Four Tall Buildings Proposed for Hamilton City Centre at 77 James Street North

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HANDOUT/SRM Architects

Proposal rendering for the redevelopment of 77 James Street North in Hamilton as presented to the Hamilton Design Review Panel in July 2020

Four mixed-use tall buildings, primarily residential, with 2,068 dwelling units and 3,067 square metres of commercial space.

If it happens, the redevelopment of the Hamilton City Centre site will be the largest Downtown Hamilton construction projects in 30 years.

IN8 Developments purchased the City Centre property at 77 James Street North last year, and stated in press releases they expected a cost of $700-million to re-develop the site.

They have signed a letter of intent with the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group. Last week, the Precinct Group was awarded operations and leasing of the City of Hamilton’s downtown entertainment facilities and properties.

The letter of intent reportedly includes exploration of the commercial space in this redevelopment being a convention centre.

Hamilton Eaton Centre, as the City Centre was originally known, opened in 1990.

HANDOUT / SRM Architects

Proposal rendering for the redevelopment of 77 James Street North in Hamilton as presented to the Hamilton Design Review Panel in July 2020

Planning and development firm Bousfields Inc and architectural firm SRM Architects are representing IN8 Developments as their development agents. The agents presented the development’s site plan to Hamilton’s Design Review Panel (DRP) on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

Under the Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan, passed by Council in 2018, the proposal fits within the zoning for the site. Meeting the requirements of zoning, the proposal proceeds directly to the Site Plan approval stage of planning approvals. Thus, the City of Hamilton’s Chief Planner Steve Robichaud will determine its fate under the authorities delegated to him by City Council under the Planning Act.

SRM explained the current proposal to DRP. They state it is designed to meet the requirements of Hamilton’s Tall Building Guidelines, including shadowing restrictions and minimum tower separations.

The proposal includes floor plates larger than 750 square meters, and the length of the building faces on James Street North and York Boulevard exceeds 70 metres.

The Tall Building Guidelines state buildings should not exceed these parameters. However, the guidelines state buildings may exceed only when they meet other parts of the guidelines and the intent of planning policies are meet.

The length on James Street is 160 metres, and it is 117 metres on York Blvd.

HANDOUT / City of Hamilton

City of Hamilton staff presentation slide of the elevations of the proposed redevelopment of 77 James Street North as presented to the Hamilton Design Review Panel in July 2020.

DRP was requested by City of Hamilton planning staff to review the proposal for conformity to the intent of the guidelines.

Proposal Overview

Three of the towers are proposed to be 30 storeys tall, at or near the maximum height allowed in Downtown Hamilton (the height limit is equal to the geodetic height of the escarpment south of the site following the street grid), and the fourth tower at the corner of James Street and York Blvd will be 24-storey.

The developers agents state the slightly lower 24-storey height of “Tower 1” is reflective of its proximity to other properties.

When constructed by Cadillac Fairview, the City Centre foundation was designed to carry the load of a mid-to-tall sized building. The exact details of weight bearing ability and where a tall building can be supported on the site are unknown. A recent court ruling involving the property confirmed the “potential to build upon the existing foundation“.

The four towers will be connected by a nine-storey podium. The proposed podium include step backs starting at two storeys along portions of York Boulevard, starting at three storeys along James Street.

The podium does not step-back for “Tower 2” or “Tower 3”. DPR members expressed some concern about this. The architectural firm explained that the building’s design elements will break up the massing of the buildings and provide for a pedestrian friendly sidewalk realm.

HANDOUT / SRM Architects

Site Plan as presented to the Hamilton Design Review Panel in July 2020

The podium will be a mix of commercial and residential space. The exact amount of each is to be determined. Agents for the developer spoke at length about the uncertainties of commercial retail and office demand post-COVID.

The proposal includes what is described as an extension to King William Street.

