Comment 73457

By Imperial (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2012 at 17:04:49

Once again Council sits on the edge’s of their seats for a few months of action packed major institution dancing around how to spend ten of millions of dollars from the City trust, demolish multiple buildings, all the while promising ‘revitalization’ of our downtown core that seemingly only they can deliver. It’s quite the show – almost a local cultural phenomenon.
We’ve watched this dance occur so many times – and I say ‘we’ pointing at a variety parties: our Mayor, Council, city staff, business sector leaders, the few progressive developers we have checkered throughout the community pulling off projects of significant scale and a more modest neighbourhood level, the general public, but most importantly to me, my fellow creative sector partners – be you individual artist, creative business, non-profit or charity.
Just this week in the Hamilton Spectator the City held aloft a report showing that our sector has led the pack in downtown employment. Creative sector employment numbers in the core grew by 20%. This is significant for a number of reasons. The obvious is more jobs, jobs, jobs – the very mantra of the Jobs Prosperity Collaborative, at least a few of the City’s official goals, probably the Chamber of Commerce. This first statistic then typically gives way to a chain of logical spin-offs – increased use of space (owned or leased), increase taxes paid out (employment, property, corporate, sales tax, etc), increased support service businesses that grow to supply that sector with everything from lunch to technology, and so on.
First you get the jobs, then you pay the taxes, then…. Sounds like something from Scarface doesn’t it.
As we’ve seen with the current pitch before Council for the McMaster/Board of Ed switcheroo the way one might think the sentence above should end may be “then you get the political influence”. I wish it would end “then you get to show the community what 3 massive institutions can really do to build a great community” but it doesn’t seem to be heading in that direction. Seems we’re going to tear down two buildings, spend $20M in City funds, and sign a massive lease to prop the project up.
Aside from my obvious dissatisfaction with the Board of Education’s choice to leave our core, McMaster’s choice to demolish a stunning building, dangle “phase II” carrots, and shy away from public dialogue around a massive request – my greatest disappointment is how the rules change depending on what sector is at the table.
If our sector is growing at this rate the infrastructure, funding support, services and civic attention required to keep this positive trend in motion must follow. As one of the few organizations (not the only) in this community dedicated almost entirely to developing that infrastructure it enrages me to see such massive institutions again being handed the golden key to come downtown when we’ve made such progress with very little support for the better part of the last decade, without tearing down our heritage or leaving a nasty environmental legacy. Additionally we’re doing all of the above while expressing our culture, exploring ideas, educating children, encouraging diversity and inclusion, celebrating our complex heritage, engaging citizens and creating vibrant neighbourhoods.
The City reported it themselves – we’re leading the pack in the core.
The vanguards of early James N. circa the 1990s started it for us to observe, analyze, experience and engage in, our Hamilton Creative City Initiative Report 5 years ago predicted the growth, then the Creative Catalyst saw a study completed by independent consultants verify the thinking and calling for support. Council loved the idea and was interested in moving forward but a handful of concerned voices and an election changed that tune.
The project has been shelved as a good idea that will never come to fruition. Maybe we didn’t ask for enough support? Maybe we didn’t come to the table with an 11th hour fete accompli shot gun decision to force down Council throat? Maybe we hadn’t proven ourselves enough yet as a sector of merit?
Maybe, just maybe we we’re coming to the table as a partner showing it’s cards: information, a track record, ideas to explore, a desire for an open and public relationship, limitations expressed, and a desire to work together on the complexities before pulling the trigger. What fools!
The deal before us on the Board of Education/McMaster project is pathetic. The spin-off outcomes are just as speculative as any other proposal will be. The complete demolition of multiple buildings is unnecessary and environmentally, socially and culturally regressive. The dependency on the City as a primary funder to the tune of $20M and a long-term premium lease shows the project is completely reliant on the municipality to prop its business case. The shotgun decision-making tactics are disrespectful to Council, city staff and the taxpayers funding this project.
We must demand better.
If the City is going to support the growth of the core it should look at giving a fair shake to the sector that seems to be already pulling its weight. The creative sector.

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