New lease on life for Ottawa St.
Lisa Grace Marr
The Hamilton Spectator
(Nov 24, 2007)
The redevelopment of Centre Mall is about to transform its entire neighbourhood from Ottawa to Kenilworth.
First of all, the mall will no longer be a mall. But then neither will it be a power centre.
Think open-air walkways between stores with streets, trees, bus stops and bike racks, with storefronts facing Barton.
Don Burton, vice-president of shopping centres for Redcliff, the property manager for owners Osmington and the Canada Pension Plan, calls it a hybrid, a mix of old-style shopping district and big-box power centre. It is an evolution.
"Centre Mall opened as an open mall 50 years ago, then it was enclosed. Now it will be open again."
The $100-million investment in the mall is boosting Ottawa Street North -- already the city's No. 1 tourist destination.
The garment district is in the midst of morphing into a holistic home decor destination area, complete with lighting, antique, design and glass stores.
"What (businesses) are finding is that there is a niche market here," said Patty Despinic, executive director of the Ottawa Street Business Improvement Area.
The year-round farmers' market no longer fits in Centre Mall's plans, but it fits neatly into Ottawa Street's, and with some assistance in zoning changes, it is expected to move by next spring.
"It means a change for everybody," said Despinic of the mall investment. "Ottawa Street is willing to change ... "
Gord Moodie, the city's co-ordinator of downtown municipal incentives said the Ottawa Street BIA has had the most applications and grants under the commercial property improvement program -- 33 -- and it's having an effect on the property values and real estate activity in the district.
"I think the important thing is that people are upgrading the properties," said Nick Lapcevich at Metro Hamilton Realty 2000 Inc. He's sold real estate for 30 years, much of that in the east end. "It's a good sign of how vital an area is. All of the property values (in the area) are increasing."
In fact, it's so good, Lapcevich has decided to renovate an office building on Ottawa. He plans to open his business there in the next few weeks.
The real estate activity doesn't surprise the BIA's Despinic. She's averaging three new people a week wandering into the BIA office looking for a place to hang a shingle.
One of those new businesses, is Molly's Back Porch, an antique shop. Molly Cowan said she moved to the area because of the shopping district's vibrancy and because of the Centre Mall redevelopment which she feels will draw more traffic to that end of the city.
"I've had people in here from Bracebridge and Sudbury ... I have had at least one of my old clients from Caledonia in here nearly every day. They've followed me here."
The city is expanding its downtown residential loan program to other urban neighbourhoods. That will lead to even more upgrades to residential properties on Ottawa, said Despinic.
Lapcevich said it's easy to sell or lease out property on Ottawa. He said activity has also picked up in the last few months in the whole area, including nearby Walter Street (near Kenilworth).
"Now that the notice is official about the ... mall, people believe it's going to happen," he said. According to Lapcevich, Kenilworth is the next hot spot. "There is going to be a lot of growth on that street, it's got Mountain access, it's a major road and it's got good buildings."
Ray Lee, acting manager of development planning, said Redcliff has accommodated a series of requests to make changes to make the shopping centre fit the landscape.
"We didn't want the (centre) to look like a big-box development," said Lee. "We didn't want to look down Barton and see a wall of bricks."
Burton, of the mall's property management company, said the overall purpose of the design is to create a people-friendly place.
Although a redevelopment of an inner-city mall is more challenging than a new shopping centre, Burton said the site has its advantages, including long street frontage, flat property, public transit links and an existing market.
There are still some question marks around the fates of Canadian Tire and Sears which owned properties near the mall. There is an agreement to keep Canadian Tire, although it may move near Kenilworth. The owners acquired the Sears property but it's not certain whether the store will stay.
The aim is to appeal to the "mosaic" that is central Hamilton, Burton said.
"We want to stop the outflow of people to Burlington. The market's changed ... and we have to cater to their needs."
Burton said the overhaul will take about two-and-a-half years to complete but the bulk of the work will be done by the end of next summer. He said some new buildings will go up before the enclosed mall is torn down.
Redcliff is expected to submit its revised architectural site plan to the city Monday. Once the plan receives formal approval, construction will start as soon as possible, said Burton.
"The owners are very keen, they're very bullish on Hamilton. We've been raring to go for a long time."