Revitalization

History Repeats: Public Subsidy for Property Development in Hamilton

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published May 01, 2008

History repeats. In Thir Town: The Mafia, the Media and the Party Machine, the seminal 1979 book on Hamilton Politics by Bill Freeman and Marsha Hewitt, a segment on page 24 sounds like it could have been written last week:

The first project involving municipal subsidization of developers that was promoted by [Victor] Copps was Terminal Towers. A large piece of property in the downtown area, bounded by Main, Catherine and King Streets, had been a vacant parking lot for a number of years. In 1959 it had been announced by Mayor [Lloyd] Jackson that there would be a development on the site but it failed to materialize.

After Copps became mayor in 1962 he was able to persuade the developer to build on the site but not withoug a substantial inducement. In the negotiations the city agreed that if the project was to go ahead they would take a twenty-year lease on 2,699 square feet of the project and pay an annual rent of $113,436, that is, $42 per square foot. This was a price considerably higher than the going rental rates in the city at the time. ...

For the developers this was an ideal arrangement. They would have a twenty-year lease with a prime tenant who would spend $2.5 million over the term of the agreement for the use of only a fraction of the building. This was enough for them to announce that construction of the $12 million complex would begin.

The segment goes on to tie this investment to the Civic Square Urban Renewal project that gave us Jackson Square, the Eaton Centre (now the Hamilton City Centre), the Central Library, Hamilton Place, the Hamilton Convention Centre, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and the Board of Education building.

The piece concludes:

Twelve years after these statements, and the investment of millions of dollars of public money, one can state categorically that the Civic Square project has been a failure. To summarize what happened: the public buildings of the square were nearing completion by the late 1970s; however only a fraction of the commercial development seems likely ever to be finished. The public buildings were crowded into the narrow space between King and Main Streets [Summers Lane] while acres of land available for development as commercial property lie vacant. ... Downtown urban renewal in Hamilton has been a failure of such magnitude that it has speeded rather than stopped the deterioration of the central core.

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 02, 2008 at 08:20:27

Of course Grant Head's and others' investment in downtown Hamilton has contributed to the vibrancy that we see there today.

Thank God for Vic Copps...would that we had had more of them over the years.

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By Jelly (anonymous) | Posted May 02, 2008 at 12:49:44

I love people that think money is the only way to add vibrancy to the city.

Ah...municipal cronyism in it's heyday... thank god for Jackson Square.

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 03, 2008 at 12:51:54

Read Glen Murray's comment in today's Spec: he talks about the need for profit-interested entrepreneurs as the saviours of the downtown. Not, repeat NOT, heritage activists without a proverbial pot to piffle in.

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By Bada Boom (anonymous) | Posted May 03, 2008 at 16:38:32


Heritage, arts, culture and lively streetscapes are all key ingredients to bringing back the core - NOT I repeat, NOT stucco boxed blockheads who don't realize us "heritage activists" are the reason the downtown is still kicking around.

OK - my pot is full. Time for a new pot...

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 04, 2008 at 00:14:38

Well, it was Murray who you are disagreeing with, not me!

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By bada boom (anonymous) | Posted May 04, 2008 at 00:20:03

Well just so you know most of us "heritage activists" are profit-interested entrepreneurs too.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 04, 2008 at 07:56:38

Murray's point was a good one.

  1. Heritage NEEDS to be saved downtown and city-wide. Read all the reports from others who spoke at this conference too, like Richard Florida. These guys recognize the value of heritage advocates, but more needs to be done.
  2. We need to change tax laws and enhance heritage grants so for-profit companies will purchase and restore our beautiful heritage, instead of allowing speculators and slumlords to buy them as nothing more than a carrying cost for their future demolition.
  3. Not once, ever, will you hear guys like Murray, Florida or anyone worth their salt suggest that heritage be treated like we do in Hamilton - like a minor obstacle on the way to another parking lot. Florida went as far to warn us about possible mistakes we could make in trying to become a great city. One of those mistakes is happening right now on King William Street. Murray says he can't see one reason that could stop us from being the best city in Canada. I suggest he meet our local band of speculators/developers and hang out at city hall for the next 6 months. He'll be stunned that Hamilton even exists still.

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 04, 2008 at 09:14:48

Looking at downtown through rose-coloured glasses, Jason, singing Kumbaya isn't going to do a bit of good.

Get on board with the plan and look at what should and can be saved and let go of the ruins like Tivoli and the Lister. That will be good for downtown.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 04, 2008 at 18:43:36

The Lister is anything but a ruin. It has undergone repeated peer reviews and been found to be structurally sound, the vast majority of its heritage value still intact, and an ideal candidate for adaptive reuse. There can be no rational discussion on the future of the Lister as long as we keep repeating the long-discredited notion that it is falling apart.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 04, 2008 at 20:43:17

as usual, cherry-picking one sentence from Murray, and out of context at that. I'm not the one who brought him and this recent conference into the discussion. I merely stated what they, and every other urban expert has to say on the topic. It's not me you are disagreeing with! It's all of them!!

