Five (more) things downtown Hamilton needs

Downtown dwellers finally got their grocery store this week. Now that residents can pick up orange juice on the way home from work, what else does the city's core need?
Downtown Hamilton from high up above. (Terry Asma/CBC)

If you need to pick up the fresh basil you forgot for tonight's dinner on the way home from work, downtown dwellers can fret no more. There is a full-service grocery store in the core.

After 3 years of the city and Jackson Square's intrepid managers working to attract a supermarket, Nations Fresh Foods has arrived and it is packed.

But the arrival of a downtown grocery store where residents can pick up anything from peking duck-to-go to a box of Corn Flakes begs a very good question: What else does downtown Hamilton need?

CBC Hamilton asked business owners and downtown community members for insight and narrowed it down to five necessities to encourage growth and revitalization in the heart of Hamilton.

More places to live

Right at the top of Kathy Drewitt's list for downtown Hamilton is more residential options. The executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) admits she has "big dreams and goals for downtown," but this one is a catalyst.

"If we can get more components to bring residential units downtown and allow people to love downtown, that will escalate some of the other projects that will move forward from there," she said.

An example is the condo development to come in the former Connaught Hotel on King Street East and more projects "we'll hear about in the upcoming months," Drewitt said.

The historic Connaught will be transformed into condos. (Terry Asma/CBC)

And then there is fixing residential spaces downtown already has and making attractive and functional spaces. Hollie Pocsai co-owns White Elephant on James Street North. She thinks downtown needs more live/work spaces created from vacant buildings.

 "A lot of apartments above storefronts are vacant," she said. "I think more than anything, we need people living here and then we can work on what amenities we need."

Better shopping for women

And for techies and artists.

The number one demographic represented in the downtown workforce are young, professional females. Sixty per cent fall into that category, said Glen Norton, the city's director of urban renewal.

Strategically speaking, Norton said to keep the largest workforce demographic downtown, and to attract them to live there if they don't already, the city needs to appeal to what that 60 per cent of young, professional females needs and wants.

"Clothing [retailers] in general. Women's specifically," Norton said. "We don't have men's, women's or children's clothing well represented downtown."

Stores that cater to home decor or bath and beauty products are also at the top of retailers-to-attract list.

"Things that at lunch or after work, they don't have to to head out another community or mall to pick up," Norton added.

Of course, the all-encompassing department store would do the trick.

The other demographic that is changing downtown as more professionals move in, Norton said, is the presence of creative industries. Store like Apple or electronic stores would be a draw for both their work and their lifestyle, he said.

To attract those retailers, Norton said the city is working with downtown building owners and the BIA and offers grants or incentives, like the Commercial Façade Property Improvement Grant Program.

"We've got lots of good coffee shops, lots of good restaurants, lots of good cultural events. We're needing more of the things people who are working downtown or living downtown need to buy for their everyday life," Norton said.

A mid-sized music venue

Your average indie band, the type that is too small to fill Copps Coliseum or Hamilton Place, but too big to play The Casbah, doesn't have a performance home in Hamilton. Downtown needs a venue to fix this, said Mark Furukawa, owner of Dr. Disc at Wilson and James streets and a downtown resident.

"It would be good for tourism, it would increase the calibre of bands that promoters can bring in," he said of a potential 400-500 seat downtown venue.

Dr. Disc's Mark Furukawa says downtown needs a mid-size venue, smaller than Copps Colliseum, to attract more live music. (Terry Asma/CBC)

Furukawa might be on to something. The Ontario government announced on May 1 the Ontario Music Fund, making live performance and marketing and promotion of artists a provincial tourism priority.

"There are a lot of bands we miss out on because they see Hamilton as a secondary market," Furukawa said.

A hardware store

"What if you need a hammer? Where would you buy a hammer in the core?"

Paul Wilson, CBC Hamilton columnist and long-time resident currently living in downtown, asked this important question.

"If you're trying to have people live downtown, [a hardware store] is something you need," he added.

Wilson is looking for something smaller and a better fit than a big box, but bigger than a mom n' pop shop to serve those buying downtown condos and fixer-uppers. He recalls good-sized hardware stores on Locke and Dundurn streets that no longer exist, leaving a gap for people in the market for nuts and bolts, and hammers of course.

"We need a Home Hardware right in the heart, in Jackson Square," he said.

A facelift

Hamiltonians flock to Gore Park during summer months for the Gore Park Promenade, a three-times weekly gathering with food trucks, vendors and bands that shuts down the south side of King Street East from James to Hughson streets to car traffic. The popularity of this pilot project, said Kathy Drewitt, that adds vibrancy to this main artery shows it should be a permanent fixture.

The Gore Master Plan is a $6 million initiative that will redevelop the south side of King Street from James to Catherine streets making it pedestrian-only, add monuments of local fallen veterans and incorporate outdoor patios to restaurants and bars. Drewitt said the BIA supports to plan, but the city hasn't funded it yet.

Along James Street North, Morty Morgenstern, owner of his family clothing store Morgenstern's, said little things like cleaning up the street, adding some garbage receptacles and minor cosmetic changes would make a big difference in changing the perception of downtown and bring more people in.

"If the city can clean the street up and make it more attractive, that would help," he said.

Honorable mentions:

Better ways to get around

All Day GO train service, biking lanes and better public transit options for getting people to and from the core would have an immense effect on attracting people to live and work downtown and bring more retailers in, Drewitt said.

An educational institution

"A downtown campus here so we get the spending from students, the vitality of the students, we get more students living downtown which leads to vitality and safety on the streets when you have more people on the streets," Glen Norton said.

This one is underway — McMaster University is slated to open a downtown medical school campus in 2014 for 4000 students.


Hamiltonians have already seen shovels in the ground with several hotels in the core in the past few years, with the next new hotel, Homewood Suites by Hilton under construction now at Main and Bay streets. But, Drewitt said, the core needs more beds to attract large conferences and bring more tourism downtown.

What other amenities  or services do you think Hamilton's downtown needs to take the next step in its renewal? Post on twitter or facebook.