.

The property is currently home to a 1960s-vintage motor hotel that is notorious for crime, violence, prostitution and drug abuse, but the City decided to seize it last April after a strong push from Merulla.

Just this week, Council voted to spend $1.96 million to buy the property from the fuzzy list of current owners.

Now the City has to decide what to do with it, and Merulla wants to make sure the project that results is community-based, not imposed from above.

Grassroots Outreach

In a telephone interview with RTH, Merulla said he wants to reach out to the community from the start to design a new development that the community supports. "I want to promote an effort of trying to bring everyone together who's interested in participating."

He envisions a process similar to Toronto's redevelopment of Regent Park, which is transforming a monolithic postwar housing block into a diverse mixed-income, mixed-use community.

Doing that with the City Motor Hotel property would entail "a grassroots approach to design and architecture," and Merulla wants to get people thinking about how that can happen.

"The first plan," Merulla explained, "is to eliminate the blight. Once we have a clean slate, we're going to have a residential, commercial, public transit hub development."

The City Motor Hotel site is already identified in the City's Nodes and Corridors plan for the east-west transit line as an important node on the proposed B-Line light rail transit line. "If you look at the Nodes and Corridors plan, it's already identified as such as a priority."

Merulla wants to get CityHousing Hamilton involved in creating some affordable housing, but he wants the project to be mixed-income, not just affordable housing. He also wants to undertake "an RFP [request for proposals] process to get the private sector involved to maximize the project itself."

He made a point of drawing a contrast with the recent Centre Mall redevelopment into a generic big box plaza. "I erred at the Centre Mall. I'm proud of it but it could be better, and I don't want to make the same mistake with City Motor."

At the time, urbanists criticized Merulla for not promoting design standards that would have created a more mixed development that interacted better with its surroundings. The single-use box stores face away from Barton Street into a large interior parking lot.

With the City Motor Hotel, Merulla is "encouraging everyone all over the city to be involved, but with a preference for people in the east end" who will live close to the project.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:24:22

How about no affordable housing? Why isn't that an option?

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By J (registered) | Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:54:08

The city seized prime real estate to turn into something of profit?

How about not making it affordable housing, but possibly a 60s, 70s, diner with bright neon lights?

I could see that corner being illuminated with bright lights and see it flourishing with a new development out of city hands.

Given the right scenario, can the city be selective to whom they may sell the property to?

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:56:15

It is almost a shame that it has to go. I understand it's history has been shady as of late but it's got a bit of a California vibe about it.

Either way, it's good that the city has purchased it so that the residents in that otherwise really nice neighborhood, can finally bid farewell to the sketchy goings on there.

As for Centre Mall, as much as I hate the entire design and especially drive through corner at Kenilworth/Barton, that property was aloud to turn into hell before it was developed. We should be proud that it has developed into something clean and that it has created more jobs but I am glad Merulla looks to do better. That's all any of us can do.

Big box's time needs to come because the environment that they create is not that of a community setting. Especially in an area so heavily populated. Walmart should have allowed interior shops it rents space for, to set up shop along Ottawa Street with entrances into their store fronts that lead into Walmart. As stated above, all of Barton should have been a street wall included restaurants who could have a patio facing Barton. Those buses run every 10 minutes or so during the day. It's a highly accessible transit route and there could be so much more foot traffic with how close it is to residential. The entire block is a failure because it's so anti pedestrian.

Can the property owner spare some green space with some benches and maybe a jungle gym or something? It seems from wandering that property, that there could be hope for redemption. Why doesn't transit go through there like Eastgate?

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted February 23, 2013 at 20:52:50 in reply to Comment 86628

Yes! Looking at the Centre on Barton from a pedestrian accessibility/universal design point of view, there is a lot of room for improvement: the sidewalks don't flow continuously, the distance a person needs to walk to get from one store to another is too great, and involves having to navigate vast parking lots and sidewalks that aren't easily reached. The stores themselves are quite far away from the bus stops that service this development. This would be reparable with a little thought and attention as to what it would be like to navigate the Centre if one needed to use some kind of mobility device, or had some other limitation (cognitive, visual, hearing). As someone who needs no aid to ambulate and whose hearing and vision are operating at 100 percent capacity, and who no longer needs to push any little ones in a stroller or lead pre-schoolers by the hand, even I find it a hair-raising experience. Even driving there can be hair-raising - my husband and I typically begin our Saturday errands pleasantly by parking on Ottawa St. to do the antique store rounds quickly(we're on the lookout for a couple of items), grab a coffee at Cannon, hit the farmer's market when the weather's warm. When we drive down to the Metro at the Centre to do groceries, our blood pressure goes up.

The fact that the streetwall for the Centre along Barton has no storefronts facing it makes it inadequate from the standpoint of personal safety- could that be fixed as well?

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2013-02-23 20:54:37

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 22, 2013 at 11:20:49 in reply to Comment 86628

Can the property owner spare some green space with some benches and maybe a jungle gym or something?

