Commentary

Growth, Smart Growth, and Not-so-Smart Growth on James Street North

Approval of the proposed condo tower on the Tivoli site will set a precedent which will significantly change the character and future development of James Street North.

By Herman Turkstra
Published March 30, 2015

The issues in dispute over the proposed Tivoli site redevelopment are quite simple. If the Tivoli site, for whatever reason, can be developed to the height and location proposed by the developer and supported by Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr, the land use rules for James Street North will be radically altered. The result will be a serious change in the character of the street.

Tivoli redevelopment rendering
Tivoli redevelopment rendering

There is no doubt that approval of the development as proposed for the Tivoli site will be a precedent-setting decision. Other land owners will claim the same height approval.

Land use planning relies on consistency and compatibility. As the City planners have said, the proposal is not consistent and not compatible. If it is approved, the approval will set a new standard for the street. The Council and the OMB would have a difficult time refusing similar requests in the future.

The so-called "historic preservation" rationale for the excess height proposed by Councillor Farr is only one of a dozen similar possible excuses for varying from the existing character of the street.

For example: the owner of the land across the street can rationally argue that increased height and density will encourage speedy redevelopment of the buildings that have sat empty for 40 years. And that's true - it would.

New three-storey commercial building at James and Vine (RTH file photo)
New three-storey commercial building at James and Vine (RTH file photo)

Certainly, the owner of the just-completed new three-story building across the street will feel foolish for not having taken a run at asking for approval of a 20-storey residential condo above the three stories of retail and commercial he built, a building that at three stories is in perfect harmony with the character of the street.

The implications of this precedent run all the way along James Street North to the harbour. Approval of the Tivoli development will set in motion re-assessment by developers of other sites on James Street North. It will significantly impact the values of the lands on the street to the point where demolition becomes the practical business option.

It will change the value of the buildings for assessment purposes and thus change the level of realty taxes and then the level of the rents for the stores and apartments in the existing buildings.

It's a connected system of dominoes that have been demonstrated in many places.

My message for Councillor Farr is that what happens on the Tivoli site is unequivocally connected to what happens down the street. Our City planners have it right. James Street North has become a place that people like to use and visit because of its character. That character will be significantly harmed if the Tivoli project is approved.

That is not to say that bringing people to live in the area is not a sound planning goal. But there are many ways to do that without changing the core character of the street. The proposed Acclamation project shows how that can be done right.

Acclamation redevelopment rendering
Acclamation redevelopment rendering

As to tall condo buildings that overshadow and dominate the street scene, there are many sites in the downtown for 20- and 30-storey buildings where the fit is right and cohesive. James Street North is not one of them.

In other words, there is growth, smart growth, and un-smart growth. The Tivoli project fits into the latter category and should be rejected.

Herman Turkstra practises environmental and planning law in Hamilton. He has represented land developers, municipalities, neighbourhood associations and other parties active in land use planning in many parts of Ontario. He represents clients regularly at the Ontario Municipal Board. He has been active in Hamilton municipal affairs for many years including a short time as a member of Hamilton City Council a long time ago.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 13:16:37

Agree! Thanks for putting my feelings into intelligent, readable language.

This is not an either/or situation, e.g. you are either FOR intensification or AGAINST it. If you are FOR it, you need to agree that intensification should be built everywhere, regardless of context. If you are AGAINST it, that means you only want greenfield development.

No, context is important and even one block can make a difference.

We no longer have to kiss developers' feet in order to "deserve" development. People need to stop being scared that developers will take their ball and go home if we insist on good design.

Comment edited by fmurray on 2015-03-30 13:17:13

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By WhyohWhy (registered) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 13:22:49 in reply to Comment 110722

Where are these completed developments that now mean we don't have to provide workable conditions for new development?

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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 13:33:46

Why are people piping up about this? Because James St. North matters to them. What has happened there the past 10 years is extraordinary and should be celebrated and protected. A Hamilton success story that spurred lots more on!

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 14:57:01 in reply to Comment 110725

There are lots of completed developments or those going ahead: City Square, Royal Connaught, Core Urban, Witton Lofts, etc. Look them up.

