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Reviving Hamilton’s Heart

May 21, 2014
By Leah Wong

Every city has a central gathering space and historically in Hamilton that space has been the Gore Park promenade.

While over time it has lost its reputation as being the central gathering space, plans for a new pedestrian initiative will revitalize the iconic space.

The Gore Pedestrianization Project aims to revitalize the promenade located along King Street East between James Street South and John Street South. Currently home to a fountain and a cenotaph, design details include additions to Veteran’s Place, restoration of the fountain and clock, and raising the roadway so it is flush with the streetscape. The first phase of the project will be constructed this year, while the final phase is anticipated around 2018.

Phase 1 of the project, known as Veteran’s Place, is located between John Street and Hughson Street and is the gathering spot for Hamilton’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony. The
area will gain a memorial wall and smaller enclaves, which is part of the community’s desire to continue to memorialize service to community and country.

“I think it’s going to accelerate the revitalization that we’re currently seeing in our downtown,” Hamilton urban renewal manager Glen Norton told NRU.

“Particularly along that four-block stretch of King Street.”

The pedestrian project came out of a 2008 review of the downtown transportation network, said landscape architectural services supervisor Le’ Ann Sealy. The first stage following the review was to relocate buses that idled around the park to a new multi-modal terminal. The second was the promenade design, which came out of public consultations. The third, a summer 2012 pilot project in collaboration with the Downtown Hamilton BIA, called the Gore Park Promenade, was to determine how the space would function.

The third phase of the project is scheduled in line with the opening of the Royal Connaught
development, another significant area improvement. Hamilton developers Spallacci Group and Valery Homes are working together on the condominium, which will add 700 new units to the downtown core.

“It’s an emotional as well as an economic step forward for us,” said Norton. The 98-year-old former hotel was previously the event space of choice for high school graduation parties, weddings and business receptions, creating an emotional connection for people that grew up in the city.

Spallacci Group president Rudi Spallacci said that while the former hotel has been vacant for 10 years, when it was open it was the heartbeat of downtown Hamilton.

“In the last five to six years the core has come back to life and bringing the grand old lady back is part of bringing the heartbeat back to Hamilton,” he told NRU.

The first two phases of the project focus on redevelopment of the old hotel, while the final three phases comprise new construction. It is expected that the first residents will be able to move into the building in spring 2016.

Norton said that the Royal Connaught is the biggest project that downtown Hamilton has seen for many years.

“[The condominiums] are really going to help the rebirth of the downtown core, because we’re going to be bringing in people,” said Valery Homes president Ted Valeri.

The two projects complement each other. The more the city invests in the downtown, the more it will encourage the private sector to invest in downtown developments. And the more private development in the area, the more Gore Park will be revitalized, explains Renew Hamilton director Richard Allen.

With more people moving into condominiums downtown, there will be an increased desire to have entertainment, restaurants and employment nearby. The Royal Connaught development will add 700 units on its own, driving the need for services and employment opportunities close by. This could help lower office vacancy rates, which Norton said currently sit around 13 per cent.

“[Gore Park] has many commercial spin-off s,” Richard told NRU. “Although it’s for the public and serves as a public gathering space, all the spin-off s that happen are very advantageous to the developer community.”

It’s anticipated that investments in the Royal Connaught condos and the revitalization of the Gore Park will fuel further developments in the area.