Don’t let Sarcoa be a mistake by the lake
THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW
Few things bug a devoted Hamilton booster like a missed opportunity. And that’s what the waterfront restaurant location Sarcoa looks like right now.
Under sunny blue skies, amid events like the recent Tall Ships visit, the prime real estate of Sarcoa’s waterfront sits idle for the most part. Instead of the opportunity to buy food and refreshments, waterfront visitors are treated to a locked down façade. Not good for anyone’s business. Not good for tourism. Not good for conventions. And certainly not good for Hamilton’s collective psyche, which is been riding high on successive wins in the city’s renaissance.
This editorial isn’t about who is right or wrong in the dispute between the owners of the restaurant, the Waterfront Trust, effectively the city’s agent, and city hall itself. The operators claim they were promised the ability to have weekend dance parties with the requisite outdoor music. Neighbours and the city claim that violates noise bylaws.
There are now competing legal actions, with the operators driving a $15-million legal battle, and the Trust responding by terminating Sarcoa’s sublease for allegedly breaching lease conditions and falling behind in rent to the tune of $226,000.
We don’t know who’s right and wrong, and neither do you. The participants will have to work through an expensive and lengthy legal process to determine that.
Yes, Sarcoa is just one business. Its borderline failure should not reflect badly on the overall success of so many other Hamilton success stories. But, like other landmarks — the Lister Block and former Connaught Hotel are two examples — the Sarcoa property is more than that, at least symbolically. It should have been a shining example of what can be accomplished on a revitalized waterfront. Instead, it looks and feels like a mistake by the lake.
Hamilton has no shortage of armchair quarterbacks who love to point fingers. Many are being pointed at the Waterfront Trust. There are troubling questions, to be sure. How could the Trust have signed an agreement that can be interpreted as giving special privileges to one business to operate outside noise bylaws? Perhaps that’s not what happened, but it’s certainly what the operators think happened. At minimum there was a troubling lack of clarity and mutual understanding on the part of both parties to the lease. And on the Trust side, that doesn’t bode well for an agency expected to effectively shepherd waterfront development going forward.
There’s no fast-tracking this now. All we can do is hope all parties work expeditiously to let interested, capable operators reopen the two hospitality facilities on the site. Hamilton needs them up and running. It doesn’t look like that will happen this summer. But let’s get this dealt with before prime time next year.