Positively jaded?

By Don Forbes

I was walking through downtown Hamilton the other day, going from our office at Main and Hughson to James North. I enjoy that walk, as there a number of things that make me smile. It takes me through Gore Park, where to my left I see FirstOntario Credit Union has invested in downtown with a new branch. In the summertime, I would have seen the Gore Park Promenade courtesy of the Downtown BIA. As I walk north on James, I see the newly renovated Lister Block. I stop to take it in; it looks magnificent. A little further down the street, I pass 118 James – the new home to TCA Architects and future home of the Art Gallery’s new storefront. That building looks better every time I see it. Just north of Cannon Street is Hamilton HIStory and HERitage, home to Hamilton’s history displayed with modern technology. I end my journey at Acclamation, one of my favourite restaurants. Things are on their way up in downtown Hamilton, I tell myself.

The next day, however, I catch myself wondering… am I just seeing what I want to see? Perhaps I had stopped paying attention to the elements of downtown that I’d rather pretend weren’t there… the large number of panhandlers in the Gore area or the incredibly worn-down building at King and James. I try not to look up at Stelco Tower, because I know it will remind me of the vacancy rate, and I’d prefer not to think about that.

So, while we blame people from outside Hamilton for being negatively jaded, I ask myself, have I become positively jaded? Is there less happening here than I think? Am I so far into the city that I’m out of it?

I decided to contact two friends who have recently moved to Hamilton and acclimated themselves into Hamilton’s business community. Ryan Scott is a manager along with me at Grant Thornton. He joined us from our North Toronto office in June after moving to Hamilton late in 2010. James Lefebvre is a Business Solutions Manager at FirstOntario, with an office in their new downtown location. He moved here earlier this year from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Perhaps they could help tell me if they see what I see.

Ryan didn’t know what he would get from his move to Hamilton. He was expecting to miss the great restaurants, downtown vibe and constant attractions that come with the City of Toronto. However, he says he has been pleasantly surprised. The restaurants downtown Hamilton are great, and there is a vibe here all unto its own. He was impressed on his first trip down James North when he saw the Lister Block, and sees Hamilton as a place that is making strides in many areas. Between revitalizing downtown and increasing activities, he has found Hamilton to be a comfortable and exciting place to be. He was also surprised by the young talent who work and/or live in Hamilton—all of whom exhibit a passion for their city far greater than he was used to in Toronto.

Okay, so far, so good.

James was expecting what many others have expected from our city: endless steel mills bellowing smoke in the air, and a lack of culture. What he has found are a number of hidden gems, such as the Art Gallery and War Plane Museum, and he has been infinitely impressed with ease of travel through the Hamilton International Airport. He, too, was surprised with how many great restaurants he found downtown, and has enjoyed the attractions in town, from the Tiger Cats, to seeing Pearl Jam at Copps. James recently was told by a client that, “You can do whatever you want in Hamilton right now.” Ah yes, the “Hamilton is the wild west” comment, in yet another form. James, like Ryan, has been impressed by the pride Hamiltonians have in their city, and he can tell that the pride is extremely contagious.

I was happy with James’ and Ryan’s comments, and interested by their outsider perspectives. It would seem people are not often disappointed in Hamilton – but mostly because they have low expectations to begin with. However, with every James and Ryan that we impress, there will be more like them. Public expectations will rise because they’ve heard things are good here, and that they continue to get better.

So, I’m not crazy … and I’m not too optimistic. But let’s not kid ourselves, there is a lot left to do. While the momentum is building, and outsiders are seeing the pride Hamiltonians have for downtown and their city, we need to keep the momentum going. Let’s hope the right decisions are made in the coming months to allow this to happen.

DON FORBES is a Manager of Specialist Advisory Services at Grant Thornton LLP.

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