And I'm not arguing against "workable conditions", but only "do whatever the hell you please" conditions.

The way you twisted my comment, I'm wondering if you also post under "DowntowninHamilton".

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By williamMehlenbacher (registered) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 14:57:54

This project just does not suit the area, and will lead to more of the same on James North. Great article Herman.

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By WhyohWhy (registered) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 15:09:07 in reply to Comment 110737

City Square is half complete, Royal Connaught isn't complete, Core Urban is an office building and Witton lofts is complete. And City Square is not designed in an urban context like James St. We do not have a completed condo building in an urban setting.

My point was that we are seeing progress, but we need to let good projects go ahead and not try to maintain the existing 'character' as an absolute right that shall not change.

This is a good project and we're wasting a lot of time arguing about it while allowing crap to be built in other locations.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 15:14:52

To be honest, I don't get the reaction to the height per se. There are taller buildings in Hamilton that are much further from downtown and seem less appropriate than this, which function just fine in their place. The issue here is the lack of an actual podium / setback, which is completely unnecessary given the size of the lot. If the city would just eliminate the parking requirement they could build it so the condos weren't directly on the street, and it would be much better.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2015 at 15:47:43 in reply to Comment 110742

If this gets approved then get ready for a rash of speculators who will amass properties to sell to blockbusters, and in the meantime let them rot away. Witness blanchard's gore park buildings.

We have lots of empty spaces to build towers where nearby functioning streetwalls will not be threatened by speculators.

The city should draw boundaries for areas where tall buildings are allowed and encouraged. Set the rules and then let the players play.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 17:57:16 in reply to Comment 110737

Not one of those examples includes a 100+ year theatre renovation, which is the reason the developer states he needs the height to make the development feasible.

Or, would you prefer the Tivoli theatre to join the Century?

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 18:02:11 in reply to Comment 110743

Ha! Don't kid yourself the speculators are already there. Based on some of the recent and current rot, some have been there for decades.

There is a boundary, investinhamilton.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/DCR-Community-Improvement-Project-Area-Feb-2014.pdf

Or are you saying we need boundaries, on top of boundaries, on top of boundaries, on top of boundaries, etc.?

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 18:04:55

Haha.

I read this article and it seems that main argument for opposing the Tivoli is to protect another developer's feelings so he doesn't "feel foolish" for building smaller.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 18:07:02 in reply to Comment 110742

I see a 3 storey podium in the rendering and how much setback does the 4th floor really need?

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 18:48:48 in reply to Comment 110743

Exactly.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 18:51:49 in reply to Comment 110751

Nobody is stopping them from proposing a project that is in keeping with what the current plan for the area calls for ... you need to read the staff report. They can build profitably on that site to mid-rise scale without it being a 22 storey tower.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 19:32:09 in reply to Comment 110755

And renovate a 100+ year old theatre without government funds?

The stated reason provided by the developer for the height is to provide a business case to renovate a 100+ year old theatre.

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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 20:11:52 in reply to Comment 110758

Actually - they haven't presented a business case for saving the theatre portion. It looks like they will be going cap in hand back to the community to save it. Two separate entities.

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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 20:17:27

A Tivoli Timeline: cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/local-developer-purchases-tivoli-theatre-1.1315433

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By Bartonrez (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 20:54:40

NotaNIMBY, what interest do you have in the developer proceeding as per their whim? Are you on their staff? What is this business about using the 100yr old theatre as a bargaining chip?JimStreet is dead-on in noting NO BUSINESS CASE HAS BEEN MADE TO SAVE THE THEATRE, and the only people dangling the possibility are the developer who gladly took the public's toonies for years, and their sub-shill, Jason Farr.

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By Pedro (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 21:42:10 in reply to Comment 110752

Whatever you say, Gary.

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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 21:59:07 in reply to Comment 110750

Would love to see the developer's plans to do that? I believe those specific details were left out of the proposal.

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By higgicd (registered) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 22:25:15

The debate on this issue has been great to see. I myself have come around to the ideas peresented in the earlier article and gained an appreciation for nuanced urban design issues beyond my brash desire to see increased transit-oriented infill.