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By Jon (registered) - website | Posted May 05, 2008 at 16:26:01

Murray also said that we shouldn't knock down so many old buildings. I believe he is right on both counts. There has never been a downtown that isn't economically focused. Great cities were built because there was money to made. Today, sprawl is built because that's where there's money to be made. We need people who will make money, and people who will spend money downtown. However, there needs to be a downtown left to save. That's where activism comes in.

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2008 at 12:01:18

Jon said,
"There has never been a downtown that isn't economically focused. Great cities were built because there was money to made. Today, sprawl is built because that's where there's money to be made. We need people who will make money, and people who will spend money downtown"

Now that's a kumbaya I can ascribe to.

As for the rest: 'a downtown to save'; don't exaggerate. Letting the Lister go is not the same as destroying the downtown!

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By Jon (registered) - website | Posted May 07, 2008 at 11:59:32

Re: "As for the rest: 'a downtown to save'; don't exaggerate. Letting the Lister go is not the same as destroying the downtown!"

We destroy the downtown one bit at a time, and the Lister is one of the more sizeable chunks. If we treat every individual building as unimportant, the progression is towards destruction of the whole. This is no more evident than where entire blocks have been levelled and replaced with out of character buildings, as you would propose for the Lister. If it didn't work for Jackson Square or City Centre, how do you expect it to work across the street?

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2008 at 18:27:42

Even a 'no character' building, whatever that is, is better than an ugly eyesore. If someone is willing to restore the building all is fine; if not, tear it down; 20 some years of a ruin is enough. No???

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By councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2008 at 15:35:08

Do the names Tom Beckitt,Herman Turkstra,Sheila & Gordon Zack,Harry Greenwood,
Bill Powell Sr.,Tom Davidson bring it all back for you. To refresh, this was the progressive leaders of the "Save Our Square (SOS) movement who talked about a mix of residential, commercial and lots of green spaace before even a brick was laid and who ran Bill Freeman for Mayor as a "Clean Sweep" Candidate". It was already to late to stop the building of Jackson Square, we had already demolished the Heritage Ciy Hall building, the King George Hotel and the Market and all the surrounding character of a vibrant town-place. Hamilton was handed over to developers "who needed a road map to find the john" as I remember Greenwood telling City Hall and he was and has been proven right. I can still remember when the Clock worked on the old Birks Building, when Gore Park looked like a Botanical garden and when downtown Hamilton was vibrant and alive and safe after dark. We did have the good sense to preserve the old Library thanks to the above named SOS Committee. Unfortunately, in spite of being well organized with radio, newspaper ads and rally's
the Committee couldn't convince the brokers behind the politicians and so it's deja vu all over again as Yogi once remarked.

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By fighting-fit (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2008 at 14:42:51

I'm new to this but my daughter read the comment above and brought it to my attention since she has heard me "go on and on about how Hamilton used to be". I do remember the SOS Committee and was at the Council Meeting when Mr Greenwood made his remarks that were poo-poohed by the pro-corporate group led by messers Merling and Bethune, to name but two, both of them Mountain boys who couldn't care less about Progressive Downtown Planning. If memory serves me Greenwood also stated that if you want to keep a city alive then people must have access, thus his bid for a mix of business and residential and green space. I believe that the above named concillers referred to him as a "Commie", the price that a progressive Labour Leader had to pay in the 1960's and '70's from Aldermen who hadn't a clue how to deal with intelligent debate. Haven't heard of Harry for many years but if he is still around he should know that there are still some of us left to remember the good work that he and the others on the SOS committee did in the fight of "Hamilton's Progressive Citizens versus Pro-Corporate Development City Councl.

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By ashled (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2008 at 16:48:48

i think that this site needs more information because i can t find anything im not trying to be rude but they need to lear a little more befor they begin a website any comments idc.......:/

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By AshleyBooGetLoosePuOn4YoCity~!~ (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2008 at 16:51:28

I think this website needs alot more work done so i can get this school project done on what jackson square used to be called help please lol :)

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By lambarker (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2009 at 09:15:36

I am writing a set of novellas set in Hamilton from about 1906 to 1958. I lived through urban renewal and had to move from a huge (cheap) apartment because the building, a very solid three story walkup with viable businesses below was demolished.

My research, which is still basically concentrating on 1929 - 1935 at the moment, has shown me the Hamilton that I missed. I am now in east end Toronto, surrounded by historical buildings that we have managed to preserve.

I remember climbing the steps of the old City Hall on James Street with my grandmother to pay the house taxes, lining up in my Brownie uniform at the Armouries, shopping at the outdoor market on York Street and eating at Vines Deli. Luckily, the Conservatory building (where I first noticed the little boy on the back stairs I would later marry)is still there.

I return to Westdale and Dundas on an almost weekly basis and now Dundas is losing buildings because of amalgamation. It has also lost many beautiful areas to development.

Oh, well, urban renewal in Hamilton pushed us into moving to Toronto, to an 1889 house that some Hamilton politician would want torn down. I am working on getting my local library declared an historic site and have managed to get the lawn bowling club house moved instead of demolished. Maybe if I had been older and had the community organization resources that I have now, I'd be a Hamiltonian.


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