Downtown Bureau

Vranich Shares Details of Downtown Development Plan

Darko Vranich plans to add five storeys to the Revenue Canada building and convert it into condos, as well as adding a multi-level garage and attracting a drug store, LCBO and grocery store at street level.

By Eric McGuinness
Published April 30, 2012

The business interests of Darko Vranich and his family include the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel and a lot of real estate from there to Hess Village. Just last week, city council rejected his bid to expand and run the Hamilton Convention Centre, and he's having trouble with city staff over a parking lot he's putting in on Queen north of King.

Construction of the Staybridge Suites hotel at George and Caroline (RTH file photo)
Construction of the Staybridge Suites hotel at George and Caroline (RTH file photo)

In my time as a Spectator reporter, I recall speaking to him only once, so I welcomed the opportunity to chat on Sunday when he approached me as I watched diggers excavating the former HMP property beside the old federal building on the block bounded by Main, Bay, Caroline and George streets.

The Spec has reported that he has big plans for the block, but I wasn't clear on the details, which he seemed happy to share.

He pointed proudly to his Staybridge Suites hotel nearing completion on the northwest corner of George and Caroline and the tower crane recently relocated from that project to a site just east of the partly demolished federal building.

Vranich said he is adding five storeys to the old Revenue Canada building at Main and Caroline and converting it to condos. Beside it, he's building a 450-car garage, both above and below ground. Next to that, a 16-storey condo and, finally, a hotel at Bay and Main. He said two more tall cranes will soon join the one already erected.

He said the garage would be finished by September and the condo tower by Christmas, which seems fast.

The developer also said plans are proceeding for a multi-level garage on the block bounded by Main, Hess, Caroline and George.

At street level, he proposes a Shoppers Drug Mart, LCBO outlet and a grocery store, which he'd like to see occupy two storeys. He believes those services and the new McMaster health centre at Bay and Main will make his condos more attractive.

Eric McGuinness was a writer and editor who worked for many years at the Hamilton Spectator. He died in 2014 after a long struggle with cancer.


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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2012 at 10:02:44

No mention of 220 Dundurn?

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 01, 2012 at 07:28:39 in reply to Comment 76329

Why would there be? Do you consider Dundurn/Charlton to be downtown? I don't.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2012 at 10:34:23

Over at the skyscraper site, someone thinks it's going to be 25 floors.

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By Real Concerns (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2012 at 10:57:34

I suppose I should be happy that anything is finally getting built here but I have some real concerns...
While I appreciate the presence of a new hotel in the downtown (visitors might not be forced to stay in Burlington anymore), the stucco-finished product looks like it belongs on suburban highway ramp, not the core.
The land that's being built on here is signature gateway property for the City and it would be nice if it said more to visitors (and residents) than "welcome to Hamilton, we build cheap." I'm not sure it will.
Why doesn't Hamilton seem to have an architectural review process or insist on standards to let citizens know what we're going to get? We're gonna have to live with whatever gets built for a very long time.
If Mississauga can stage international design competitions to revise their "downtown" it would be nice to at least have some transparency and possible input from the locals and experts here.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2012 at 11:24:14 in reply to Comment 76333

Agreed. My brother-in-law, who is not a regular here, or "urbanist" commented on how ugly that building is.

if that's the average Joe's view, it can't be good. Hopefully the more visible condo and hotel projects along main and Bay Streets will be much more attractive.

Same for the Mac health campus

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By Jon (registered) - website | Posted April 30, 2012 at 11:33:47 in reply to Comment 76335

I'll be reserving my judgement on this building's appearance until AFTER construction is complete. It's not fair to call it ugly this early in the construction process. I for one am excited about several design elements, including the 6th level terrace, the parapet level cantilever, and the large expanse of glass used at street level. I believe they may have started putting up some of the brick facade last week as well.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted April 30, 2012 at 11:37:51 in reply to Comment 76336

Fair enough, but is any of that visible form either Main or King streets which will provide the vast majority of the views?

Those views are pretty much established now, no?

I dunno, gotta have a look next time I drive by.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 01, 2012 at 06:12:43 in reply to Comment 76337

"I dunno, gotta have a look next time I drive by." Shh! The anti-car people might be reading!

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By JMorse (registered) | Posted April 30, 2012 at 21:12:33

Where's the marketing?

Residential developers everywhere start selling units before construction begins. Raising buyer interest and money to pay for construction and to minimize the number of units unsold before completion.

It's hard to believe this will be a residential condo until we see them on the market, isn't it?

