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Big plans loom at old knitting mill
Unique partnership promises
new life for derelict building
A vacant former knitting mill in
Hamilton’s poorest neighbourhood is the first purchase of a
unique partnership between the
city and a private equity company.
Hamilton Realty Capital Corporation bought the Cannon Knitting
Mills at Mary and Cannon streets
in the Beasley neighbourhood for
an undisclosed price in January.
Environmental assessments and
rezoning applications are under
way as the developer and a team led
by local architect David Premi determine the best and most feasible
uses for the property.
Those possibilities include residential, retail, office space, artists’
studios, museum space, a postsecondary campus or maybe a mix
of all of that.
The 110,000-square-foot building is a complex of about five
structures built between 1854 and
1950. It had been up for sale for
$800,000 for a number of years,
and while several investors from
Toronto came to take a look, for
various reasons — the scale and
condition of the building, potential environmental problems, the
nearby Good Shepherd building,
the traffic hurtling by on Cannon
— they all shied away.
The owners of the mill, L & S Realty, hinted that taxes, insurance
and utilities might leave them no
choice but demolition, says Glen
Norton, acting manager of the
city’s downtown renewal division
and manager of HRCC.
“We urged them not to do that
and quite rightly they said, ‘Put
your money where your mouth is.’”
HRCC, which is backed by Forum
Equity Partners, a Toronto-based
private real estate developer,
wanted to keep the purchase quiet
until they had a plan worked out for
the building’s future, but the deal
hit Hamilton news blog Raise the
Hammer this week.
“We want this to be a catalyst …
but we have to find the right solution,” said Norton. “We are starting to look at … what makes sense
for the community, what can we
afford to do.”
Paul Sousa, chair of the Beasley
Neighbourhood Association, says
the knitting mill is critical to the
area and there were fears that the
building could be lost, perhaps to
neglect or to fire, but “I was confident somebody would recognize
the jewel that it is.”
Now he dreams of a restaurant
with a patio looking over the adjacent Beasley park, shops and
mixed rent housing. The massive,
three-storey structure is dotted
with broken windows and littered
with pigeon droppings inside. water damage has caused the wood
floors to buckle and paint flakes to
fall from the wooden ceiling.
But the space inside is enormous,
well lit and wide open — perfect for
urban condos or office space —
broken only by thick Douglas fir
The imprints of knitting looms
are still visible in the worn floors
upstairs. There are numerous
wood freight elevators and those
rolling steel fire doors so prized in
retrofitted buildings.
Everywhere he looks, Norton
sees opportunity. A boiler room
surrounded by thick brick walls
and concrete floors is the perfect
spot for a microbrewery featuring a
tasting room and sandwich bar.
The most impressive part is a
long atrium-type space down the
centre of the structure. It was once
Hamilton photographer and Beasley resident Lorne Chesal plans to document the transformation of the
Cannon Knitting Mills. His photos can be seen at
the area where fabric was dyed. It’s
almost churchlike with wood
beams criss-crossing the soaring
ceiling and windows circling the
Whatever the end use is, it has to
be viable, says Norton. The city
lent HRCC $2 million from the Future Fund to get started and Forum
is not in the game to lose money.
HRCC, which aims to leverage
$40 million of investment downtown, is entirely owned by Forum
president Richard Abboud. Yet
while the city has no stake in the
company, it gets 50 per cent of the
vote on projects to tackle. Abboud
is reluctant to offer timelines or the
level of investment the project will
entail. He’s never ventured into a
restoration before, usually partnering with municipalities and
governments to build court houses, detention centres, arts venues,
mixed use housing, schools and
public buildings.
Forum’s most recent project is a
$225 million town centre in Or-
leans, Ont., featuring an arts and
cultural centre, a hotel, office
buildings, retail and commercial
space, a seniors’ home, housing
and green space. Abboud says his
company is “bullish on Hamilton”,
especially if light-rail transit and
all-day GO trains materialize.
