Promise, potential on the waterfront
Just as the city is about to take control of a key swath of land on the waterfront, its arm’s-length development agency is moving forward with imminent plans for new buildings at the water’s edge.
The Hamilton Waterfront Trust has put out a call to the development community for proposals for three new buildings: one on the grassy area between the parking lot and the ice rink, a second between the Sarcoa restaurant and the rink, and a third on the eastern end of the former Discovery Centre.
All three areas are owned by the federal government, but are controlled by the waterfront trust under long-term leases.
The call for proposals is wide open, but the trust has several potential commercial or retail uses in mind — such as shops, restaurants and office spaces, maybe even a banquet centre or hotel.
The deadline for interested bidders to apply is Thursday, May 23, said Werner Plessl, the trust’s executive director.
The agency and its other partners, along with the city, should make a decision within a year and the projects could break ground by the summer of 2014.
The trust’s plans are only one facet of the waterfront’s red-hot potential. The area was also one of the stops on a city-led tour Tuesday that highlighted Hamilton’s possibilities to out-of-town developers. According to Councillor Jason Farr, the tour attracted two full busloads — about 80 people.
“My understanding is a lot of these developers, primarily from Toronto, have been hearing the buzz and are eager to see Hamilton first-hand,” Farr said.
The trust’s news comes fresh on the heels of council’s approval of an agreement with the Hamilton Port Authority for control of Pier 7 and Pier 8. The authority was holding the piers under two long-term leases set to expire in 2015 and 2025. However, the deal will put the land back in the city’s hands by this summer.
Though the trust’s plans for its three new buildings are separate from the city’s plans for piers 7 and 8, Werner says both groups are working in close partnership.
“They all fit together. We’re all trying to work on one common goal,” said Plessl.
Councillor Chad Collins, who has spent the past decade working to develop the waterfront, says having the lands on Pier 7 and Pier 8 under the city’s control will make the waterfront trust’s available land much more attractive. Collins says in the past, the fact the lands on piers 7 and 8 were owned by the federal government turned some developers away because their only option was to lease.
“They want to make sure they have that asset after 20, 30, 40 years, and you can’t do that on leased land,” he said.
However, the two opportunities will complement each other, Collins said.
“I think what you’ll find is smaller business might gravitate to the lands that are leased, while the hotel and condo developers will gravitate to lands that are up for sale.”
Though the city is still two to five years away from offering up its land on piers 7 and 8 to the private sector, developers are already poised to snatch it up. Chris Phillips, the city’s waterfront point-person, says preliminary meetings are under way to discuss the land that’s available, the city’s plan and the project time frames.
“We’ve had nothing formally, per se — right now it’s just about creating the environment,” Phillips said. “The key is that we’re moving forward, and we’re moving forward quickly.”
The local development community is also paying close attention.
Vince Molinaro, president of the Molinaro Group, says his company was behind much of the waterfront development in Burlington — and he’d like to do the same in Hamilton.
“We’re quite proud of what we’ve done down here, and we’d like to do the same thing in Hamilton where we have deep roots and a lot of history,” he said. “People are meeting, and things are happening.”