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By rednic (registered) | Posted April 30, 2012 at 21:42:06 in reply to Comment 76340

Technically there may be reasons to called it a condo and hold all the units as another company and the rent them out. Walks like a condo talks like a condo but not quite.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 01, 2012 at 06:13:54 in reply to Comment 76341

Maybe it's because they haven't finished the internal designs yet - they may not know the layout of the units, or may be working on their designs still. Not sure when that part is done.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted May 01, 2012 at 16:55:37 in reply to Comment 76345

No my suggestion is that a shell company buys all the condos and operates them as rental units . In effect a rental building as opposed to a condo

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 03, 2012 at 06:05:26 in reply to Comment 76380

I understand what you're saying, and am providing an alternate reason. However, the Vranich's don't have a history of doing the condo/rental thing (I live in a Vranich-financed apartment-to-condo building, but the units are owned by the owners, I believe he simply fronted the cash to convert our building and then made it back when selling the units).

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted May 01, 2012 at 09:12:26

There is no binary division between people who drive and people who use other modes: like most people advocating for more complete streets, I walk, I cycle, I take transit, and I drive, depending on where I'm going and under what circumstances.

Amen, Brother Ryan. I bike; I drive; I walk; I take the odd bus. Us vs. them is a false dichotomy.

And here's a funny thing: the easier it gets to bike downtown, the more I bike downtown; the more I bike downtown, the more I wander around downtown; and the more I wander downtown, the more I drive downtown, too. Because this downtown in which I wander and bike is a better downtown. So I just come here more often, be it a 45 minute walk, a fifteen minute ride or a ten minute drive-and-park-and-walk.

A downtown which is good for people on foot and on bike is a more likely to be a downtown worth driving to. Not through - to.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-05-01 09:15:37

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By Skully2001 (registered) | Posted May 01, 2012 at 10:06:46

Whatever happened to Harry Stinson's Stinson School Lofts? The roof is half-finished and has been since last fall and there's not an ounce of work being done...anyone know if this is officially DOA? (and what, pray tell, is going on with the Grand site???)

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By Saltwater Toffee (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2012 at 15:37:47 in reply to Comment 76365

Stinson insists that everything is copacetic. Just very low-key and introspective. Although earlier this year he had spoken of "full-blast construction anticipated March 2012."

In a September interview about his Niagara Grand project, Stinson remarked that "Oftentimes, the challenges of getting financing for a non-Manhattan or non-Toronto project are significant. Financing will drive this bus." (Although he obviously had a million or so handy to bid on the Niagara Grand.)

The Hamilton Grand site was never remediated, AFAIK. As a former gas station it would require considerable work and the removal of truckloads of contaminated material. Remediation supposedly took place in the summer of 2010. All we ever saw was hoarding, a mound of dirt and a Bobcat. The hoarding has begun to come apart and the signs have vanished. What was once pitched as a 15-storey build collapsed to ten and then six storeys. The Grand's site had sold a handful of commercial spots and no residential suites the last time I checked.

In January 2012, Stinson told The Hamiltonian that "it's probably safer and more diplomatic for me to bare my soul in a year, when the School and the Grand are more mature; the past 5 years have been personally draining for me for many reasons."

Coincidentally, the week before that interview apperared, Stinson told the Spec it'd be finished by summer 2013.

The Hamilton Grand was originally to have been completed by summer 2012 but since it launched, the Stinson School project and the Niagara Grand projects have competed for funding and attention. The result seems to be a stalemate.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted May 01, 2012 at 20:57:44

Joey Coleman reports that the City of Hamilton has approved approximately $1.2 Million in loans and grants for the property development by Hess Village Real Estate, owned by Denis Vranich, at the southwest corner of King and Hess Streets:

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 01, 2012 at 23:04:53

"The Hamilton Grand site was never remediated, AFAIK. As a former gas station it would require considerable work and the removal of truckloads of contaminated material. Remediation supposedly took place in the summer of 2010. All we ever saw was hoarding, a mound of dirt and a Bobcat. The hoarding has begun to come apart and the signs have vanished. What was once pitched as a 15-storey build collapsed to ten and then six storeys. The Grand's site had sold a handful of commercial spots and no residential suites the last time I checked."

There's a big pit in there, with the mound of soil slowly melting away with erosion. The signs are gone because they either came down in the heavy wind or someone pushed them inside. They're down in the hole they dug some time ago. The whole fencing thing was pushed in a couple of weekends ago, then on the Monday they fixed it but left the drawings of the building lying inside.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted May 06, 2012 at 12:40:04 in reply to Comment 76384

The fundamental problem with the Hamilton Grand is that Stinson is opting for Studio Apartments in his room designs, which really don't make sense to me. I for one, don't want to sleep in a folding bed no matter how well it's designed for anything more then a few nights, and if that is the case, I don't need a kitchen or many of the facilities his rooms have.

I mean, you aren't renting to students because either the hotel maintenance raises the prices too much or those students who can afford it, will likely find larger, non-studio rental properties anyways. You are right next to a courthouse, some luxury is what Stinson should be banking on, but I guess it's hard to sell potential investors on luxury in Hamilton.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2012-05-06 12:43:32

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 02, 2012 at 21:35:56

Pretty sad when a suburban hotel looks better than an 'urban' one.

