Closed for Business?
By Jason Leach
Published December 23, 2005
In a previous issue, we discussed the Maple Leaf proposal and gave various opinions on what happened and what should have happened.
In talking to people and reading different news reports it has become apparent to me that one of the issues being discussed is the idea of Hamilton being "closed for business".
Some have jumped up and down and screamed that Maple Leaf walking away is a sign of our unfriendly attitude towards business.
I disagree. I don't see Hamilton as being closed or unfriendly to business. A quick look at the past couple of years in the business community will show several plant closings - due to upper level restructuring, cheap offshore labour undermining, and bankruptcies and declining market share.
At the same time, however, Hamilton has welcomed several new businesses, large and small, to our city:
- Biox Corporation is building a highly controversial biodiesel plant along the harbour near Burlington and Wentworth.
- Liberty Energy was approved to build a 'garbage to energy' plant further east on Burlington Street (again, this was highly controversial, especially with memories of SWARU fresh in our minds)
- Canamera Foods (now known as Bunge Canada - new name, same smell) was given approval to build a new plant directly across the street (Burlington St again) from their current one at Victoria Ave. With a northeast wind you will smell this place clear as a bell in the downtown area. Thankfully, we don't get northeast winds too often in this part of the world.
- Bitumar completed construction of their new asphalt processing plant on Eastport Dr. Not to sound like a broken record, but this too was controversial.
- The city negotiated a deal with the owners of the Lister Block to see it demolished and rebuilt. Reportedly a new ten storey tower will also rise behind Lister when it's finished. According to a business owner on King William Street, this baby is way behind schedule. No kidding. About 15 years.
- I've noticed several new commercial projects and renovations taking place in east/central Hamilton. Main and Kenilworth has seen a tired old plaza revamped and actually looking quite nice with a new glass company and Curves gym as tenants.
- Another one of those monster Canadian Tire stores has opened on Queenston and Nash. Along with a large location of Hamilton Produce. This entire area is seeing some serious renovation projects and new business openings from Tony Roma's to several independent eateries and more large plaza construction taking place on Centennial and Barton.
- There are big plans in the works for Centre Mall. Big box most likely, but for the love, please give that farmers' market a bright, open-air-in-summer, deserving spot.
- Two major laboratories are moving to the brand new Mac Innovation Park at the old Camco site. This will be a site of great activity and economic prosperity for Hamilton in the upcoming years.
- Amazing local businesses, such as My-Thai and LaLuna, are expanding to places like Burlington, Brantford and Hamilton Mountain while their original downtown locations boom with business.
- Several businesses are moving from Halton and Peel to Hamilton, such as Powergroup Communications on James South, Home Surroundings on Ottawa North, Stackpole Manufacturing with two plants in the Ancaster business park, and Hill Research Strategies.
- New galleries are popping up on James North and South, King West and East along with several new eateries on these same streets. New lofts and condos are being built and plans actually sound good for a new 11-storey apartment building to replace the old Spallacci block at King and Ferguson.
- The old CH TV Centre on King West is being renovated into a music and theatre hall and the old Salvation Army building on Rebecca Street has become the Downtown Cultural Centre with a theatre, art and various community events.
- Finally, we're seeing cool new streetscapes take shape along Bay, King William (I love the cobblestone) and Hughson. Pleasant, welcoming streets are a vital key to attracting and sustaining business.
As you can see, Hamilton is anything but closed for business. I could go on and on with dozens of other small businesses and several large projects that are in the works.
I mentioned a few controversial ones at the top of the list, not to give those companies a bad rap, but to make a point.
Hamilton is not chasing away every company that shows up with a less-than-stellar environmental record or project. The city has worked with businesses such as Biox and Bitumar to try and protect the environment and quality of life in the city. Residents near both of those projects would tell you that the city failed and they are now subject to various inconveniences and aggravations.
Just because Maple Leaf chose to walk away from Hamilton does not, and should not reflect badly on City Hall. Council has been through similar processes with all of the businesses I've mentioned above, but they didn't all run for the hills when asked good tough questions about their proposals and plans.
It's a shame that at a time when we finally see good things happening downtown and throughout the city, the local media has chosen to pound us with old images of the old Hamilton.
Whether you agree or not, we are turning a corner. And that's despite the best efforts of the media to keep us back in the doldrums of negativity and poor self-esteem.
Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.
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