Hamilton City Centre could get a long-overdue revitalization if plans by IN8 Developments come to fruition. The developer is considering a phased plan to develop multiple mixed-use towers at the downtown property.
IN8’s acquisition of the 3.54-acre site from Hamilton City Centre Holdings Inc. is expected to close in December. The current assessed value of the property is $24.55 million, but the purchase price has not been disclosed.
“Our vision here is a live, work, play situation in downtown Hamilton,” IN8 president Darryl Firsten said during an Urban Land Institute (ULI)-sponsored tour of the shopping centre, which is currently home to primarily down-market retailers, offices and numerous vacancies.
“We’d like to pull more people to be living in Hamilton and working in Hamilton, so there will be both residential and commercial elements to this development.”
Early ideas for Hamilton City Centre
Firsten said it is still too early to talk about firm plans for the site on James Street North between King Street East and York Boulevard, but the goal is to increase density through phased high-rise development.
While there are no timelines established, construction isn’t expected to start for at least three years. Firsten said some parts of Hamilton City Centre could be demolished while others could be retained.
In the interim, he said In8 plans to take steps to attract more tenants and benefit existing businesses in the mall. Among the higher-profile current occupants of Hamilton City Centre are Crunch Fitness, Fairweather, Hart, John Howard Society and Thunder Alley.
“We’re visionaries, but we’ll get it done at a reasonable pace to fill what this space could potentially be in the future, and will be,” said Firsten. “There are a lot of risks that go into this project, but one that’s not much of a concern is that people are going to want to live here.”
Hamilton City Centre history
Cadillac Fairview built the mall, then called Eaton Centre, in 1990 on the site of Hamilton’s former city hall. The Eaton’s department store which anchored the site closed in 1999.
In the ensuing two decades, the building has grown tired while ownership has changed several times, according to City of Hamilton urban renewal manager Judy Lam.
Eric Turcotte, a partner with Toronto-based global design and planning consultancy Urban Strategies, took the ULI tour group to the City Centre’s second-storey rooftop terrace, which is now used primarily by people looking for a place to smoke. He wanted to discuss its current failings and future potential.
“The roof terrace was anticipated to be a grandiose place when it first opened in ’72. There were fireworks, there was a band, there were lots of activities and people thought it was going to be great. But within a short period of time, it was realized that there isn’t much happening in here.”
Turcotte cited poor access and way-finding signage, as well as a lack of activities and animation, as key reasons for the terrace being under-utilized. Restaurants, a hotel and organized events, concerts and festivals could all play roles in its revitalization, he said.
Turcotte also called Hamilton City Centre a “fortress” with too few windows.
“If you were to rethink this place today, you would never do this,” said Turcotte. “With Darryl’s group, there’s a great opportunity to reinvent that urban centre that was here before by opening the walls and creating better access with more density and more diversity in uses.”
Firsten said he’s looking forward to working with City of Hamilton officials to try to attract tenants to a potential office tower on the site.
IN8’s track record
Waterloo-based IN8 has development, sales, construction management and property management divisions and specializes in “high-density urban intensification” outside of Toronto.
“Toronto has done some wonderful things over the past 20 years and we think there are other cities that can do the same,” said Firsten. “We want to be part of the renewal.”
IN8 has developed 16 mid- and high-rise multiresidential projects in the Ontario cities of Waterloo, Kitchener, Kingston and Hamilton since 2010. Together, they comprise more than 2,500 residential units and more than 100,000 square feet of commercial condominiums.
The company is now developing the 39-storey DTK Condos, which will be the tallest tower in Kitchener.
What Hamilton has to offer
IN8 is attracted to Hamilton because of its abundance of heritage buildings, its waterfront opportunities, a planned light rail transit line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, its relative affordability and its proximity and GO Transit access to Toronto.
Urban Strategies recently opened a new office and meeting space across the street from Hamilton City Centre, which is where City of Hamilton director of economic development Glen Norton and Lam addressed the ULI tour group.
The City of Hamilton is trying to attract and increase development, employment and residential growth to its downtown core through a series of measures, including decreased development charges, tax grants, interest-free loans, heritage building grants and grants for LEED-certified buildings.
“Employment is growing downtown but we still have a high vacancy rate in our office towers,” said Norton, who noted the Hamilton economy is being driven by advanced manufacturing, life sciences research and commercialization, agribusiness and food processing, and creative industries.
“We’re focused on those things we think we can win in,” said Norton. “We’re just trying to portray our genuine self in terms of what we are and who we are to the world.”
Norton said The Conference Board of Canada cited Hamilton as having Canada’s most diverse economy in 2018.
Norton noted Panattoni is building 1.5 million square feet of industrial distribution facilities on 82 acres it acquired for $27 million last fall near John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport. It’s one of the busiest cargo airports in Canada and operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
Steel company Stelco, which has rebounded since filing for bankruptcy in 2007, also has more than 500 acres of surplus land which could be used for future industrial development, according to Norton.