Prior to COVID the agents say the proposal included restaurant patios between the new development and Jackson Square. The land will be private, and not legally a public sidewalk, and function has a right-of-way connecting James Street to the roof of Jackson Square. The sidewalk would slowly slope to reach the elevation of the Jackson Square roof.

With COVID, the agents say the developer is looking at live-work units along this realm as a possibility.

The agents discussed urban design architectural elements which they state will pay homage to Hamilton’s “landmarks and significant features” including the Skyway Bridge, Chedoke Falls, the old and current city halls, a total of 15 places.

HANDOUT / SRM Architects

Design inspirations for the proposed redevelopment of 77 James Street North as presented to the Hamilton Design Review Panel in July 2020.

DPR Comments

Overall DPR members comments were mixed.

There were many positive statements regarding the intent of the plan.

Critiques were expressed about them bulk of the podium and the ground mass of the building. Multiple members stated they are concerned it will not interact well with the existing character of James Street North – especially the heritage buildings across the road on the east side of the street.

These members stated the area needs an urban design study looking at the overall mega block which also houses Jackson Square and Copps Coliseum.

Many members were critical of the proposal for rushing to be submit prior to the July 1st development charges increase.

“You really haven’t hit any of the marks”, stated DRP panel member architect Colin Berman. “I recommend going back to the drawing board”

The City should study the “de-malling of this block”, Berman added.

He continued “This is just a take take take development” saying it “turns its back on the city”.

Berman recommends the City’s Chief Planner and the developer look to Toronto’s Mirvish Village redevelopment for inspiration stating “it is the perfect precedent … you should be copying”.

Panel member Ute Maya-Giambattista, a Registered Professional Planner (RPP), said the proposal is not pedestrian friendly.

“You have to break the mall”, she told the agents. She cited a lack of connection between Rebecca Street and the Hamilton Farmers Market, stating there should be a pedestrian corridor to break up the bulkiness of the proposal.

Panel member James Webb, a RPP, expressed similar critiques about breaking up the block and making it more pedestrian friendly.

Webb focused upon what he said was a lack consideration of the heritage character on that portion of James Street. Webb was particularly positive about the proposal to create a pedestrian lane-way between King William and the roof Jackson Square.

HANDOUT / SRM Architects

Rendering of proposed redevelopment of 77 James Street North at night as presented to the Hamilton Design Review Panel in July 2020

In summary, the Panel’s feedback focused upon scale and how the buildings will feel to pedestrians at street level.

The zoning under the Downtown Secondary Plan does not set a density limit for tall building sites. The primary constraint on density is a requirement for 0.7 parking spots per unit in buildings with greater than 51 units.

The proposal includes two levels of underground parking, devotes approximately two-thirds of the ground level to parking contained within the podium, and a second level parking within the podium.

Will all zoning requirements met, the application can proceed to Site Plan approval. The City’s Chief Planner then determines if the proposal is approved or if they seek modifications to it.

Based upon the comments from the Panel, one can expect the Chief Planner will request the developer to make modifications incorporating feedback. Previous large development proposals have been brought back to Design Review Panel for a second hearing following modifications.

Due to the time constraints of Wednesday’s hearing, not much discussion occurred about the heritage and unique character features within the existing City Centre. The clock faces within the clock tower were installed in 1888 as part the old City Hall which was on the site. The faces have protected heritage designation.

The public art in the centre atrium of the present mall, the bronze and granite frieze, will be incorporated into the new development.

And an accidental piece of art will also be saved, the forgotten EATONS sign facing south towards Jackson Square from the windowless fourth floor of what was the Eatons department store will be included in the new development. Crews which took down all the other Eatons department store signs after its bankruptcy in 1999 somehow missed this sign.

HANDOUT / SRM Architects

Heritage Features slide for the proposed redevelopment of 77 James Street North as presented to the Hamilton Design Review Panel in July 2020

Due to the meeting being by video conference, it was not possible to interview the developers agents or the Chief Planner.

The City of Hamilton did not post any of the meeting slides to its website, and the City did not release them when requested by The Public Record.

