The smiles on Judy Lam’s and Norma Schleehahn’s faces took over the beautiful sun on May 12 as the city’s two city center revitalizers stood at Hamilton’s Gore Park Fountain and slowly turned to see the nearby forest of construction cranes reaching into the sky.
“Last year, the city center had the highest number of building permits for residential units,” said Schleehahn, the city’s director of economic development. “The developers have really seized the opportunity.” In fact, 2021 reached a record $ 2 billion in building permits across Hamilton, he said.
He and Lam, a city manager for business districts and small businesses, are helping to launch an unprecedented boom in high-rise buildings that is turning downtown Hamilton from the commercial real estate dead zone more than a decade ago to today’s construction bonanza.
When you look around, it’s not hard to see what Lam and Schleehahn are up to, and hard data makes that clear.
The city is experiencing a record level of development in the city center, where once developers could not secure funding for construction.
Over the past five years, 19 major buildings – more narrowly defined for data purposes such as Queen Street along Wentworth Street and Barton Street along Aberdeen Avenue – have been completed or under construction – worth more than $ 733.7 million in construction. This construction boom adds 3,482 new housing units and 41,870 square meters of commercial space to the core.
Here’s a look at some of the projects that are currently under construction:
- Cobalt Luxury Residences on King Street East and Hughson Street South is being built by LiUNA and includes two 30-story towers, 581 residential units and 1,192 square meters of commercial space. Value: $ 140 million.
- 34-story building at 75 James St. S. on Jackson Street East is built by LiUNA, Fengate and Hi-Rise Group and will contain 635 residential units and 390 square meters of commercial space. Value: $ 180 million.
- The 14-story Kiwi Condos on the corner of King William Street and Ferguson Avenue North is being built by Rosehaven Homes and will boast 266 residential units and 493 square feet of commercial space. Value: $ 55 million.
And if all projects awaiting approval go green, 9,400 new housing units and 63,520 square meters of commercial development will be created in the core within a few years.
Is part of them:
- Television city on Jackson Street West and Caroline Street South, a multi-purpose development with two 32-story towers and 642 residential units. Value: not available.
- Modern at King Street East and John Street South, a 36-story mixed-use project. Value: not available.
- Three 30-story towers at 77 James St. N., on the site of downtown Hamilton. Value: not available.
To give an idea of the boom, the sum of all housing units built in the city center in 2011 was 10. Not 10 buildings, 10 apartments. “We’re talking about thousands and thousands today,” Lam said. “It’s the biggest investment, especially in residential housing, that we’ve seen in the city center.”
A bit of general urban history is useful. In the post-war years, the city center was somewhere where the Hamiltons went shopping. But then came the era of suburban growth along with the rise of suburban shopping malls. The flight from the city center was launched. In the 1970s and 1980s, the city sought to bring people back through the construction of Hamilton Place, Copps Coliseum and Jackson Square.
Twenty years ago, the concert hall, sports arena, and downtown shopping mall were separate facilities that didn’t attract much residential development because it was still a bit taboo, said Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger. Public funding was available for the facility, but private funding did not come to residential development to expand it. “You couldn’t get the bank to lend you anything.”
Urban planners now understand that the vibrant core requires people to live there. Entertainment districts or commercial centers alone will not maintain the city center, so about 20 years ago Hamilton began offering a lot of incentives – from interest-free loans to brownfields remediation programs – to attract developers to construction.
A perfect example is the Kiwi Condos in King William and Ferguson, Lam said. “It was considered a brownfield because there was a treatment plant and it was heavily contaminated. She lay there for decades and did nothing. “
But with the help of the city, the place was cleaned and a 14-storey building is now being built.
An even bigger project is Cobalt Luxury Residences in King East and Hughson, the site of the former Delta Bingo, where the two towers will offer 581 housing units. “Interestingly, LiUNA rents, not apartments,” Lam said of the construction. “Rental apartments are in demand in the city center.”
Developers’ interest in downtown Hamilton began to grow about eight years ago as downtown Toronto reached saturation points, Eisenberger said. Several other factors contributed to this shift – including the second GO Transit station in the city center and the promise of light rail transport, making living in the center even more attractive.
Developers have begun to pick up ground in the core, said Jeremiah Shamess, senior vice president of sales at Colliers International, one of Canada’s largest commercial real estate companies, and founder of Colliers Private Capital Investment Group.
Why? As developers seek value in the rapid revitalization of urban centers, Shamess said. Office space in downtown Toronto sells for about $ 1,000 per square foot, but in downtown Hamilton for $ 150. The land itself sells for $ 300 per square foot in downtown Toronto versus $ 50 in Hamilton, he said.
“Hamilton is another Brooklyn,” Shamess said. “It’s not the same analogy because Brooklyn is a little closer to Manhattan than Hamilton to Hamilton, but (Hamilton) is a rougher steel city that has mass, urban structure, street landscape and desirable.”
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