What lies ahead for the city’s port lands
IN CONVERSATION WITH IAN HAMILTON
Port authority head shares plans for beautifying its real estate, expanding its reach and preserving natural space
The head of the Hamilton Port Authority says the agency is taking steps to “unlock the gates” of the city’s port lands.
Ian Hamilton, who took over as president in January, said a key message that emerged from the port authority’s land use planning update, launched last summer, was the community’s desire to better understand “what we really do here.”
“Everyone wanted to know what went on behind the gates,” said Hamilton, who previously served as the HPA’s vice-president of business development and real estate.
Just a few months into his new post, Hamilton says the authority is working on initiatives to improve the relationship between local residents and the agency.
He spoke with The Spectator about some of those projects and what’s next for the port authority.
Behind closed doors
Giving local residents a chance to see what goes on at the Port of Hamilton is one way the authority hopes to improve its relationship with the community. To start, Hamilton said they plan to host a couple of free public boat tours on the Harbour Queen and put in an eight- to 10-foot-tall viewing tower near the authority’s new boat storage facility on Pier 15.
The sights would change regularly. Staff at nearby Heddle Marine could be doing repairs on vessels. Sometimes work will be underway on the Randle Reef containment facility. Other times shipping activity might be visible at the Stelco property. But there will always be a view of the water.
One of the areas where the community sought change was at Sherman Inlet — which in 2001 was filled in, illegally, for parking and a storm sewer by the port authority’s predecessor, the Board of Hamilton Harbour Commissioners.
“When we did our first open houses, we heard loud and clear that it was a really important issue, which is why we said let’s address it right now,” said Hamilton.
The port authority has committed to a two-year process to restore the shoreline and to permanently preserve the area as a natural space — something residents have been urging for years.
This comes after the authority unveiled $3-million plans in 2007 to remediate the inlet and allow trail access to the semi-natural area in the east harbour.
“Due to security requirements, we’re going to have to keep it fenced in,” Hamilton noted. “It’s not everything everyone was looking for, but it’s a good compromise.”
The port authority will come up with its own plans and then consult with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to figure out how to move forward.
Work is expected to start at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, he said.
Beautifying the port lands
The authority is taking steps to beautify the edges of the port lands that meet public space.
A pollinator garden has been planted adjacent to the boat storage building near Hillyard Street. It’s the first one — as far as the HPA is aware — planted in industrial Hamilton.
“There’s quite often a collision between Mother Nature and industry,” he said. “This was an important initiative to show we can work with Mother Nature, as well.”
Hamilton said the authority will also be looking for spaces to “green” on port lands, including space along Eastport Drive and Burlington Street.
One finished example is the perimeter around Collective Arts Brewing on Burlington, said port authority spokesperson Larissa Fenn. “It’s not rocket science — it’s some trees — but it makes a big difference,” she said.
The port authority has begun implementing a pilot system to monitor dust, which will help them understand how much is accumulating, pinpoint problem areas and consider how the problem can be addressed.
The authority is working with the Hamilton Air Monitoring Network on its pilot project, which targeted the Eastport area, Hamilton said.
The concern over dust has been heard “loud and clear,” he added, noting the authority will work with community groups in order to reach a “good marriage between industry and residential.”
While the port authority has 630 acres of land, it needs more room to grow, said Hamilton.
“Obviously, we’re watching very closely to see what happens to the Stelco lands as it makes a very logical fit to us,” he noted. “We think we can bring a lot of value to developing those lands into employment lands and a strong tax base for the City of Hamilton.”
Other areas look “fairly insignificant” compared to the opportunity at the Stelco property, but Hamilton said they have their eye on a few other plots of land in the city and surrounding areas.
The lower city is their first priority, but they would look to alternatives — even outside of Hamilton — if they fit within their business model as a “multimodal hub.”
In the meantime, they’re trying to make better use of existing space by finding more efficient storage systems.
The authority is looking into how to address some of the community’s concerns around truck activity at the port, Fenn said.
They have limited influence given that they don’t own the fleets, she added, but are examining whether they can, through signage and education, encourage trucks to use routes like Burlington Street instead of going into the city.
“In some cases, we’re also doing things like bringing roadways internal to the port land so trucks don’t have to go onto city streets.”
Public consultations revealed a desire to see improvements to Fisherman’s Pier around the Burlington Canal.
A recreational-commercial plan could be a “neat opportunity,” Hamilton said, but they’re still in the early stages.
“If a third party says that this would be a neat spot to make an investment in a commercial-recreational way, we would certainly support it,” he added.
Because the ownership of the space is “fragmented,” the authority would have to work with other partners, including the city and the community, said Fenn.
A multimillion-dollar plan for the area to build a smaller version of Granville Island (a Vancouver waterfront development) pitched almost 15 years ago “might be a bit ambitious,” Hamilton said.
Fenn noted that the current thinking centres on how to improve the area based on the ways people already use it, such as for walking and cycling along the waterfront trail.
“There’s a lot we can do to make it a friendlier place for visiting,” she added.
Hamilton is keen to see a Maritime museum come to the city, but the port authority has yet to find the right home and circumstances to make it work.