Vietnamese developer hangs lanterns to celebrate new tower at James Baptist site

In some ways, the lanterns that front the old James Baptist church site are a metaphor. For years now, the site has been in the dark, and soon, there'll be a 30-storey condo tower there.
Clifford Rose, Mountain resident, checked out the lanterns on his way to the YMCA. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

In some ways, the lanterns that front the old James Baptist church site are a metaphor. For years now, the site has been in the dark, and soon, if new plans work out, there'll be a 30-storey condo tower there.

Hue Developments, a Vietnamese developer, has strung 30 metres of red lanterns at 98 James St. S. to celebrate the lunar new year.

Soon, the company promises, it will hold an official launch for its project. In the meantime, it wants people to walk through this tunnel every evening in February and take pictures with the hashtag #hammerhues.

The company wouldn't talk Tuesday about the actual development planned for the corner of James and Jackson. It would only say the lanterns represent a "fresh start."

City planning documents lay it out anyway. The development will be 30 stories, much like its failed predecessor, The Connolly, was supposed to be. 

The lanterns run the length of the property on James Street South. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It will have commercial space on the ground floor, and two patios, one for 61 people and one for 19. A recent planning application specifically says there won't be a dance club there.

The plan is to have 315 condos on the upper floors, up from the 269 planned for The Connolly. It includes some higher building points a little closer to the street. It also includes even less parking than The Connolly planned — 0.36 parking spaces per unit, down from the 0.47 approved — using a car stacker.

Hue Developments and Investments Canada has applied for a minor variance for these changes, which Hamilton's committee of adjustment will ponder on Feb. 21.

Whatever goes there, it will be overdue. 

Ryan Gaspari walked his dog through the 30-metre tunnel. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It's been five years since Louie Santaguida and his company Stanton Renaissance demolished two-thirds of the James Street Baptist Church, which was built in 1878. Many heritage advocates opposed that, but Santaguida said the church was crumbling and had to come down.

Stanton Renaissance left the front third of the church standing, leaving the rubble from the rest trailing behind. In 2017, the project went into receivership, abandoning many buyers who'd wanted in on Hamilton's downtown boom. Hue bought the land last year.

Jason Farr, Ward 2 (downtown) councillor, talked up the Stanton Renaissance project too. But this time, Farr said, it's different.

On the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange, Hue is traded as the Hoa Binh Corporation (HBC). As of the 2017 annual report, Hoa Binh had 77 projects in the works in 40 Vietnamese provinces and three countries. It also had the equivalent of $73,370,871 Canadian in equity.

This is the company's first foray into Canada.

The lanterns are to celebrate the lunar new year, and a new start to the former James Baptist site. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"I'm feeling very confident," Farr said. "We're about two months away from everybody celebrating the reality of this."

Those strolling under the lanterns Tuesday were intrigued by that reality.

"It'll be interesting, certainly," said Mountain resident Clifford Rose, who was headed to the YMCA.

Ryan Gaspari, who lives nearby on King Street, said the area needs some nice architecture.

As for the lanterns, "it's awesome," he said. "I'm going to walk through a lot more."


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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