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Can the city and port authority work together to pull off bayfront industrial plan?

The city and the Hamilton Port Authority are going to have to mend their relationship if Hamilton hopes to pull off a new strategy to revive the city’s waterfront.
The city is developing a real estate strategy for its industrial bayfront lands. To pull it off, it will have to work with the Hamilton Port Authority, and the two haven't always gotten along. (CBC)

The city and the Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) will have to mend their relationship enough to work together if Hamilton hopes to pull off a new strategy to revive the city's waterfront.

That was the message from at least one councillor on Wednesday as a city council committee discussed the future for Hamilton's bayfront lands.

Despite some recent disagreements that build on a longer history of conflict, a port spokesperson says they can certainly find a way to work together.

City politicians hope to hammer out a new strategy for how to best capitalize on industrial land along the bay. That includes past and present steel-making lands, and other brownfield properties along the shore.

This in many respects is all for naught if the Port continues to buy up land in competition with us and leases it out without any concern.- Coun. Chad Collins

But as the plan unfolds, the city and the HPA will have to work together, said Chad Collins, councillor for Ward 5.

Otherwise they'll just be competing to buy the same land, or building neighbouring developments that conflict with one another.

"This in many respects is all for naught if the port continues to buy up land in competition with us and leases it out without any concern," Collins said.

The bayfront real estate strategy is just the city's latest sweeping plan for areas of Hamilton it hopes to rejuvenate. This one is particularly timely since the future of U.S. Steel is uncertain, and the steel maker owns a giant piece of waterfront land.

The city hired Deloitte Real Estate consultants for the two-phase project. On Wednesday, the consultants said the city will need to buy strategic pieces of property itself and apply for provincial and federal brownfield funding. If the city leads the way, they said, other buyers will follow.

But that will be harder if HPA doesn't help, Collins said. And "we have historically a poor working relationship with our Port partners."

A fractured history

At times, that has been an understatement. In 2003, for example, the city petitioned against a waterfront lease for Bitumar, a company that produces liquid bitumen used in asphalt blends for roads and roofs. The city said the plant didn't fit with Hamilton's new greener, healthier image, but HPA approved the lease anyway.

We want the same thing as the city.- Larissa Fenn, Hamilton Port Authority

More recently, they butted heads over what approvals were needed for the Collective Arts craft brewery. The largest current battle is over the proposed Port Fuels waste gasification plant, which is on HPA land. The city is fighting it.

Collins even moved in April to invite HPA to council to explain why it's "thumbing its nose" at city rules. So far, that hasn't happened.

On Wednesday, councillors heard that the HPA hadn't participated in Deloitte's recent study, although Deloitte vice-president Antony Lorius said he believes HPA was just busy, not reluctant.

Still, that mention grabbed Collins's attention. He moved a motion formally asking HPA to be part of the new bayfront strategy.

'We're happy to participate'

It will, said HPA spokesperson Larissa Fenn in an email on Wednesday.

"We're happy to participate in the bayfront strategy consultation," she said. "We want the same thing as the city: a vision that makes the best, most productive use of the land in the bayfront area, appealing to a variety of employment uses."

The HPA doesn't have much developable land in its current portfolio, she said. Nearly all of its 250 hectares (620 acres) is occupied by active businesses.

Fenn points out that the HPA also agreed to the early termination of its leases on piers 7 and 8. That freed up land the city plans to develop to reshape Hamilton's image.

"At this point, one of the study's preliminary recommendations is that the city and the port should be partners in development," she said. "And that's something we can certainly agree with."

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