The Cotton Factory has caught on
Property’s transformation symbolizes a Hamilton in which our history is valued and the future is bright
WE TALK ABOUT our building boom in Hamilton, but The Cotton Factory is something else again — a virtual one-building building boom.
Scratch that. The Cotton Factory is actually six buildings, not just one; a colony of five annexes or outbuildings (dye building, mill building, etc.) clustered around the biggie, which tends to monopolize the eyes in a first look.
The flagship, the central structure with an impressive basilica-like tower, is a big-windowed, bricks-and-mortar citadel of sorts at 270 Sherman Ave. N. From behind its sturdiness, where once textile got spun into ship sails and such, Hamilton could look out onto a secure industrial future.
Well, the future isn’t what it used to be. It’s better, some would say. That tower now symbolizes a Hamilton looking out at different prospects, arming itself for a more cultural commerce in which the studio and the shared space represent alternatives to the shop floor, assembly mill and blast furnace as platforms of production.
And The Cotton Factory restoration — what Rob Zeidler calls “adaptive reuse” — symbolizes a Hamilton in which our old building stock is valued and protected. Not just as functional
space but as “environment,” something that attracts people to the city and helps keep it architecturally oxygenated, so to speak, the past being vital to the future.
Rob Zeidler bought the building (s) in 2014 for just under $5 million.
What he and his team have done in the three years since the purchase is astounding. Room by room, hall by hall, detail by detail, The Cotton Factory is being rejuvenated or, perhaps we should say, reaged, such is Rob’s commitment to restoring over replacing.
This almost didn’t happen. When it was up for sale, says Rob, “they were looking at the possibility that it (would make more financial sense) to demolish the place and sell the wooden beams, when you worked out the numbers.”
But Rob found the magic price. “It was absolutely hand-wringing. What did I get myself into? But it’s been so successful. It’s 95 per cent full.”
When he takes me on a tour of the buildings, I can see what he got himself into — 165,000 square feet of some of the most attractive and efficient space in the city, both by preservation and by redesign.
“One of the first things we did was open up the windows,” Rob tells me. “They’d all been boarded up, like a war zone.”
Now, after being worked up again, the windows are — well, I want to say — transcendent. They are varied in look and scale but mostly they are big, gluttonous for light, and delicately mullioned. The floors are equally beautiful in their own right; together, they set the atmosphere.
Perhaps what’s most impressive is the level of activity. In one building when I was there, David Hind was working on his barn-raising public art project (since installed), 5.5 metres high, in the TH&B Collective space in the old Utility Building. That’s the kind of work The Cotton Factory can accommodate, the buildings have such versatility.
So many tenants, such variety. BlackBird Studios (fashion); web designers; book binders like Lance Cole; Scott Martin’s amazing signmaking operation BrushBoys (he’s done places like The Ship, Brux House, all hand-painted); Lower City Joinery (a complete custom wood shop); Dane Broe’s precast concrete furniture studio; The Mule Spinner, artists; musicians; photographers.
Many of the users operate in cowork or share space studio arrangements. The idea of “factory” is still very much on. There is equipment, process, raw material; it’s just less “mass,” and more “art,” than the steel industry.
The Cotton Factory was pretty busy when Rob took over in 2014 but now it’s replete with the most dynamic energies. And still growing. It’s rooted, in the ground and in the past, and yet something about it reminds me of a bustling space station, in the sky and in the future, full of experiment, challenging Hamilton to rise up and meet its own tomorrow.
Rob Zeidler, pictured above inside the artist co-operative space at The Cotton Factory, bought the Sherman Avenue North landmark for just under $5 million.
A large area on the third floor of The Cotton Factory at 270 Sherman Ave. N. is for rent. A number of tenants share space in the renovated buildings.
The back alleyway at The Cotton Factory still has vestiges of the past.