But big picture to me, this whole exercise clearly demonstrates that existing development rules are fundamentally broken, and that serious community engagement is needed to get a new package of zoning rules in place in the downtown core and other areas slated for intensification in the Official Plan. It really seems like time is ripe for an exercise like Buffalo's Green Code zoning reforms to plan for height, parking, and other issues.

Edited because I need to learn that writing on an iPad sucks.

Comment edited by higgicd on 2015-03-30 22:46:22

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By nell carter (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 22:31:56 in reply to Comment 110758

Gimme a break. These poor "developers" paid a whopping two dollars for this theatre HOW WILL THEY EVER AFFORD TO RENOVATE IT WITHOUT THE CITY BENDING EVE MORE RULES!?

What a scam.

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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 22:34:04 in reply to Comment 110774

I agree! Let's hope that Jason Thorne can bring that new dialogue to City Hall. Looking forward to hearing more from him.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted March 31, 2015 at 19:43:06

Am I under the mistaken belief that we already have zoning codes that limit height? Wasn't that the issue on John and Main?

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 09:13:50

"...the owner of the just-completed new three-story building across the street will feel foolish for not having taken a run at asking for approval of a 20-storey residential condo above the three stories of retail and commercial he built, a building that at three stories is in perfect harmony with the character of the street..."

That site was zoned for a maximum of seven storeys (22m).

The initial iteration unveiled eight years ago was somewhere in-between, though it elicited worries that "a five-storey structure with underground parking will be too big for the corner."

forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=140308

Despite the site being zoned for seven.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 09:18:44 in reply to Comment 110781

s265.photobucket.com/user/hamilton2-0/media/ZBL05200ScheduleFSpecialFigures_Page_1_zpsbc0aba44.jpg.html

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 09:22:01

"there are many sites in the downtown for 20- and 30-storey buildings where the fit is right and cohesive. James Street North is not one of them."

raisethehammer.org/article/1980/hi-rise_group_announces_details_for_lister_tower

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 09:53:53 in reply to Comment 110774

I too have enjoyed the mostly grown-up discussion on this issue. This is new for Hamilton, yet we can learn from other cities.

I probably fall into your camp: I want urban development, and tons of it. But it has to be done right, and sometimes even being one property from a corner lot makes all the difference as to what could go in and still blend with the street.

Toronto is currently doing this, and has come up with their retail streets 'mid rise' guidelines so that sunny pedestrian-friendly streets like College, Queen and Dundas don't become walls of towers like downtown. Hamilton should do the same.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 10:32:42 in reply to Comment 110775

Actually, I think you'll find the Canadian Youth Ballet Ensemble paid $1 for the theatre after Sam the Record Man allowed it to fall into such a state of disrepair that the front of the house needed to be torn down.

The current developer bought it a few years ago and had the highest of at least one other offer to buy it.

But please don't let FACTS get in the way of your YELLING. Keep spreading mis-information.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 10:34:12 in reply to Comment 110767

No, that's not the case. If you'd followed the full story you'd know that developer was proposing 22 storey's because that's the only way the renovation of the theatre could be funded.

That should now be better known after the Planning Committee meeting yesterday.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 10:35:00 in reply to Comment 110771

Sorry Pedro, not Gary. Never been a Gary.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 10:40:49 in reply to Comment 110769

FTR, I have no interest financial, or otherwise in the development.

My interest is only in the betterment of Hamilton and that the Tivoli doesn't follow the path of The Century. Though, I do like to call out NIMBY's and "johnny come latelys" who haven't followed the story for 7 or 8 years and because of that spread mis-information.

The developer always planned to renovate the theatre, whether you followed (or knew) the full story, or not.

Now that's out (again) after yesterday's Planning Committee, I hope you support the project.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 10:42:51 in reply to Comment 110773

After the Planning Committee Meeting now on record. I hope your mind has changed and you can now support the project.

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By What's a NIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 12:20:32 in reply to Comment 110806

I know what NIMBY means. Not sure about NIBMY though...

