It City Council can scrape up $100 million to expand the urban boundary, it can afford to invest in the core.
By Jason Leach
Published July 01, 2005
I'd like to introduce a series of key proposals for the revitalization of downtown Hamilton and surrounding areas that will undoubtedly become a catalyst for further development in our city.
I came up with this idea after hearing Mayor Larry Di Ianni speak about his confidence in Hamilton's ability to come up with $100 million over the next two years for the proposed aerotropolis. We have just spent $500 million on the Linc/Red Hill Expressway projects as well. Despite the perception that Hamilton has no money and no ability to get any money, these two mega-projects paint a much different picture.
As we all know, this city will not move forward without investment and I firmly believe that proper investment by city council will result in much spinoff investment from the private sector. That of course, is the thinking behind aerotropolis and Red Hill.
Like many people, I believe that Hamilton's future firmly rests downtown. Even if our airport somehow takes off and becomes a hub for thousands of jobs, the city's image - like every city on earth - is directly tied to the health and success of the downtown core.
The following proposal is a recipe for success in my opinion. I have done research for this proposal in the hopes of convincing council that if we can find $500 million for two highways and over $100 million for our airport, surely downtown Hamilton can be given the same priority. In fact, it must be if we have any chance of succeeding.
I think our city has gotten to the point of understanding this reality and council has demonstrated some early signs of investment in the core with the residential loan program and streetscape plans. I believe the seeds have been sown in the minds of our leaders and they have realized that a healthy Hamilton must have a healthy downtown.
For that, I urge city council to take a good hard look at the Downtown Streets Master Plan. This document already exists and is a wonderful plan for many of our downtown streets. The focus is on slowing car traffic, wider sidewalks, public art, signage and unique paving and lighting materials. If you haven't checked out these plans, take the time to do so now.
Part 1 of my proposal is simple: speed up the implementation of the master plans for Hughson Street, King William Street and King Street West, including two-way conversion of King Street. In a recent article I have spoken of the need for the south leg of King to be pedestrian-only, so we'll leave that alone for now.
The Downtown Master Plan calls for the above three streets to be reconstructed in the next 10-15 years. I suggest we do all three streets for their entire length in the next five. The cost breakdown is as follows:
As a downtown resident and one who spends my money almost exclusively in the core, I can assure you that the street system is the biggest hindrance to developing a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere that will result in street-oriented shopping, dining, and people gathering. Folks in the burbs might always harp about getting rid of the goth punks, but they are also the same folks who won't allow the city to build a skatepark for their own kids. Let's put NIMBYism aside for a moment and focus on the real issues downtown and real solutions. The street grid is top of the list in my mind.
The recent issue of H Magazine has a wonderful proposal by Bruce Kuwabara, the architect who designed the recent renovation at the Art Gallery. He wants to knock out the corner of Jackson Square at King and James and build a market building 'like no other' for our farmers market. I've suggested this very idea and think it would be amazing for the downtown core. Anyone who frequents the market can only imagine bringing all that life and energy right to the street level across from Gore Park. Yale Properties doesn't lose their main tenant and the stallholders get to stay in Jackson Square a mere 5 minute extra walk north of the parking garage on York.
Since 1997, over $1.84 billion Cdn has been invested near the Streetcar line, including over 5,300 new housing units and more than 3.7 million square feet of office, institutional, retail and hotel construction - all within a 90 block area formerly home to mostly decaying industrial buildings adjacent to the downtown core. New parks, employment, and retail have made the area a major destination and key source of rides for Portland Streetcar.
Now imagine a line running from Mac to Ferguson and King William. The total distance would be 10.4 kilometres, with 5.2 kilometres each way, passing close to the following hotspots: McMaster University, Westdale Village, Research Park at Camco site, Main West Esplanade, Locke South, Hess Village, HECFI, AGH, City Hall, downtown office towers, Gore Park, Farmers Market, James South and North, GO Station, hotels, King East, King William, and ending at the Ferguson Station/Theatre Aquarius area.
Also consider the amount of underutilized land along this corridor: Main St/ King St West lots, Bay/King parking lots, Jackson Street, King William/Rebecca/Wilson Streets, Main and Catharine area, empty buildings scattered along King, James and other streets.
So far, Portland has seen private investment outweigh the city's investment by a margin of almost 30 to 1. Any city would kill for that type of return. Add $70 million to the $14 million for streetscape projects and you're looking at massive downtown revitalization efforts for $85 million - much less than Red Hill and the airport.
Add in the cost of converting the King and James corner of Jackson Square to a more open farmers' market (note that Bruce Kuwabara appears to be a master at undertaking large, high-quality projects very economically), and all three proposals can probably be completed for the price City Council wants to spend on merely servicing 3,000 acres around the airport.
I believe this proposal is very doable considering the recent gas tax announcements. I also believe the private sector would flood city hall with building applications if we could pull off these three developments over the next 5-7 years. There is no need to wait for 10-20 years to see real change come to our downtown core. The money is there.
Is the political will?
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