Pier 8 has a special place in my heart. It is a spot in Hamilton, where back in 2005, I experienced the greatest hope for this city, and sadly, also one of the biggest disappointments of my life.
Some of you may recall the failed bid for the "Music Hall of Fame" and its design concept which was hyped around in the local press. Well, I was involved in this bid very deeply to secure private construction financing for this facility and more.
Most of you may have never heard about or seen this design scheme which was actually used to attract and secure a letter of intent for construction financing from $15 million for the media promoted scheme, to $50 million for the broader development as seen in the plan.
This part of the story was never talked about in the press, nor discussed subsequently after the bid had failed, and even a year later when I had brought it to the attention of a local scribe, and then, once again in 2010.
It was as though these efforts had never occurred!! This was the source of my disappointment and not the loss of the bid, which in my view back then was predictable given the twisted Toronto centric politics of the bid.
In anticipation of the bid failing, and to counter the negative feedback that I had received from investors regarding the poor quality of the original design submitted in the bid and which was promoted by the media, I had conceived a design plan for the private development of the entire Pier 8, centered around what was to have become an 'International Music Centre' (much like the city-defining Sydney Opera House perched on the waterfront), on the lands which now has the ice/skating rink and some service sheds, and the recently expanded coffee house.
This elaborate plan managed to attract a letter of intent to fund the Music Hall of Fame Bid (from a Swiss investment company which arranged billions of dollars of private infrastructure development financing across the world) - and also attracted a written commitment from a stellar, internationally renowned architectural firm from UK/NYC, who in turn brought the largest engineering firm in the world along with a internationally recognized environmental remediation firm to the table.
This design scheme included private sector development of around 750 mixed-use low, mid-rise condos with one high rise tower, all gradually stepped up in height from the water edge, with an elaborate water-front retail and public plaza.
The development plan was designed to ensure that all established local developers and construction companies would have equally shared in the broader development of Pier 8, which would also have given our city at no cost, a very fine "Museum of Hamilton History" and a new "Canadian Naval Museum".
Unfortunately, what stalled this was the politics of the Music Hall of fame Bid, and the narrow focused media hype which failed see the real potential of Pier 8 beyond the Music Hall of Fame bid. The funding process also required a small fee, which was never paid for the due diligence process to start, as per the secured letter of Intent which required a project report be approved by one of the top three international accounting firms.
Had this been followed up by the Bid -- or had I had the foresight back then, to simply walk away from the Music Hall of Fame Bid - which the media had unfortunately portrayed as a make-or-break issue for the city -- and continue pushing for the broader development of the whole pier - today, we may have had a world class, privately financed development with multiple public and private uses on Pier 8 with an enormous net return to the city in terms of large assessment revenues from all the private development.
Since then, over the years, I have witnessed countless tax dollars spent on futile project reports and unaccountable, tax payer funded re-development exercises -- which have chopped up the available lands through extremely short-sighted planning into some very bizarre land configurations which have set back the future growth potential of Pier 8.
A comprehensive and financially viable long-term master plan was never developed for these lands. The ones that were developed via hired consultants at very large tax-payer expense, produced concept plans which in my opinion were simply not cognizant of the real development potential of this land - and which clearly failed to take notice of my prior plan for Pier 8 which was always available publicly all through those years.
The local press did their bit in ensuring that this project was never talked of broadly in our community. Why? I will never know!
But as I have come to discover over the years, this community's 'credentialed media' and its many self-appointed 'media pundits' have a penchant to cut their noses to spite their face - and they continue to play a very special role in this recurring and bizarre primitive ritual of destroying the real spirit of entrepreneurship in our city - while blindly promoting downright lame projects for their insider circle of friends or those they have bestowed legitimacy on.
To attract investments, we spend millions of tax payers dollars to get sexy personalities from outside for a day-visit to tell us the obvious - something which we like to hear again and again: "You have great potential"!!
