Don’t let Sar­coa be a mis­take by the lake

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

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.

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