Bratina: City Hall Plan Could Save $110 Million Over 20 Years

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 02, 2008

Councillor Bob Bratina, who has proposed that the City remain at Hamilton City Centre, is claiming that this move will cost only $50 million over the next 20 years, compared to $150 million to complete the City Hall renovations.

"The current plan will require us to borrow several million dollars, and therefore raise taxes significantly," he argues.

The cost of the current plan includes both debt servicing charges and the cost of accommodating all those city employees who still won't fit into City Hall once the renovations are complete. Some of those employees will go in the Lister Block, but the city will still require another 140,000 sq. ft. of office space elsewhere.

Hamilton City Centre is big enough that it could accommodate all of the city's employees under one roof.

Bratina concludes, "I'm simply asking that staff review these figures and report to Council. We can then decide what the best course is to take on behalf of taxpayers."

Today's Spectator reports that some other councillors already oppose Bratina's proposal. Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, chair of the City Hall Renovation Committee, is quoted saying, "Absolutely not. We've picked our path; we need to follow it."

Bratina's argument is that the situation has changed since Council made its decision. The global economy is in peril, and the city is going to be under severe fiscal constraints over the next few years. In an earlier dispatch, he said, "To carry on withour current plan in light of the current economy would be calamitous."

These dire circumstances necessitate creative thinking, not status quo planning.

As John Maynard Keynes famously said:

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Robert_D (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 09:11:52

While I usually think that dissenting and opening old arguments once a course of action has been decided is nothing but divisive and problematic, oftentimes just delaying the inevitable, I cannot disagree with at least looking at this.

Usually I find such tactics are used purposefully by one individual with "sour grapes" trying to protest the way the majority has already decided on going. But that doesn't appear to be the case here. This is a suggestion which, I don't believe (although I may be mistaken) was ever really considered the first time around. When you consider the financial situation of the city and the economy in general (and I hate using that as a catch all excuse, but it really is something we should all be aware of) I think this at least deserves to be considered.

Best of luck to Bratina in convincing the rest of council, and in finding someone to take over old city hall.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 09:27:45

I'm still not sold on this, simply because I love the city hall building and the potential for a great public space around it. However, I find it amusing how quickly Lloyd Ferguson is dismissing this idea. After all, isn't he supposed to be the 'fiscally prudent' one on council. That's the whole reason for cladding the hall in concrete right?? I wonder if Andrew Dreschel will whip up a piece calling out Ferguson on this double standard?

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By turkylurky (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 09:41:14

Hmmm, so many city staff to find offices for...what to do?
Erm...can't we can half of them?

Just a thought

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By convinced (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 09:42:15

jason, still not convinced? with the savings from bratinas plan the city could afford to clad city hall in marble again before selling it to someone who promises to honour it's heritage designation. it's not like the city has been such a responsible owner after all. ignoring almost five decades of maintanence. voting to replace the marble with bloddy concrete. maybe the private sector will do better if we hand it over in decent shape.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 10:44:41

excellent point convinced. I wonder if an owner could be found for that building?

Granted, I still have a tough time seeing our city hall in a mall. No matter how they renovate it, it will not have the possible forecourt and surrounding greenspace that city hall has. A private owner could turn the city hall surroundings into a massive parking lot. I love city hall AS city hall. Perhaps a post-secondary would fit nicely there, but I'm not sure that it would work for private offices....they can be found for pretty cheap all over the GTA these days.

I enjoy this discussion and the pros/cons that it involves.

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By convinced (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 12:48:51

it's not like anyone used the forecourt before. why would they start now? it's a non-issue imho.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 02, 2008 at 16:07:10

Jason, why are you so attached to a "civic space" that went essentially unused for 50 years. Why would that usage level change all of a sudden? THe answqer is, it won't.

There is plenty of opportunity for public space at city centre:

gore park, for one. King william can be fully pedestrianized and would be right at the entrance of "city hall" if it were moved there. And the parking lot at king william/james could be square-ified

Look beyond the as-is status of that corner and see what it could be - a civic space that is actually USED.

ANd stop thinking of city centre as a mall. It is barely a mall now - remove the escalators and change the railings to windows and you'd never recognize it as a mall again. And these are minor upgrades. THe potential goes way beyond such simple changes.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 16:17:15

I realize the forecourt/city hall grounds haven't been used for the past 50 years but the potential is mind boggling. I'm not suggesting for a second that we leave the Main St freeway out front and no urban space. I'm suggesting an overhaul to make it a great public space for people to eat, play and enjoy life in the heart of our great civic architectural district consisting of Hamilton Place, AGH, City Hall and Board of Ed. The potential is out of this world.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 02, 2008 at 16:23:33

So is the potential of putting city hall where the citizens already gather -and upgrading that space accordingly.

And this is financially easier.

And could happen much faster.

How long before Main goes to two way? not until LRT or even later. And we are looking at 2015 for that.

It's going to be 100 years at that rate before we go back to having a civic space that is actually used.

Or we can go back to using the one that we know works - gore park and surrounding areas... a lower level indoor square for winter protests and a beautifully landscaped king william

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 21:27:38

Seancb: I like your idea of a space where public forums can be held, a place where the people can come together to discuss important issues in our community as it affects the people.

It gives pesole that sense of community, that they are not alone in their individual battles or concerns. We need to have more public input and involvement, the grassroots, need their voice at the table.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 08:42:49

The top floor is full of city workers already. That's the office I worked in when I was at the city. Or at least it was half full then. My problem arises with the structure of the building. It is most definitely a mall from any architectural design standpoint even with windows added and escalators removed....which leaves no transportation from floor to floor other than the tiny elevator. City hall with a GIANT hole in the middle. A colossal waste of space if you ask me...

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By JP (registered) | Posted December 28, 2008 at 14:20:47

What happened to the proposal for the Education Centre that was being worked on.

From articles that I had read earlier this year, and from what I had heard, the BOE was to remain downtown, with the redevelopement of their current land at Bay-King,with their current building at Bay-Main being sold off for new buildings to house,Public Health, McMaster, etc...

I was under the impression that this deal was just bing tweaked and was ready to be signed.

Am I to now understand that we are now to loose the BOE to the mountaine, loosing all those jobs in the downtown core where they are most needed?

Why must we keep building on all 'green-space' on the mountain, when we have a an entire downtown full of buildings and vacant office space?

Is there nothing to be done to keep the BOE downtown?

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