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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 12:27:33

Everyone knows that the real James North starts at Wilson.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 13:48:46 in reply to Comment 110753

To answer your question, the 4th floor needs enough of a setback to allow the 3-story podium to actually define the streetwall, which this design doesn't accomplish. The 'podium' you are talking about is essentially the absence of balconies on the first three floors, plus what appears to be about 1.5 metres of setback. Its a podium-in-name-only, a distinction without a difference, since the front of the balconies on the tower form a wall that is nearly continuous with the facade.

A good example of a functioning podium design is 56 Esplanade in Toronto (in 3D), which extends a 5-story red-brick streetwall on the neigbouring buildings while also discretely containing for 15- and 35-story towers.

Comment edited by AnjoMan on 2015-04-01 13:54:10

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 15:43:21

I think it's a great building and will add some colour and people to the core. Hopefully more of these will be forthcoming to spur on the development of the downtown. And, what better argument for LRT than 100's of condo dwellers standing and waiting at bus stops?

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 15:59:19 in reply to Comment 110768

Thanks for posting this link, which details the developer DID NOT get this property for "two dollars".

Though somehow I doubt "nell carter" will apologize for spreading mis-information...

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 16:49:16 in reply to Comment 110812

Inside joke. I guess you are on the outside. That sometimes happens...

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 17:20:28 in reply to Comment 110826

Belma Diamante got the property for $1 from the previous owner Sniderman. She then eventually sold the property to her husband Mr Diamante (through a numbered company owned by Mr Diamante) for $900K. The City has spent a total of $395K on the property and agreed to a $50K interest free loan in 2009 that had not been repaid (as of Feb 2013 when the CBC article came out).

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/2195920-tivoli-being-sold-to-developer/ http://www.thespec.com/news-story/252493... http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/n...

Belma Diamante's charity had listed the value of the land and buildings as $1.26M.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-04-01 17:20:40

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By nell carter (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2015 at 21:37:40 in reply to Comment 110826

When your spouse buys something for a dollar, it means you did too. Sorry that I accidentally said the purchase price was double it's actual value, I will stop spreading that misinformation and correctly say it was bought for one dollar instead.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2015 at 09:49:14 in reply to Comment 110774

Whatever community engagement process informed the development of 2005-era height caps and design guidelines, that was a different era in downtown Hamilton. It's possible that when that process began, James had only just been converted from one-way to two-way. That discussion largely if not totally predated the metamorphosis of this street and with it the valuation of the larger downtown.

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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2015 at 10:25:05 in reply to Comment 110804

That's fantastic news. If you would be so kind as to point me to that information. I look forward to reading it...

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 02, 2015 at 11:38:21 in reply to Comment 110807

You must be new here. They're just going to flip the property to a developer who has made no such promise.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 02, 2015 at 11:43:02 in reply to Comment 110804

They are creating a non-profit company to renovate the theatre. Why does it need to be non-profit if the tower is providing the revenues? Anyway, this is all moot. This was just about changing the zoning so they can flip it. The theatre will fall to the wrecking ball like so many others.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 02, 2015 at 11:45:07 in reply to Comment 110771

I think you mean Berardo.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 02, 2015 at 11:46:52 in reply to Comment 110835

You were probably confusing it with their "toonies for the tivoli" scheme. Honest mistake.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 02, 2015 at 11:48:38 in reply to Comment 110829

So you are a sock puppet for the Diamantes. Glad that's settled.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 02, 2015 at 11:50:12 in reply to Comment 110777

He tried, but was overruled by council.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2015 at 13:16:45 in reply to Comment 110835

Still wrong. Did you read the link posted by Jim Street?

2 bids were entertained 1) Tim Poticic of Sonic Unyon 2) The spouse of the CBYE CEO Dominic Diamante. Poticic's offer didn't "win" the property so the other bid - Diamante's bid "won" and bought the property for what I'd expect was fair market value since there were 2 bids to choose from.

Therefore the current owner bought it for fair market value.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2015 at 13:20:14 in reply to Comment 110830

"She then eventually sold the property to her husband Mr Diamante (through a numbered company owned by Mr Diamante) for $900K."

Which I assume was higher than the competing offer from Tim Poticic, therefore sold to current developer for fair market value, no?