Sadly, this was predicted by many commenters here on RTH back when construction started and the initial renderings were shown. I wish Vrancor would wow us with some good architecture instead of proving the naysayers right every time they do something.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-05-02 21:37:35

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By Jeff Tessier (anonymous) | Posted May 03, 2012 at 00:25:11 in reply to Comment 76409

True, but the greater benefit to the city would be if Denis/Darko Vranich were not given a pass just because they can provide a once-a-decade project while holding on to derelict eyesores that provide visual evidence to both residents and vistors that Hamilton is a decaying city. Their successful builds are numerous, but it always seems to me that that's outweighed by the fact that the most grievous dereliction in the city always comes back to them (220 Dundurn, King & Hess, Federal building). The negative impact of this decay is greater than the benefit from their occasional - when they feel like it, when they get tons of money from the city - efforts to do someting with these properties. Real developers - Core Urban, UrbanCore, for example - do not follow this model.

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By wow (anonymous) | Posted May 04, 2012 at 21:18:25

wow... I really really am so shocked that so many are quick give advise to a builder on what kind of hotel..condo they should build and what appropriate design a hotel should have... I guess someone who takes a chance-gamble-risk on doing such a venture means nothing to someone who can sit back and critisize. Hamilton NEEDS developement and NEEDS developers to INVEST so you arent always a laughing stock on Ontario.. I was born in Hamilton but now live in Mississauga and cant beleive the resistance and negativity. This project will only improve the city, increase jobs, reputation etc... If you think you can do a better job then have fun spending the next ten years going thru red tape, gutless politicians, lefty tree huggers and feel free to risk you life savings.... wake up and embrace this of NOBODY will ever want to invest in your city

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted May 05, 2012 at 00:59:04 in reply to Comment 76497

So many? I count four people in this line of commenting who have expressed misgivings about the design. Yeah there are probably more who are critical of it. It's a matter of opinion and people are entitled to have them; perhaps we tend to hear the negative ones more often because they are more likely to be voiced. I doubt the developer is very concerned.

I see your point, but I also see that one can never please everyone most of the time, and there is nothing wrong with wanting the best for the place one calls home.

I would suspect there is some negative opinion in every city.

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2012-05-05 01:22:48

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted May 05, 2012 at 01:13:38

While I'm commenting on downtown "aesthetics", may as well add a couple cents-worth of thoughts...

A native Hamiltonian, I currently live outside the city and don't get downtown very often, and when I do I'm usually heading through it or to a specific downtown destination without really looking closely at the surroundings.

Today I was there for an event, and took a walk around afterward late in the afternoon. The hotel exterior looks to be nearing completion - personally, I think it's not bad, but it's also unremarkable. A worthy investment all the same. I'm very curious to see how the new condos and eventual second new hotel turn out because they will be a lot more visible from the main streets and beyond. I have high hopes.

There are some other nice things happening - the Lister Block looks terrific, I was impressed by the city hall renovation, the new market and library entrance is really nice (as is the market within, though it was a quiet time and stalls were closing), and there are some buildings I never really looked at up close before that surprised me.

However I was also concerned to see so many buildings that are showing their age - parts of Jackson Square, many office towers, Hamilton Place's worn and stained concrete, lots in prime spots that remain empty (including the one just north of the Lister - wasn't that to be rebuilt too?). The City Centre could have so much potential too, maybe not as a mall any more but re-purposed for other commercial uses.

I'd like to head back and take a longer tour one of these spring weekends, especially further east where it looks like a lot of progress has been happening, and north and south along James. Things are changing but more investment is clearly needed, both many smaller efforts and a few large ones that could really start to add up.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted May 06, 2012 at 13:05:43

I for one welcome this new development. He reached a compromise with the city (which frankly in my view, saving the sculptures and donating them to the city would have been just as valid a compromise, but that's another matter for another day) to keep part of the old building and build over one of the many excessive parking lots in the core. He's adding density and I for one would love to see the LCBO in Jackson Square move to a much larger location so it would actually have space for craft beer offerings (although not to say there isn't plenty of room in Jackson Square the LCBO could move to, but that's also something for another day).

I also heartily support converting parking lots into Parking Plazas. They tend to be more secure, they are much more attractive then decaying tarmac and hopefully will encourage greater competition and force other lots to consider getting out of the business and opening selling their land for development. I only wish that he was also taking out that ugly, miniature car dealership/detailing/repair/thing on King and Caroline bound by the chain link fence. Every time I look at that place, I think sketchy, which I know isn't the case, but it's just how I feel.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2012 at 13:47:45

Maybe development isn't the magic elixir many think it is...


Notice that Vancouver and Toronto are at the bottom of this happiness list.

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