A forlorn piece of land on Main Street just west of City Hall is about to become a construction site for a new $10 million-plus building.
By Paul Wilson
Published January 15, 2014
It's already boom town on the north side of Main between Bay and Caroline. Now the digging begins on the south side too.
The view from the long-empty lot on Main West has changed dramatically in the last year or so (Image Credit: Paul Wilson)
On Main Street, just a couple of doors west of City Hall, sits a large empty lot. There hasn't been a building on there - unless you count a used-car sales trailer at the back - for more than half-a-century.
Yes, hard times for a long time in downtown Hamilton.
But now, finally, that forlorn piece of land is about to become a construction site. Any day now, you will see them digging the foundation for a $10-million-plus building.
It's an apartment, and higher end at that. It's been 30 or 40 years since they were doing that kind of project in the core.
It's a mid-rise, not a high-rise, seven storeys. So it will be a junior on that stretch of the street. Right across the road, Darko Vranich is finishing off his 15-storey Hilton and starting work on his 12-storey condos at the old federal building.
Azim Kassam is not a developer on that scale.
"My name is not being mentioned at all, and that is fine," he says. "I'll stay low profile." No picture please.
Kassam, 64, arrived from Tanzania in 1981, ran a motel on Lundy's Lane for a few years. Then he moved to Toronto.
And six years ago, when there was much talk and little action downtown, Kassam quietly bought an old Ford dealership on Main near Wellington and turned it into a $5.5-million 60-room Days Inn. He still runs it. How's business? "No complaints."
And two years ago, he bought the land where Hamilton Motor Products used to sell used cars. HMP tore down the first houses on that stretch of Main in the late 1940s. By 1962, they were all gone.
The last houses were torn down here in 1962 (Image Credit: Google Street View)
Kassam got the parcel for $1.5 million from Darko Vranich's estranged wife Erika. Kassam planned to build another hotel, but couldn't get the financing. Lenders said there were too many hotels going up already.
He had made his land purchase conditional on McMaster committing to building their health centre at Main and Bay. Once the university firmed up, he did too.
He commissioned a feasibility report that showed the core was ready for new apartments. More people want to live downtown, young professionals to retired boomers. They don't want to be in the suburbs and they don't want to tie up funds in real estate.
The name of Kassam's project is 149 Main West, with 73 units. Rents will be about $1,100 for a one-bedroom, $1,300 for a two-bedroom. Units will have fridge, stove, dishwasher, with laundry on each floor. The building earns a Walk Score of 95.
The exterior of 149 Main West will be brick and stone (Image Credit: Azim Kassam)
Some on the SkyscraperPage forum have seen the drawing and been underwhelmed. "That is one boring proposal, too typical," one commenter says. "Hamilton is better than that."
Kassam says that's not fair. "I'm not using stucco here. This is brick and stone." Glass too, along the street level, which will be the apartment's lobby, party room and gym.
There were hurdles along the way with City Hall. "Like all municipalities," Kassam says. He thinks the process could be better, "and I'd be willing to sit down with city officials and discuss it."
Through downtown renewal programs, Kassam qualifies for a grant of about $180,000 and a loan of $2.3 million. He says the project would not have happened without that.
He'd like to see a major clean-up of the core for the 2015 Junos and Pan Am Games. And one more boost - two-way traffic on Main Street, past both his properties. "I think it would bring more business and more things to do."
Once the foundation on Main West is finished, precast walls start rolling down the highway from Guelph. At the end of next month, the floors are to begin to rise at the rate of one a week. Kassam hopes to have people moving in by September.
The view from Jackson Street of the l-shaped lot on which construction is about to begin (Image Credit: Paul Wilson)
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