Aventus Developments and Society Developments state they’ve acquired the Tivoli Theatre property at 108 James Street North and the neighbouring Centre Point Plaza.
The assembly of the two properties gives the developers ownership of the entire north side of Wilson Street between James Street North and Hughson Street North.
Here is a look at what they can theoretically build with the existing zoning following the planning policies of Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan
Existing Restrictive Zoning for the Tivoli
The zoning for the Tivoli site is prescriptive. [By-law 05-200, Schedule C, 451 (on Page 251)]
In 2015, Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr pushed the rezoning through Council, despite planning staff’s recommendation to deny the rezoning application by land speculator Diamante Investments.
The Tivoli site’s zoning is a site-specific exemption to allow for a 22-storey tall building on the James Street frontage of the property (108 James Street North) as an accessory use to the auditorium in the rear portion (111 Hughson Street North). It prohibits the demolition of the existing single-detached house at 115 Hughson Street North.
The site-specific by-law “transfers” the development permissions from the Hughson Street properties to the James Street tower.
“The residential tower is actually an accessory and incidental use to the auditorium,” stated Hamilton’s Director of Planning and Chief Planner Steve Robichaud, in 2015 when the by-law was being finalized.
“If the auditorium was to disappear, then the tower component would no longer be accessory to anything other than a vacant lot. That would remove those zoning permissions for the residential component. They have to have the auditorium in order to get the accessory residential component.”
The principal of Diamante Investments, Domenic Diamante bought the property in a “deal under negotiation [which] would see Hamilton developer Domenic Diamante buy the property from the Hamilton-based Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble, the charity run by his wife, Belma Gurdil-Diamante,” reads a 2013 Hamilton Spectator article. The Ballet originally purchased the property in 2006 for $2.
Centre Point Plaza Zoning
The Centre Point Plaza, 1 Wilson Street, is zoned “Mid Rise” in the Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan with a height limit of 12-storeys. The entire plaza is part of the James Street North Streetscape Culture Heritage Landscape.
As a separate property from the Tivoli site, the site is neither large enough nor deep enough to construct a 12-storey mid-rise within the rules of the Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan (DTSP) and the Downtown Hamilton Tall Building Guidelines.
The plans require 25 metres of separation between tall buildings. Nearly the entire plaza, with the exception of approximately 250 square metres at the eastern end of the plaza bordering Hughson Street North, is within the separation zone of the approved Tivoli tower.
The James Street North Streetscape Culture Heritage Landscape requires a pedestrian-friendly streetscape. 123 James Street North, constructed in 2015, shows how the cultural heritage landscape is applied to new builds.
The landscape envisions stepbacks at the third storey for buildings along James Street North.
The economics are weak to redevelop the plaza into a three to six-storey commercial use with a 250 square metre floor plate mid-rise building bordering Hughson Street North.
The existing strip plaza is fully occupied. Demand for Downtown Hamilton office space is low, with many units vacant.
The 2015 Council Approval Despite Staff Concerns
In 2015, Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr persuaded City Council to waive parts of the Tivoli’s heritage designation to focus on saving the auditorium. The lost historic front lobby would not be restored.
To save the auditorium, Farr stated it was necessary to exempt the Tivoli tower from setback requirements, urban design guidelines, and to accept a narrower lobby to the rear auditorium than the City’s planning staff stated should be required.
“It is the opinion of staff that the design, accompanied with the location of height, scale and massing, serves to erode the existing desirable character pattern and form of the area,” stated City planner Edward John. “Staff maintain that the proposal does not provide sufficient urban design techniques in order to achieve compatible integration with the existing context and character of the area.”
Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins said he had “some questions” about Diamante’s lack of history in developing residential towers.
“Someone has emailed us a couple of days ago to suggest that this might be just about increasing the density on the site,” Collins asked.
Diamante’s architect Drew Hauser stated, “In all honestly, the only thing slowing down this applicant, because they have their financing ready to move forward on components of the project to the best of our knowledge, is our development partner, the City of Hamilton.”
Farr gave private assurances to councillors that the project would be constructed.
During the final meeting to approve his Tivoli tower motion, Farr stated, “much of the correspondence against this proposal are almost taken verbatim from the staff denial.”
Moments before voting for Farr’s Tivoli tower motion, Ward 15 Councillor Judi Partridge stated, “it’s the timing of when this build is going to happen that I am most concerned about. So I’m going to put my confidence in Councillor Farr to stay on top of this.”
The New Owners – Aventus Developments and Society Developments
Society Developments is a Burlington headquartered company with over a decade of experience completing projects in London and Waterloo.
Aventus Developments website is best summarized as a placeholder.
Aventus’ Chief Financial Officer Chris Mlinaric is a Downtown Hamilton resident. He recently attended the Beasley Neighbourhood Association’s video meeting.
Mlinaric was CFO of Vrancor prior to joining Aventus.
What Could Be Built Combining the Properties
As the owners of both sites, Aventus and Society developments can submit a new proposal combining the two properties to potentially build two towers with a connected street-level podium while restoring the auditorium as required by both the zoning and heritage designations.
Before submitting a plan, the owners will meet with the City’s planning staff to understand their expectations. City staff will take the opportunity to understand what the developer desires to build.
This is an opportunity for city staff to address what they stated were shortcomings in 2015. They can seek a three-storey podium instead of a five-storey podium with minimal stepback. A larger more appropriate lobby design and ancillary spaces for the auditorium can be sought from the developer.
The Tivoli tower development rights may be “transferred” between the properties to achieve a new plan.
22-storey slender towers are more costly to construct per square foot than a more traditionally sized building. There are various “sweet spots” for mid-rise and tall building construction.
The Tivoli tower is none of those. The 22-storey plan achieved its purpose, upzoning and land flipping.
Section 220.127.116.11 of the Downtown Secondary Plan states transfers can be authorized to achieve the “provision of at-grade open space,” “retention of existing open space/park areas adjacent to private development,” and “conservation of built heritage resources and cultural heritage landscapes.”
“Extending” the Tivoli residential building onto the eastern portion of the plaza will improve the project’s economic viability by creating a larger floor plate.
An “extension” adds additional underground parking, creates more commercial space, and enables amenities to enhance the restored theatre.
Preserving and enhancing the existing parkette in front of the plaza at James Street and Wilson Street meets these three objectives.
The City and developer both benefit from enhancing this parkette.
A proposal, such as a three-storey podium across the entire site, with setbacks to a mid-rise form between six to ten stories, with increased height in the site’s depth and the corners of the intersection, is possible.
The key to gaining density is how the developers integrate the auditorium lobby into the proposal.
Hamilton’s Design Review recommended that the developers who own the Hamilton City Centre – diagonally across the intersection of James Street and Wilson Street – break up their podium into separate buildings to create a pedestrian-friendly streetscape.
The integration of the auditorium lobby, with a grand street entrance, into a connected podium can achieve the desirable building articulation which the DRP is likely to expect in this project.
In summary, combining the two properties provides a wealth of possibilities for a landmark building with a unique design.
The developers will be able to gain profitable higher density. The community will receive a restored Tivoli auditorium with modern amenities to create a vibrant cultural venue.
This is a project to watch.