New 'Centre' mall catalyst for neighbourhood change
Bigger, bolder commercial mecca central to $100m redevelopment
THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR
Shiny new big box stores sprouting on the site of one of Hamilton's oldest shopping malls are being credited with helping to spark a revival of their neighbourhood.
Now known as The Centre on Barton Street, the former Centre Mall is being turned into a new commercial mecca of up to 28 large, free-standing stores. It's all part of a $100 million redevelopment project.
"This is the biggest inner city development in Canada," said Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla. "It's becoming the catalyst for redevelopment on Ottawa Street, and may do the same thing for Kenilworth Avenue as well."
Under the management of Redcliffe Realty Management Inc., the Centre is being rebuilt to a planned 750,000 square feet of leasable area over the 28 buildings. Hamilton's first enclosed mall -- and at one time the largest shopping centre in Canada -- the Centre fell on hard times in the late 1990s with competition from much larger Eastgate Square. Movement to the suburbs, the loss of manufacturing jobs in Hamilton's east end and the advent of big box malls such as Ancaster's Meadowlands hurt even more.
Serious decline started in 1998 when an anchor tenant, Kmart, closed in a restructuring. In 2001 the movie theatre lease was terminated, and by 2002 the entire property was up for sale, with rumours that developers were looking at the 74 acres for a public housing development.
By 2005, the property was under new ownership of a company called Kenilworth Investments Inc., with a vision of a different future and the dollars to make that happen. Demolition of the former mall started in 2006.
"It's coming along very well," said Don Burton, executive vice-president of Redcliffe. "We're probably 70 to 75 per cent through the project now."
To date, about 15 of the site's 28 potential buildings have been finished. Most recently, the new food court building was opened, including a small community meeting space. A liquor store is expected to be finished this year, and an enormous Dollarama store is under construction beside the Canadian Tire outlet.
Also open now are Zellers, Shoppers Drug Mart, Rogers, The Source, Optical Factory, TD Canada Trust, The Beer Store, Bell, Scotiabank, Hollywood Hair Design, Desjardins Credit Union, Boston Pizza, Centre Mall Dental and a new Metro supermarket.
Construction of the rest is expected to take another 18 months.
Burton said the original plan was for the project to be finished by the end of this year, but the economic slump that began in 2008 impacted work considerably.
"The downturn in the economy certainly slowed things down pretty significantly, but it's coming along nicely now," he said.
Replacing the tired, 50-year-old structure has had an unintended, but highly welcome, effect on the neighbourhood, Merulla said. Property values around the site have risen and a troubled apartment building in the north-west corner of the property has been turned into condominiums.
"That building used to be one of the biggest crack houses in Hamilton, but now it's condos, and people are taking pride in the building," he said. "The Centre was a tired old mall that was ready to be redeveloped. Now, in some cases, we're talking about property values that have doubled."
At the same time, he added, the city has gained $2 million a year in revenue from the project.
When the Centre project was first proposed, some feared it would sound a death knell for neighbouring shopping areas such as Ottawa Street North. So far, said Ottawa BIA executive director Patty Despinic, that hasn't happened.
"So far the impact has been quite neutral, in part because the development isn't finished," she said.
"There have been a lot of physical changes, so there has been some benefit in terms of the image of the area.
"The best we can say right now is that time will tell the full effect, when some more of the big players move in," she added.