Little is known about the history
of the mills, says architect Premi.
There is legend that the oldest part
of the building was once a hotel.
Over the years, Cannon Knitting
made hosiery, school curtains,
bedding for hotels and milled cotton into bolts.
“This was the economic engine
at one time of this neighbourhood,” he said. “It was a provider
for Beasley and beyond. The whole
idea of transforming it back to
something that can act as an economic engine and restore its purpose is exciting and meaningful.”
Premi says the community will
have plenty of say in what happens
with the building. At a recent design workshop, neighbours
Business group slams political ‘disconnect’
Hamilton’s business leaders say a
lack of political support is hobbling efforts to revive the city’s
In a meeting with The Spectator’s editorial board Wednesday,
members of the business lobby
complained they’re not getting the
support they need from city council on crucial issues such as the
light rail transit proposal, all-day
GO service and efforts to attract
new employers.
“We just don’t appear to have any
champions,” said Doug Duke, executive officer of the HamiltonHalton Home Builders’ Association. “We have to act like a city that
deserves these things and right
now we don’t have the political will
to go and get them.”
Hamilton Business Leaders
brings together the heads of the
Chamber of Commerce, home
builders, realtors’ association and
airport to push a jobs and prosperity agenda for the city. They argue
city councillors should use that
lens in looking at every decision
they make.
“There appears to be a real disconnect between the business
leadership and council right now,”
said Ross Godsoe, CEO of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington. “We just don’t see these
issues being championed by city
“It’s a tough job for us to even get
a meeting with the mayor now,” he
The last time the business group
met with Mayor Bob Bratina was in
November, just after the municipal
election. They’re not scheduled to
get together again until July 21.
Bratina “flatly rejected” the
group’s contentions.
The most recent example of that
disconnect, the business group
said, is a decision this week to increase industrial development
charges by almost 60 per cent over
18 months. The proposal to hike the
fees to $10.58 per square foot,
higher than the $8.85 recommended by city staff, means the
levies in Hamilton will be among
the highest outside the Greater To-
103.03 US
1.401 Cdn
ronto Area, a fact the business
group fears will drive new jobs
away from Hamilton.
The plan was approved by the
city’s general issues committee
Monday but city council voted
against the proposal Wednesday
night, opting for the phased-in
“Obviously this proposal … is a
huge challenge for us and sends a
very bad message out,” Duke said.
“I just don’t know why you would
dismiss the staff numbers and introduce a new number that puts us
at the top of the grid.
“You have to ask at what point do
we price ourselves out of the market?” he added. “This could really
affect a decision to locate in Hamilton.”
The business leaders added they
feel the same lack of support from
council and the city’s MPPs over
the drive to get all-day GO service
and a LRT system built here.
“Our political leaders have to
play politics in Toronto for Hamilton,” Duke said. “So far we haven’t
received any feedback to say this is
even a priority.”
The business leaders group
pushed their agenda through the
municipal election last year, this
year’s federal election and will argue their case again during the
provincial election set for October.
thought it should include retail, a
coffee shop, perhaps a community
kitchen or arts school.
Neighbour Bob Ralph, who owns
an immaculate two-storey stone
house across the street, just a year
or two younger than the knitting
mill, is thrilled to learn there are
plans to revive the building.
“This city is a jewel. People don’t
see that, but I see how the city is
moving forward,” said Ralph.
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Inflation spike
adds pressure
for rate hike
Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina rejected the business group’s assertions.
“Our goal is to hold everyone’s
feet to the fire and try to move this
city ahead,” Godsoe said. “Our
agenda is still centred around the
opportunity for jobs and prosperity.”
In an interview, Bratina said the
city’s current unemployment rate
of 5.4 per cent shows the economy
is performing well and that shows
the city is on the right track.
On the thorny transit issues, he
said he’s fully supportive of expanded GO service, but has reservations about the LRT plan.
He also doesn’t think there’s
wide public support for the plan.
