There’s a stretch of Barton Street along the north end of Hamilton that’s blanketed with vacancies.

There are long-untouched storefronts that once held vibrant businesses. Large swaths of neighbourhood stores are empty.

For more than a year, the city has been working on a plan, known as the Barton Street-Kenilworth Avenue Commercial Corridors Study, to boost business along Barton Street and Kenilworth Avenue. On Thursday, the city's general issues committee received the plan.

Ron Palmer of Planning Partnership, a planning and land use consulting group hired to work on the project, offered councillors a number of ways to turn the area around. Palmer cited plenty to love about Barton and Kenilworth. Both corridors have plenty of open spaces, as well as libraries, a hospital and other assets. 

"It's got good bones," he said.

The network of streets are a good foundation for complete streets, he said, and the communities there are enthusiastic, stable and engaged. The challenges are vacant and underutilized buildings, low-density and car-oriented areas and landlords who illegally convert former storefronts to apartments. 

The corridor study was done with a team of four consultants and numerous community groups.

Here are some of his suggestions:

1. Encourage banks to ease up on the area.

Home and business owners living along Barton and Kenilworth have a hard time getting insurance or financing through lenders. There’s not much the city can do about that, Palmer said. But it could “inform these institutions that there’s something good coming, and that they need to promote that.”

2. Make the streets complete.

Barton Street in particular is historically designed to whisk industrial workers through the area in cars, Palmer said. But it’s holding back modern-day Barton and Kenilworth, which would benefit from gentler traffic and bike lanes.

The city should do a traffic management study to make sure the area is pedestrian and cyclist friendly. “Right now, it’s about getting people through Barton quickly, and that’s not necessarily a good objective.”

3. Give developers and business owners more incentive.

The city could encourage development along the strip by being more lenient with development charges and planning application fees, Palmer says. It could also boost the housing loan and grant program for people wanting to make improvements.

4. Lessen red tape.

The city should establish a SWAT team to help developers wanting to improve the stretch to swiftly move through the city’s labyrinth of approvals, Palmer said. That includes helping them move through the development process faster, and help them get business licences.

5. Offer free parking.

Parking, both on the street and in municipal lots, should be free for up to three hours, Palmer said. The city should also end on-street parking prohibitions during peak hours. The goal is to encourage people to stop.

6. Educate absentee landlords.

One of the issues with the area’s derelict buildings is that its owners are nowhere to be found, and they let their buildings crumble. It’s such a challenge, Coun. Sam Merulla said, that he wants to expropriate a block of properties on Barton and build affordable housing there. “I’m giving notice,” he said.

The city needs a “very significant education program” for absentee landlords, Palmer said. “Advertise directly to them about the potential of the incentive programs that exist.” Sadly, though, “you can’t do much more than that” to get them to use the programs.