(Jul 14, 2010) Bob Young is in the process of saving Hamilton from making a major mistake.
That statement should be put in the context of our track record. We have a mostly empty coliseum. We have a mostly empty convention centre. We have a mostly empty Hamilton Place. We have an almost forgotten Football Hall of Fame. We have the elegant Sheila Copps memorial -- aka the Discovery Centre -- at the foot of James Street that is a great place to hold a kids' birthday party, given the absence of visitors. We have a storm water/storm sewer problem that we cannot afford to fix.
And in the midst of all this, one man came into Hamilton with real cash, paid no attention to the fact that the city stadium selection process sidelined him, and hired real experts to help determine where a successful stadium could be built. Every one of those experts said the west harbour site would fail. Ask Michael Fenn where the truth lies.
Anyone who witnessed the anger among drivers at Burlington and Bay streets after the July 1 fireworks knows where the truth lies. The west harbour has horrible vehicle access, even more so after council in 2005 cancelled the Perimeter Road which would have solved that access issue.
More importantly, our site selection process was pathologically skewed when Councillor Chad Collins moved, with no professional input, the elimination of Confederation Park. Unless the provincial government waives all the rules, Hamilton's site selection process to date would never pass the most basic rules of environmental assessment. We had to look at all reasonable sites and Confederation Park is, on many criteria, clearly the best.
What also seems to be missing from the discussion about the west harbour is that the city engaged in a five-year planning process called Setting Sail to determine how to best use the Rheem site and its neighbouring sites. This process combined input from dozens of agencies and local residents. The unanimous conclusion was that housing should be built in the Barton-Tiffany brownfields, not a stadium.
Council approved that conclusion on three separate occasions. That strategy for Barton-Tiffany "urban renewal" is now part of Hamilton's Official Plan. It is the stadium that has no place there.
The best thing that Hamilton's urban core could get is hundreds more families living as close to King and James as possible. Living there 365 days a year, shopping there 52 weeks of the year. Working there year after year. That was the conclusion of the Setting Sail planning process. It is a very sound conclusion.
The problem arises from our municipal addiction to "projects," and specifically to projects in the wrong place. The west harbour is often, mistakenly, referred to as our waterfront. It is not our waterfront. It is a four-block section of shoreline at the edge of two high-density residential neighbourhoods that functions extraordinarily well as it is. It needs no further capital investment to perform a great role for the city.
Meanwhile, Hamilton's real waterfront is virtually abandoned. Our real waterfront lives on the shores of Lake Ontario and stretches for miles from Burlington to Grimsby.
When the discussion turns to what other cities have and have not done with their stadiums, and most successful stadiums are located at the confluence of major public transit, we tend to look for those that are at the host city's waterfront. Like Toronto. But every shoreline city from Kingston to St. Catharines has looked to its Lake Ontario shoreline as its waterfront. That includes Toronto. We are building a $14-million bridge to link our Lake Ontario waterfront to the east end of Hamilton and the Mountain. It is perfectly situated at the intersection of every major expressway in the area. It has incredible visibility. The existing lonely local restaurants would benefit immensely from more restaurants and stores in the area to make it a destination. It is seriously underused.
In this context, one person brought in the expertise needed to give us good guidance. That case was made by Young to the mediator. From the Fenn report it is very clear that the west harbour site will fail.
We simply do not need one more monumental failure on our hands. We have enough.
Young, almost single-handedly, is helping us walk away from making a huge mistake that will cost our future residents for a generation. He needs our gratitude.
Herman Turkstra is a Hamilton lawyer and a North End resident.