“We still haven’t figured out
what all the costs of that are going
to be,” he said. “We’re not hearing
any kind of clamour from the public on that file.”
The mayor also defended the development charge issue, noting
Hamilton’s charges “aren’t out of
line” with the levies in neighbouring municipalities and even with
the increase the city is still attractive to investors because of reasonable land costs and ready access to
a pool of workers. “It’s hypocritical
of them to talk about Code Red and
helping people while raising taxes
to pay subsidies to corporations
that want to locate here,” he said.
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Higher development fees are coming, just not so soon
City council has backed off plans to
dramatically hike industrial development fees, opting for the phased-in
schedule of increases previously
suggested by staff.
New industrial development
charges of $8.85 per square foot will
take effect in 2013, up from current
fees of $6.65 per square foot. Staff
will report back on the impact of the
change — and prospects for another
increase — before 2013.
That’s a step back from an ambitious, surprise motion proposed by
Councillor Brian McHattie Monday
that would have seen fees rise al-
The exterior of the cotton mill has
seen better days.
most 60 per cent over 18 months to
$10.58 per square foot.
That proposal prompted business
leaders to warn that council risked
scaring away potential new manufacturing companies and jobs.
“This is going to encourage people not to develop industrial land in
Hamilton,” John Iannuzzi, a member
of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington, said just before
Wednesday’s meeting.
Other councillors and city staff
members echoed that fear.
Tim McCabe, economic development and planning general manager,
TSX 60
told councillors Wednesday he was
“in shock” at the prospect of raising the fees to $10.58 so quickly.
“That just isn’t going to work,” he
said. “We believe in a philosophy of
a phase-in.”
McHattie, who pitched the higher
fee hike, said he objects to ratepayers having to “eat” the $9-million
shortfall in growth-related costs.
Council voted 11-5 in favour of the
phased-in fee increase amendment.
A special meeting will be required
Monday to pass the related bylaws.
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S&P 500
OTTAWA F Canada’s annual inflation rate jumped to the highest
level in eight years last month, rising to 3.7 per cent as big increases
in gasoline prices pushed the index
to a new post-recession peak.
On a month-to-month basis,
consumer prices rose by a significant 0.7 per cent in May from
where they were in April, Statistics
Canada reported Wednesday.
The magnitude of the increase
was unexpected. Economists had
predicted it would stay at 3.3 per
cent for the third straight month.
The surprisingly strong increase
in prices paid by consumers present the Bank of Canada with a dilemma less than three weeks before its governor and his deputies
meet to set short-term interest
rates for the country.
Market reaction following the
Statistics Canada report suggested
the chances of a rate hike — if not
July 19, then possibly in early September — had increased.
The Canadian dollar rose more
than a penny against the U.S.
greenback Wednesday and traded
above $103 cents US for the first
time in a week.
But analysts were not convinced
Bank of Canada governor Mark
Carney will be spooked enough to
risk further depressing a weak
economy by raising the cost of borrowing. For one thing, Carney had
warned as far back as April he expected inflation to push above
3 per cent during the spring.
For another, most of the increase
is attributed to one cause — petroleum-based energy prices.
Statistics Canada noted that
gasoline prices were 29.5 per cent
higher in May than they were a year
earlier. Gasoline in May was just
below the record high reached in
July 2008 just prior to the economic meltdown. Excluding gasoline,
the annual inflation rate would be
2.4 per cent.
The Canadian Press
1,510.40 US
+10.20 US
94.77 US
+1.88 US
THE MARKETS I TSX boosted by stronger-than-expected inflation, Greece austerity bill passes I Full stock listings on Go 16
For the third consecutive day, the TSX closed higher.
The Greek government passed its austerity bill, which paves
the way for the country to get its next series of vital bailout
loans. Traders breathed an initial sigh of relief and will now
watch to see what happens next.
However, the post-recession peak in the inflation rate could
put pressure on the Bank of Canada to take a more hawkish tone
in its next interest rate announcement.
— The Canadian Press