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First published: July 20, 2020
Last edited: July 20, 2020
Author: Joey Coleman

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13 thoughts on “Four Tall Buildings Proposed for Hamilton City Centre at 77 James Street North

  1. I agree – this proposal is bulky and doesn’t factor in that it is THE center point of hte city – and should as a result be the most stunning piece of architecture. I would expect to see a streetline that isn’t made of generic materials but something more heritage centric – maybe even reflective of the ORIGINAL buildings that were here before this area was leveled for jackson and eatons.

    Perhaps they could talk with core urban, who seems to be the professional arm of the heritage building craze downtown right now.

    As it stands, not impressed with the design. Not everything should be a glass modern monstrosity with angles used to be “design features” instead of actual artisan craftsmanship – if our city has learned anything it is that a blend of old and new styles = the most innovative, eye catching and appealing designs in this city, where it feels like the new is erupting out of the old.

  2. Are they crazy? I live across from the City Center, and my beautiful sunsets would be completely gone. Not to mention that do WE really need more huge buildings downtown? As for residential housing, I’m betting they will not be affordable by most people.

    • my beautiful sunsets would be completely gone

      We have a housing crisis and a climate change crisis. Are sunsets more important than making sure Hamiltonians have places to live and our grandkids have a planet? High density construction is green and fights the housing crisis.

      Not to mention that do WE really need more huge buildings downtown

      Yes. If we don’t build more large buildings to target the upper-middle market, the market will gladly renovict grandma to meet that demand.

      • These residential units will not be affordable to the majority. More over priced units ia nor what Hamilton needs

    • Its at Site Plan stage already, only matter of time before your precious view is gone. There is no room for NIMBY in the Hamilton downtown core.

  3. Under the terms of the original commission agreement, the artists for the frieze (Susan Schelle and Mark Gomes) must be consulted about any removal and re-location.

    Opening the development to the street (visual penetration) is good. I am not opposed to high density development as it is a far better approach than squash and spread development. It will be interesting to follow this along.

  4. I am concerned by this proposal. It does not seem to be pedestrian friendly, which is an integral part of the downtown core vision. Back to the drawing board. Hamilton city should stay true to our urban vision, let us focus together on the long term.

  5. I think this is great, Hamilton needs to grow. With our housing market and rental situations, multiple residential towers is a must. On a simplified level, supply and demand. People cannot simply not want Hamilton to grow. We are one of the largest cities in Ontario and our downtown doesn’t show it. People will complain about towers being eye soars and such. Thats what part of being in downtown is. most of our towers are outdated and I think this will give the city a more modern look. I can argue that we would need to keep some of our older architecture, but the City Centre is a very basic piece of architecture. We need to revitalize our city. the more residential towers our city has, the less saturation there is in the housing market. Im sick of every single project being shot down and nothing happening. Look at the growth Mississauga has had in the last 20 years. The city needs updating. These buildings are like nothing Hamilton has seen yet and I think they will do very well at York and James. A large majority of our tallest towers were built in the 70’s and 80’s. Its time for change.

  6. This is great, I fully support the developer on this and will be emailing the Councillor to voice my support. This lands are already zoned for this type of development so all those crying here will just be wasted tears nothing can stop this from happening, even if the City says no they will lose at LPAT.

  7. Looks great. But I ask what’s happening at the other corners old bingo hall and old bank. Are these going to be multitude residential office towers again boxing in the city some more? We have lots of space for development just outside the core.

  8. I am happy to see progressive forward development happen in Hamilton. Taxpayers pay way higher amounts than cities like Toronto and it’s a heavy burden. The expansion and new development of industrial growth in Hamilton like the surge of growth of Hamilton’s airport, the Google towers construction project, the new entrepreneurs willing to risk their livelihoods to create new commerce and create jobs provides a hopeful and encouraging outlook for future generations. Love to see this city aiming for intelligent design and new industry for those willing to work for a better Hamilton.

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