Hamilton

City will look for 1 developer for whole west harbour project

It's been touted as a game changer — a project that could change the character of the whole North End. Now the city hopes to put the development of all nine blocks of its waterfront project into the hands of one company.
A view from the west. (City of Hamilton)

It's been touted as a game changer — a project that could change the character of the whole North End. Now the city hopes to put the development of all nine blocks of its waterfront project into the hands of one company.

They'll look at things like 'What's your bank account look like? What's your record of past development like?'"- Jason Farr, city councillor

The city hopes to attract one developer — or consortium of developers — to build all nine blocks of condos and retail space on Piers 7 and 8 in the west harbour.

And while the city will have to be sure that developer is reputable and has deep enough pockets, this will move the project along faster, said project lead Chris Phillips. And it will attract higher quality companies.

There will be an intense screening process, said Jason Farr, Ward 2 councillor. 

(City of Hamilton)

"They'll look at things like 'What's your bank account look like? What's your record of past development like?'" Farr said.

"It would have to be someone with deep pockets and vast, vast experience," rather than someone who just "paints a pretty picture."

Using one developer or consortium cuts down on the danger of Ontario Municipal Board challenges over details such as height and density, Farr said. And such challenges can slow a project for years.

We expect that you would find a different quality of bidder, and it's that quality of bidder we'd be looking for.- Chris Phillips, project lead on the waterfront plan

The city has spent the last 15 years planning what will go on Piers 7 and 8. Now it's closer to reality than ever, and the city doesn't want any unexpected delays.

City council approved an urban design study this year, which followed the already established Setting Sail secondary plan.

A northeast view of Pier 8. (City of Hamilton)

Early next year, the city expects to send out a request for prequalification, then a request for proposals. In early 2018, it will start negotiating with the finalists.

On Nov. 2, city councillors will discuss a real estate strategy around how to find the best bidders. The west harbour subcommittee discussed some elements of that — including the idea of using one developer — at a meeting Tuesday. City staff recommended using one developer, which got a warm reception from councillors.

It's common for such projects to have one developer, Phillips said after Tuesday's meeting. It's happened in Toronto, and Vancouver, and Port Credit, among other cities.

There are developers who would be interested in just one block, he said. But to attract big time interest, national and international developers want to bid on the whole thing.

"We expect that you would find a different quality of bidder," he said, "and it's that quality of bidder we'd be looking for."

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