Could Hamilton be North America's next big tech hub?

 

On Wednesday (Feb. 5), the City of Hamilton's General Issues committee heard from a group interested in building a tech hub in downtown Hamilton.

Paven Bratch, of Metropartners Inc., shared a vision for a state-of-the-art technology hub located on the lands located directly behind Hamilton City Hall.

The proposal, developed in partnership with Lintack Architects, includes one 24-storey tower, one 20-storey tower with an expansive underground parking lot that can accommodate up to 1,500 cars.

It would include ample green space, rooftop gardens, a wellness centre, space for grocery stores, a massive atrium, highschool lab classrooms and internship space.

The plan also allows for an additional 12-storey building that would be reserved for municipal offices.

Bratch says this vision would bring approximately 7,000 jobs to Hamilton.

"Hamilton is a metropolitan city in all but name," Bratch said, pointing out that Hamilton does not currently have any Class A buildings (centrally located, state-of-the-art, accessible and ample) in the downtown.

With Toronto's office vacancy rates hovering around two per cent, developers are looking beyond that city for space to accommodate Canada's burgeoning tech sector, Batch said.

"[Tech workers] make up five per cent of the total employment base in Hamilton," he said. And seeing as how a number of future tech employees are being educated in Hamilton, the city is ideally poised to be the "next big tech hub" in North America.

There is no dollar figure for a project of this magnitude at this point but after extensive consultation with developers, real estate experts and members of the tech sector, Bratch says that the project is "financially viable."

Initially, the concept was submitted to City staff and council in 2016 when at that time staff were directed to seek out a real estate market consultation on the land behind City Hall to feel out what the possibilities would be if the land was put up for sale.

At the time, the staff reviewed concepts put forward by five different parties.

GM of Planning and Development, Jason Thorne, explained that when those concepts came forward, staff were not given direction and the consultation was put on hold because the City then underwent an accommodation review.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger called the plan a "brilliant vision," and praised the net-zero component and the potential for increased municipal office space "quite spectacular."

Other councillors expressed their appreciation of the vision but many had reservations about selling the land behind City Hall (which is owned by taxpayers).

Bratch said, should the process move forward, their group would be interested in exploring potential lease agreements.

Others were also concerned that the council was looking at a proposal from just one proponent. Many felt that if they were to entertain this proposal, they should open the process up to others.

By the end of the delegation, the GIC directed staff to explore the feasibility of a tech hub in Hamilton and explore the potential sale or long-term lease of the property behind City Hall.

A report is expected back by September 2020.

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