Wind back in Stinson’s sails with projects back on track
Developer Harry Stinson is trying to tidy his Hamilton to-do list: Stinson School lofts, then the Hamilton Grand Hotel at John and Main streets.
“I’m ready to put this behind me,” he said.
Certainly, the Stinson School project is well on its way, building permits in place, construction workers on site and sales, well, sales are “stable”.
Stinson said the lofts are about 75 per cent sold — 55 out of 75 units — about the same level as a year or so ago and should be ready to move in by February, 2013.
He said the sell is easy for out-of-towners in love with the old, established residential neighbourhood, the potential for fabulous ambience in the renovated school.
It was originally built in 1894 by architect Alfred Peene, also responsible for Hamilton’s Carnegie library.
Many elements of the original building have been retained either for use later or incorporated into the design. The original slate chalkboards have been cut down into smaller pieces which will be framed and hung at the door of each loft, a reminder of the past while serving as a reminding tool.
Despite all of these details, and history, sales to Hamiltonians are slow.
“Here (customers) are a lot more skeptical,” he said. “People from Toronto and all around come here and love the architecture. You can tell who the out-of-towners are ... Hamilton people come in and say ‘Well, have you sold any units yet?”
He does admit having a finished show loft would help. The school should be completely enclosed by October, he said, allowing for the finishing work to take place inside.
So far, the entire building is still torn apart. Two townhouses across the street Stinson had purchased are lumped into the development and may provide the earliest peak at what is possible. Construction photos can be viewed at stinsonschool.com.
The units range in price from $179,000 to $499,000.
Stinson came to Hamilton about five years ago, with a reputation as the condo king, due in no small part to his widely acclaimed conversion of an former candy factory to a series of lofts in 1993 in downtown Toronto.
Since he came to Hamilton though, he’s had a series of struggles to get the Stinson School and hotel projects off the ground.
It’s been four years since Stinson first embarked on the school lofts conversion — four long years in which he also took time out to take a stab at trying to breathe life back into the Royal Connaught, which faltered due to lack of financing, as did his Hamilton Grand Hotel project.
Just this week, Stinson called on architect Drew Hauser to dust off those plans and scale them back, to a $20-million, six-storey, 150-unit long-term stay hotel.
“However, the existing height limit would allow a taller building and if sales are good, maybe we will extend the tower,” he said.
“Financing is not easy to get for anything these days, not in Hamilton and not at the $30-million level.”
The new vision for the Hamilton Grand is to have an “urban lifestyle option” that offers individually owned furnished condo units with breakfast and housekeeping managed in a rental program with commercial space on the first floor.
Glen Norton, the city’s director of urban renewal, was a bit disappointed Stinson had scaled down the project, but he said it’s far better than the derelict lot that it is now.
Norton said the hotel’s focus on the three months to a year market rather than the weekly or monthly market which the Staybridge and Homewood Suites cater to, also nicely fills a gap in the downtown core.
“It’s part of the John Street story,” said Norton, referring to the recent purchases of the old Crazy Horse Saloon by a Toronto developer and the opening of a Korean restaurant.
Stinson said once these two key projects are done, he isn’t sure if he’ll pounce on any more Hamilton projects too soon.
He is just putting the final touches on the Hotel Niagara in Niagara Falls, NY, a two-year multimillion-dollar project he was involved in. The Hotel Niagara was the sister to the Royal Connaught in the United Hotel chain — with much of the same history.
“It’s quite amazing in the U.S. for all of their troubles in the economy, there is this mindset ... of let’s get this done,” he said of the transformation of the hotel.