IN8 Developments president Darryl Firsten will be the new owner of Hamilton City Centre when the deal closes on Dec. 12. – Cathie Coward,The Hamilton Spectator
Sale of the 3.4-acre site to IN8 Developments expected to close Dec. 12
by Tom Hogue The Hamilton Spectator
A developer plans to knock down Hamilton City Centre mall in stages and build five residential and commercial towers up to 28 floors in a $700-million vision for the aging building on James Street North.
The sale of the 3.4-acre site to IN8 Developments is expected to close Dec. 12, said Darryl Firsten, president of the Toronto-based firm that has a handful of student condo projects underway in Waterloo Region and Kingston.
The private partnership, which includes Harlo Capital and its president Jeff Kimel, has been looking for a Hamilton project of this scope for four years.
“Our core focus is high-density urban intensification outside Toronto — that’s our business model and Hamilton has been at the top of our radar for quite a while now,” Firsten said.
When the City Centre went up for sale last year for $60 million, “we knew we wanted to buy this place, because it required someone who could maybe see more than the mall that’s here today — to see what it could be,” Firsten said, adding that they are buying the building for below the listing price.
He said the deal was expected to close in February, “but we moved it up because we’re ready to roll, we want to start pouring concrete.”
But the wrecking ball won’t be rolled out quite yet. There will be an expected three-year wait for a provincial environmental assessment to be completed on a site plan that could include a convention centre and accompanying hotel, according to Firsten.
“If we can make it fit, we will get some sort of city, public-use amenity in it,” he said. “There was talk of a hockey arena, but I don’t think it fits because of the awkward size of the lot.”
“Three and a half acres is enough space (for an arena), but it’s got a missing piece over here and a triangle of space over there.”
Connectivity to the restaurant and pedestrian stretch of King William is being studied as a concept “to extend a pedestrian thoroughfare through the space — with cool shops and an outdoor-indoor feel about it,” Firsten said, imagining a space “protected from the rain but in outdoor air” that extends to the edge of their property in the approximate location of McNab.
“We’re looking at that connectivity piece for King William to continue,” possibly all the way to Bay, he said.
“McNab is the end of our universe, and the city owns the rest of the real estate after that,” Firsten said.
Hamilton’s economic development office said in a statement that it “welcomes conversations with developers and landowners as they consider the future of their sites,” but has not received any redevelopment plans or applications from IN8.
Before such a vision even begins to take shape, there is the matter of a broken escalator among other issues inside the mall.
“There won’t be an immediate knock-down,” Firsten said. And until approvals are granted, it will be business as usual for tenants such as Abrahim Ibrahim, owner of Halal Meats, who is in the first year of a five-year lease.
“We’re going to keep everyone informed as we go,” Firsten said, acknowledging that most of the tenants have signed a “demolition clause” in their lease agreements that provides for the mall owner to simply give notice in the event of a redevelopment of the space.
“In the interim, we’d like to do a bit of revitalization to the existing mall,” Firsten said, “That’s not our long play — it’s not even our medium-term play — we just want to get the mall running well, get some vacant space leased … clean up a few things.”
The broad vision could take up to a decade and will likely be done in phases.
The exact look and feel of the development is still coming together, but Firsten said the key concept is an “attainable live-work space” — a step above the student condos they have built as part of its Sage brand of buildings in Waterloo Region.
“Residential is our mainstay but there will definitely be commercial elements to it.”
It won’t be the only project IN8 plans for Hamilton. Firsten said they are two weeks away from announcing a deal for a residential-retail space “close to McMaster” that will involve some demolition.
City Centre has been searching for some kind of new vision after entering the world in 1990 as a $70-million project of Cadillac Fairview with Eaton’s as the anchor tenant.
The initial burst of confidence languished after Eaton’s reign ended and high-end merchants, such as clothier Harry Rosen and others, retreated.
Even a Liquidation World left.
Today, over half of the retail space on upper floors of the shopping centre are leased as office space to clients such as the City of Hamilton and the corporate offices of TripCentral.ca.
by Tom Hogue
Tom Hogue is a feature writer and video producer who regularly contributes to the business section of thespec.com and The Hamilton Spectator. He is a recipient of a Western Magazine Award, Ontario Newspaper Awards and was nominated for a National Magazine Award.