What a crazy week it's been! Here's a quick rundown of a few recent events:
Harry Stinson, the former Toronto property developer who recently moved to Hamilton to start fresh, just rolled out a strikingly ambitious plan to build an iconic 100 storey, 300 m tower behind the L-shaped Royal Connaught building once he renoates the Connaught into a combination upscale hotel/condominium.
Connaught Tower Rendering
Stinson even managed to get Hamilton mentioned in the US business media:
Stinson said in an interview he was "emotionally drained" and looking for a new start after the Toronto developments failed. He considered New York and Los Angeles, before deciding on Hamilton.
"Things were happening" in New York and Los Angeles, he said and "nothing was happening" in Hamilton, where business people had been sitting on downtown properties for decades without developing them.
He's starting the project by converting the Royal Connaught into a mixture of hotel rooms and condominiums, which will start at C$199,000 for a 600-square-foot unit, less than half the price of similar units in Toronto.
Stinson, who has already come out swinging against the "squelchers" who seem content for Hamilton to remain an unambitious backwater of retrograde thinking, explained his reason for such a grand vision in a CHTV interview:
If it weren't overwhelming it wouldn't work. If we put a normal box up there and tentatively stuck our toe in the water and said "well, we're sort of going to give it a try, we'll put up this mediocre building and if anybody buys it then we'll do something good"... it wouldn't work. You have to do something wow. This is perfectly buildable.
Definitely a project to watch.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) defied our expectations last night when they voted to stay downtown in a new two-phase project that partners with McMaster University and the city's public health department to redevelop the block framed by Main, Bay and King.
Education Square Rendering (Source: HWDSB [PDF])
The Spectator reports:
It's a milestone after 14 months of debate, which began as board staff reported a crisis in non-school space: seven administrative buildings scattered across the city, including 100 Main St. W., together needed $28 million in repairs. Staff said "building failure" loomed.
The saga has seen options come and go. Businessman and philanthropist David Braley's $10-million donation to McMaster's medical school kick-started action.
The city presented an Education Square plan to keep the board downtown. Citizens mounted opposition to a move to the Mountain that, at times, seemed a sure thing.
[Trustee Judith] Bishop said the city's Education Square presentation in January showed the board new possibilities. The board tweaked that plan, to play a more active role in running the project.
In Phase 1, the developers build a five-storey underground parking garage, a building for the HWDSB and public health department, and a building for McMaster on King St. between the Art Gallery of Hamilton and Bay St. In Phase 2, the board will demolish the current Board of Ed building and sell the site at the corner of Main St. W. and Bay St.
The demolition of the existing building is troublesome. On the one hand, it's an architecturally significant example of the postmodern International Style, built in the same era as City Hall.
On the other, it's an essentially suburban design, hidden behind a deep grassy setback and opening onto the rear parking lot.
The hopeful news is that if Hamilton goes ahead with an initiative to build a light rail transit line along Main St., it should be no problem selling the land to interested property developers.
This is just bizarre: the OPP has laid criminal charges against Gord Moodie, head of the city's downtown residential loan program, with municipal corruption and breach of trust for allegedly accepting a bribe from Denis Vranich, a local developer.
Vranich has also been charged. Police accuse him of bribing Moodie on behalf of his father, developer Darko Vranich, who has also made several investments in the city, including building the Staybridge Suites hotel on Market St., and a planned hotel on the old HMP site at Main St. W and Bay St.
Their evidence includes a cheque for $5,000 dated Nov. 11, 2005 from the Gown and Gavel Restaurant, which Vranich co-owned, to Moodie.
This isn't the first time the OPP has investigated the downtown residential loan program. The program was in the news in 2005, when councillor Dave Mitchell made accusations of widespread corruption after a police officer refused to reduce a speeding ticket in deference to his councillorship.
Mitchell and Judy MacDonald-Musitano, wife of convicted mobster Tony Musitano, accused the loan program of corruption based on documents that MacDonald-Musitano had provided to Mitchell.
A police investigation at the time turned up no criminal wrongdoing, and two internal city audits found some minor procedural issues but no evidence of foul play.
Denis Vranich has also been in the news before, after having pled guilty to sexual assault charges in September, 2007 after groping and molesting a female bartender at his bar, the Elixir Lounge and Nightclub in Hess Village.
The whole situation is clear as mud. Ward 2 Councillor Bob Bratina has stated that he believes Moodie is innocent and will be cleared of the current charges as he was cleared of wrongdoing in the previous investigation.
In the meantime, the program is suspended and Moodie has been reassigned to other duties pending a trial.
What has me scratching my head is: why would someone accept a bribe in cheque form?
The downtown residential loan program started because banks were reluctant to loan money for downtown developments. With the Connaught project ramping up and light rail looking more and more like a reality, perhaps we'll soon see the day when the city no longer has to 'seed' downtown residential investment with government loans.
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