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.
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