City drafts top-10 list of pub­lic land deals

In­cludes sell­ing land at Wentworth Lodge

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN

The city is pri­or­i­tiz­ing a top-10 list of am­bi­tious pub­lic land re­de­vel­op­ment projects meant to give tax­pay­ers bet­ter bang for their buck.

Coun­cil­lors will dis­cuss a pri­or­ity list for the new mu­nic­i­pal land devel­op­ment task force Wed­nes­day, in­clud­ing high-pro­file ideas like rene­go­ti­at­ing the Jack­son Square land lease, a new tower at City Hall and the ren­o­va­tion or ex­pan­sion of the for­mer Copps Coli­seum (now FirstOn­tario Cen­tre).

In some cases, stud­ies and ne­go­ti­a­tions re­lated to the projects are al­ready well-advanced.

But other ideas are only now be­ing ex­plored — like sell­ing off land con­nected to Wentworth Lodge in Dundas, us­ing un­spec­i­fied city prop­erty to cre­ate a “data cen­tre” or buy­ing a pri­vate Stoney Creek hockey fa­cil­ity to re­place moth­balled city are­nas.

The list is meant to fo­cus on “high­value, chal­leng­ing” pro­pos­als that need ex­tra at­ten­tion from city staff, said rev­enue gen­er­a­tion di­rec­tor John Her­tel.

He noted the list ex­cludes the high­pro­file light rail tran­sit project and

west har­bour pier devel­op­ment be­cause those projects al­ready have ded­i­cated staff teams at­tached.

Over time, the task force is sup­posed to re­view 2,000 city-owned prop­er­ties — par­tic­u­larly va­cant or un­der-uti­lized lands — for the po­ten­tial to raise more cash, cre­ate af­ford­able hous­ing or grow the non­res­i­den­tial tax base.

“This (list) is a start­ing point for us, but it’s cer­tainly go­ing to change,” Her­tel said.

Not all of the listed projects are guar­an­teed to go for­ward, ei­ther.

For ex­am­ple, the project list in­cludes rene­go­ti­a­tion of the city’s land lease for Jack­son Square with an eye to “achieve bet­ter pub­lic space” in and around the mall. But the city has been talk­ing on and off with mall own­ers since 2014 about pos­si­ble changes to the 99-year lease, in­clud­ing an out­right sale of the city’s land rights un­der the build­ing.

A long-awaited needs as­sess­ment on FirstOn­tario Cen­tre, due in March, is sup­posed to weigh the prospects of an even­tual ren­o­va­tion of the for­mer Copps Coli­seum into an NHL-level pro­fes­sional hockey arena. But some coun­cil­lors, like Chad Collins, have ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the prospect of in­vest­ing scarce bud­get dol­lars into “non­crit­i­cal” in­fra­struc­ture projects.

Collins is keener on other listed pri­or­i­ties, like a re­de­vel­op­ment of a city-owned York Boule­vard prop­erty for af­ford­able hous­ing or the prospec­tive sale of un­needed prop­erty at­tached to Wentworth Lodge.

“Af­ford­able hous­ing is sup­posed to be a pri­or­ity for this coun­cil,” he said. “We know gov­ern­ment fund­ing is go­ing to be­come avail­able, so we need to be ready.”

The city is also strug­gling to over­come an an­nual $195-mil­lion in­fra­struc­ture deficit that in­cludes needed re­pairs for ag­ing fa­cil­i­ties like Salt­fleet and Stoney Creek are­nas.

Coun­cil passed a mo­tion last fall to ex­plore the prospect of buy­ing the rel­a­tively new Gate­way Ice Cen­tre in Stoney Creek as a pos­si­ble re­place­ment. But Stoney Creek Coun. Doug Con­ley cau­tioned Tues­day the city is “nowhere near” a de­ci­sion. “It will be some time be­fore we even know if that’s some­thing we want to do,” he said.

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