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2015 at 13:23:44 in reply to Comment 110855

Not a sock puppet. Diamantes wouldn't know me if I bumped into them on the street.

But me and my friends love when blogs like this one, is all for urbanization until it's not.

I'm entitled to my POV and I guess council agrees with mine...

Surprised on this from you since I thought some of your tweets during the PC Meeting supported the proposed development. I must have mis-understood your tweets.

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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2015 at 20:19:54 in reply to Comment 110868

Still waiting for that information on the theatre restoration plan you keep going on about? Would love to read about it in more detail...

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By Son of Toronto (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2015 at 14:40:06

and here is another awesome thing for our city,garbage plant coming. How the Port Fuels waterfront garbage plant got 'fast-tracked'?

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2015 at 16:49:53 in reply to Comment 110871

All this and you didn't follow the Planning Committee meeting, or read The Spec?

thespec.com/news-story/5533550-tivoli-condo-project-gets-approved

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2015 at 16:50:46 in reply to Comment 110877

To make is super easy for you, paragraph 4.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2015 at 16:55:55 in reply to Comment 110851

I bet you are wrong. How much are you willing to bet?

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2015 at 09:37:03 in reply to Comment 110852

Wow, I thought you were more progressive and "in the know" then you are portraying by such comments.

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By JIm Street (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2015 at 20:46:46 in reply to Comment 110878

That answered nothing.

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By NotaNIBMY (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2015 at 21:09:07 in reply to Comment 110886

Really? Are you that thick, feel that entitled, or just pretending?

I don't know how much clearer that paragraph can be about the theatre restoration being completed, prior to occupancy by 106 condo units.

You should get out on the street more. All the best with your pursuits.



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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2015 at 21:43:45 in reply to Comment 110887

It still answers nothing about how the theatre will be restored and that's what I've been asking you to provide me with. No need to be mean about it!

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By Colin G (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2015 at 00:35:38

If the Tivoli project was for subsidized housing would the city have approved it?
No.
They would argue the density is too high and it doesn't fit the street etc.
Here is another disgusting example of City Council bending over backwards for private development and in the process killing the goose that is laying the golden egg i.e James st revitalization and art crawl.
Turkstra is right. There is no fit here.

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted April 06, 2015 at 07:18:21 in reply to Comment 110889

People might fairly consider this an eyesore, but it is not going to hurt the James North revitalization; quite the opposite, it will likely facilitate it.

What is better for the arts: an abandoned theatre and a vacant lot, or a restored historic theatre, new street level retail, and 100 or so new urban oriented consumers?

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted April 06, 2015 at 07:22:17

A benefit to projects such as this that hasn't been mentioned are the 100 or so high paying jobs this will create at the peak of construction.

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By facts (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2015 at 10:29:59 in reply to Comment 110868

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By yeah right (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2015 at 21:10:14 in reply to Comment 110879

the tivoli is how much we have bet.

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By Hentor (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2015 at 08:11:54 in reply to Comment 110803

The fact that the current developer is married to a board member of the CYBE had NOTHING to do with the deal at all either. Right?

Wondering what happened to the funds raised at "Twoonies for the Tivoli" events?

Why isn't saving the Tivoli explained in their business plan for the condo development? I'm sure it will either be found to be structurally unsound or they will come, tears in their eye, cap in hand, wanting to dip into the public trough...

Comment edited by Hentor on 2015-04-14 08:13:04

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By Hentor (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2015 at 08:18:33 in reply to Comment 110878

"There are two major conditions to the deal. First, no condo buyer will be able to move in to the 106-unit tower until the historic theatre is restored and ready for use. In essence, the city has made residential use secondary to theatre use."

Answers nothing specific about the theater revitalization plan. Only that the developer will get to sit on the money invested by the buyers UNTIL the theater gets restored...so if they never build the condos, they can blame the theater for lack of progress...

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted April 14, 2015 at 18:56:23 in reply to Comment 110921

Developers don't make money until the building achieves registration and mortgages of the purchasers kick in. That can occur upwards of a year after the first occupancy. They stand to lose serious money in interest on their loans by doddling.

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