The new, old Royal Connaught a sign of downtown's revival

Hamilton residents will have the opportunity this week to preview what the city’s manager of urban renewal is calling the “bellwether” for the revival of the downtown core.

First block of condos go on sale this week, set to open in 2016

Hamilton residents will have the opportunity this week to preview what the city’s manager of urban renewal is calling the powerful “bellwether” for the revival of the downtown core. 

Two years in the making, the first block of condos at the old Royal Connaught are going on sale. At a gala event on Wednesday night, guests will have the chance to gawk at the storied former hotel’s restored lobby columns, admire its new crystalline chandeliers, and tour one of the 122 units in the building’s west tower that are about to go on the market.

The development, after the hotel sat for years as a decaying blight on the city's main street, promises to return glamour and activity to the sprawling complex at King East and John and in turn, bring more commerce to the already resurgent downtown core. 

Both from Hamilton, developers Ted Valeri and Rudi Spallacci said their effort to revive the Connaught ​— the downtown jewel-turned-white-elephant that closed its doors in 2004 — ​is no ordinary project. 

“Rudi and I spoke this morning, and we both had a sleepless night,” said Valeri, president of Valery Homes, sitting with Spallacci in the now-sparkling art deco lobby of the old Royal Connaught hotel.

“We poured our hearts into it, but we don’t know what the reactions are going to be from the people,” said Valeri. “But we’re anxious to find out.”

The anxiety, said Spallacci, stems in part from the “emotional” connection that Hamiltonians have with the Connaught, which was built in 1916. 

“When this landmark closed… it put a damper on the mood of the city of Hamilton,” he said.

“Bringing it back, with all of this historical attachment… it’s very, very positive.”

Glen Norton, the city’s manager of urban renewal, agrees. The Royal Connaught redevelopment, he said, is not only a large economic shot in the arm for the core — the restoration of the west tower alone is expected to ring up as a $45-to-$50-million investment — but also a powerful “bellwether” signalling downtown Hamilton’s revival.

There are no more excuses for people to say that the downtown isn’t coming back.—Glen Norton, manager of urban renewal, City of Hamilton

He said he’s heard people groan that they won’t believe “things have turned around downtown until the Royal Connaught is redeveloped.”

Now the condos are on sale and the construction well underway, “there are no more excuses for people to say that the downtown isn’t coming back,” Norton said. There were several false starts along the way, including an ambitious plan by Toronto developer Harry Stinson that fell through. 

Susan Braithwaite, executive director of the International Village Business Improvement Area, said store owners in the area are “beyond excited” about the opening of the first stage of the re-opening of the Connaught. Occupants are expected to move into the complex's west tower sometime in 2016.

Commerce in the area, she said, is already on the upswing, in part because of the opening of the nearby Terraces on King, another Spallacci condo development.

An artist's rendering shows the developers' future plans for the site. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

“It was a real turnaround for our area,” she said. “So we can only imagine what this will do for us.”

The developers’ vision for the Connaught includes renovating the hotel’s west and east towers and building new ones on site. The complex would boast a total of around 700 suites.

In addition, the Connaught renewal is expected to play a key role in the city’s Gore Park master plan. Approved by council in 2008, the project will see the park and sections of the south side of King Street East turned into a pedestrian promenade modelled after a “Victorian carriageway,” said Norton. 

The city is working with Valeri and Spallacci on planning the eastern stretch of the promenade, which is slated to be constructed after 2016. 

“The idea of what we’re trying to do is incorporating that section into the grounds [of the Connaught],” said Norton.

Spallacci said the two developments are mutually beneficial and go “hand-in-hand” with each other. 

“Our's helps the Gore Park and the Gore Park helps our project.”