Great idea. The site as it is now is a brutal hommage to the automobile but they could do something about that if they wanted. They certainly don't need the parking lot to be as big as it is. You could probably even throw in some tree lined pedestrian walkways if anyone with the authority had the will.

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By Cynic (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2013 at 12:29:19

"I erred at the Centre Mall. I'm proud of it but it could be better, and I don't want to make the same mistake with City Motor."

Wow I am so impressed by this comment .... just a little humility from a politician is an amazing thing.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 22, 2013 at 13:19:02 in reply to Comment 86637

agreed 100%

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By Observer (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2013 at 13:29:44

Sam is quoted in your above article, " "I erred at the Centre Mall. I'm proud of it but it could be better, and I don't want to make the same mistake with City Motor." "
Let's all recall that Sam Merulla in and before his 2003 election campaign, was touting the building of a Red Hill Creek Valley expressway as a big plus for commercial/retail development that, on any map I know, was and is a long way from the Centre Mall: Ottawa St. to Kenilworth. Many Hamiltonians saw that as one of the excuses for support of and used by supporters of the expressway, which Sam very much promoted and supported before and during the 2003 municipal campaign. Since then, in more recent years--even after his 2004 public conversion to the NDP (and hence moving away from his support of the 2003 elected mayor?), Sam has re-iterated his strong pro-expressway stand (in news articles), for some of his same reasons. Let's keep that in mind now, if, or since, Sam says he wants to do better now. (Is Sam's motto still, a Stop sign at (almost) every Ward 4 block? Whether safety has thus been added has been discussed in RTH.)

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By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted February 22, 2013 at 17:48:23

Merulla is proud of Centre Mall? That suburban big-box mess transplanted to an urban setting? When I moved here and saw it, I thought I was back in suburb-hell.

So pardon me if I'm not excited about how he wants to mend his ways with a new opportunity. Does he actually have the backbone to resist the usual-suspect list of developers, engage the local residents, and seek out innovative thinking?

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By adrian (registered) | Posted February 22, 2013 at 18:47:45

If you'd like a good laugh, you owe it to yourself to read the reviews of the City Motor Hotel on Tripadvisor - http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g...

this motel REALLY sucks the most in my life. I just got trapped there because the car was broken down on highway suddenly and the nearest dealer shop was very near to the motel, which was the only reason I stayed there. the service was never expected, the A/C never worked, bathroom sucks, filthy smells in room, dirty and uncomfortable bed, AND SO ON. I think some strange people were living there and watching us...which is also horrified me. actually I was a lot scared because of no security around the motel at all.. I heard somebody living hamilton that the motel was once the place of many horror movies taken. WHOO! anyway it's one of the most horrifying experience I've ever had.. sooooooooooooooo bad. I'm sorry but I wanna give them 0/5

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted February 22, 2013 at 23:41:20

People probably won't like this but why must it be a 'grassroots approach'? This is what city planners and architects are for. I'm not suggesting there shouldn't be public input but I think we all know what should be done with this property - mixed use blah blah blah. Let's just do it already rather than engaging in this grassroots approach formality. Maybe I'm just being crusty...probably.

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By BigFootBiggerMouth (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2013 at 20:04:35 in reply to Comment 86670

Merulla blew it by rushing the expopriation and now the city has to cough up way more then value. 2 million for this? How much area rating kickback does Ward 4 get? Now they have broke the bank on this deal, he wants grassroots to do it on the cheap.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 23, 2013 at 22:52:32 in reply to Comment 86670

I too worry sometimes about that. Residents aren't planning experts. In fact, most residents are NIMBY's and usually that nimbyism is based on an unclear knowledge of the facts. That's how we always waste land like this and end up slapping up some lame townhomes and a strip plaza instead of doing something like Regent Park.

Same thing is happening on Locke right now. A 7 storey condo being opposed by residents. 7 stories. One block from Main. On a major retail street. Is this Arnprior or Canada's 9th largest city???

Comment edited by jason on 2013-02-23 22:53:52

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2013 at 17:22:23 in reply to Comment 86670

Sometimes confused with "letting it go to seed".

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 23, 2013 at 14:17:12 in reply to Comment 86670

No, that's not being crusty. Being 'grassroots' or 'organic' or 'granular' makes the go-gooders feel good about themselves and give themselves another pat on the back. Oh, whoops, now I am being crusty.

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By Margaret (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2013 at 08:18:55

How about a bigger than life bronze statue Of a clown with a swollen head .That large head would remain under a shroud until the historic unveiling, with all the people that are important to him present.Place many chairs in front of the podium and place a mirror on each one so the head could make a self serving speach to himself again, to a round of silent applause that only this richard head would hear.Term limits now pulleeeeze.

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By Diane Miller (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2013 at 16:18:41

Sam has come along way and the 85% he recieves in his Ward elections are well deserved

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 26, 2013 at 14:46:38

... I'm really starting to like councillor Merulla. I like that he's willing to publicly admit to his mixed feelings while still being proud of how Centre Mall turned out. Obviously he's not perfect, but who is?

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