On the waterfront

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Kevin Werner, Mountain News

(Aug 4, 2006)
Maybe one of the reasons this year's mayoral election is as dull as your mother-in-law, could be because there is no sexy issue for politicians to ride.

Unlike the campaigns in 2000 and 2003, there is definitely an issue vacuum to the 2006 election .In 2000, amalgamation dominated the political landscape, while the 2003 election became a referendum on the Red Hill Creek Expressway. A few politicians, though, are attempting to make redeveloping the waterfront into Hamilton's next great project.

To be sure, over the last six years there has been a renaissance to Hamilton's waterfront with Bayfront Park, Pier 4 where the Marine Discovery Centre is located, and the HMCS Haida. The Waterfront Trail, Williams Coffee Pub, boat tours, and red trolleys are more in an Alice in Wonderland oasis, imprisoned by a Lord of the Flies environment.

Hamilton councillor Bernie Morelli wants to change that.

The veteran politician, who represents the ward that includes Burlington Street, is devoting his municipal re-election campaign to eliminating the ugly waterfront scene that greets people as they reach the apex of the Burlington Skyway. The first thing visitors see of Hamilton, he says, is not the bright lights and big city of an emerging 21st city, but are instead slapped in the face by a putrid smell, stinging eyes and a vision of Dante's Inferno.

"I hate it," said Mr. Morelli.

"I want to put up a big neon sign that tells people 'This is Not Hamilton.'"

As people drive along the Queen Elizabeth Way, they get an eyeful of Bitumar and its asphalt tanks, a parking lot filled with Recreation Vehicles, piles of dirt and green brackish water.
"It's terrible, simply terrible," said Mr. Morelli. "I'm not trying to move anybody out. But something has got to be done."

He says the city has a golden opportunity to make a spectacular Gateway entrance to the city as the Red Hill Creek Parkway is connected to the QEW.

Other politicians have seized upon the waterfront as a central campaign issue.

Possible mayoral candidate Fred Eisenberger has pointed out the need for the city to clean up the Harbour - read Randle's Reef.

This week Mayor Larry Di Ianni identified the waterfront as one of his campaign priorities as he kicked off his re-election bid.

Mr. Di Ianni was in Halifax earlier this week examining how the city redeveloped its waterfront and if its progressive economic development department can be duplicated in Hamilton.

"I'm interested in what has worked for them, and the waterfront is going to be key in what I want to do," said Mr. Di Ianni.

Waterfront redevelopment may not equate to the macho effort to build the Red Hill Creek Expressway, but Mr. Di Ianni is talking about linking the waterfront to Hamilton's downtown core, converting it into a "people place."

Redeveloping the waterfront does have its obstacles. The most obvious being the presence of an obdurate Hamilton Port Authority, which owns the land. Past efforts by both organizations to partner on improving the waterfront has left city politicians shaking their heads at the immovable sphinx at the end of James Street. HPA allowed BIOX to set up shop in Hamilton. And it gave the thumbs up for Bitumar, both over the objections of ward councillors. Why allow these companies to locate on the waterfront when they refuse to move their headquarters here?

"What does that say about us?" Mr. Morelli angrily asks.

The other obstacle Mr. Di Ianni would be dealing with is if he is committed to waterfront development over the next four years, it will mean forcing restructuring of the city's underperforming economic development department.

The Halifax model teamed the port authority, the city's economic strategy officials and a Waterfront Development Corporation Limited, high-powered businesses and the federal government to create a 10-year redevelopment plan that created hotel, retail, residential, marine uses, a Gateway Park, 3.8 km boardwalk, which, in 1999 reaped $560 million in economic benefits.

Can that happen in Hamilton? Only if the HPA becomes a partner of any redevelopment effort; only if Hamilton businesses agree to stop taking advantage of the environment; and only if the city has the guts to make this vision a reality.

"We are missing the boat right now," says Mr. Morelli. "We can't keep on doing the same thing. We have to start improving the area now."

Kevin Werner is regional reporter for Hamilton Community News. He can be reached by calling 905-308-7757 Ext. 36, or by email at kwerner@hamiltonnews.com
 
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