Meanwhile, what we already have in Hamilton as local talent is disrespected and ignored. When I saw the Spec coverage of the West Harbour - Barton/Tiffany development, two weeks ago on its front page -- and studied the article with the accompanying sketch, I came to the conclusion that not only was the media story downright dubious - as it went on to clearly state itself, that it was not workable - not until 2018 but even beyond, based on the complex land ownership structure. Further, the accompanying colorful, seductive sketch - in my opinion, was an extremely poor attempt at planning a new community as it paid no attention to site conditions, strategic site-lines and the public-use of the waterfront. More importantly, it was clueless as to where the funding was coming from to undertake this development on lands that in all probability are not even available for such development.
Compared to this, a free preliminary project design for around 750 condos on Pier 8, with interest from three internationally recognized giants in architecture and engineering - and a firm letter of intent to finance from an international development financing organization was simply ignored by the local press.
In all fairness, as I recollect, there was only one individual in this city who had this plan for Pier 8 pinned on his office wall for a number of years. It was our then councillor Bob Bratina of Ward 2, who did see the merit of this scheme and the immense benefit it could bring to the local tax-payers.
With zero direct financial contribution to the project, (outside of the land contribution that had already been committed to the Music Hall of Fame bid), a new assessment revenue from these 750 condo units was clearly and distinctly possible.
All the much smaller developments by HWT which have been done to date, at tax-payer expense were factored into the plan and were to be paid for by this large totally private or public-private development in which the city and the Port Trust could have had an opportunity to participate in without any direct investments, had they chosen to.
Sadly it was our then current mayor, who two years ago in a conversation with me, very casually said that he had no clue about my involvement in the bid. This, in spite of the fact that I had stood right next to him and the individual who had originated the Bid, in Toronto, while our city made a personal presentation to a large room overflowing with the media and 40 executives from the recording industry. This chance remark by the past mayor to me sums up the sad and ungrateful reality of Hamilton, its lack of political acumen, and its even more dirty political memory.
Pier 8 does indeed have a very special place in my heart, for it helped me understand our community and its naive politics at so many different levels simultaneously.
I have also come to know very closely, the narrow bandwidth of our local press and some of our politicians, which is why today, even under the leadership of an exemplary journalist with a strong pedigree, our local 'credentialed press' continues to under-perform socially and politically.
The on-going mockery that the local press makes of the sitting mayor, as do a few councillors repeatedly, speaks eloquently of the small-thinking that has been driving our city for a while now.
The tenor of the non-replies by the councillors, executive director, and the chair of the board of HWT to questions raised by the Hamiltonian.net is a tragedy in itself. However, what is deeply shocking is that our local press which congratulates itself for winning awards for investigative journalism, continues to ignore this unfolding gross travesty at the HWT.
For the local press, much like my proposal on Pier 8 from 2006, this unfolding travesty of HWT does not exist -- ergo, there is nothing to report here!
Individuals who play such cynical games both in the local press and on the council bring disgrace not only upon themselves but upon our entire community. This city deserves better.
In closing, I challenge the two councillors on the board of HWT to contact me to learn more about this proposal for Pier 8, which even today, if reactivated, with some minor plan modifications, could bring immense benefits to the city - while not costing the city a single cent more than it has already lost on that pier.
And I also challenge the local press to publish this yet very viable proposal for Pier 8 (as it so glowingly did last week the abjectly un-buildable over reach, on the West Harbour at Barton/Tiffany) - if only to bring a sense of hope to the countless residents of our city who have given up all hope - if only to talk about the good things that are still within our reach. But, I know they will not, because an entirely different agenda of small-thinking by myopic minds is at play here at various levels in our community.
In spite of this, I continue to remain an optimist. It is the only way I know. It is the only way a beleaguered city can overcome its demons in the council and the local press, that have repeatedly broken this city's spirit, hurt its progress and insulted its intelligence.
Mahesh P. Butani