Could a land swap save the city and keep the waterfront in the hands of the public?

By Pepper Parr

September 29th, 2021



It was during a meeting on that wonderful deck that runs along the north side of Lakeshore Road – across the street from Spencer Smith Park where one can see the ships heading to, or leaving, Hamilton harbour and where, what a long departed friend said, one can enjoy an Adult Libation.

One of the prime places to just enjoy the city is on the north side of Lakeshore looking out over the lake. Great ideas bubble to the surface while enjoying an Adult Beverage,

I was meeting with a couple of friends and talking through possible options and new ideas to keep the Waterfront Hotel site in public hands rather than have a large tower go up.

At the time no one knew that the developer’s plan was for two 30 story plus towers on the site.

Many see the land south of Lakeshore Road as a “public” part of the public realm.  Much of it is land that was recovered and made usable with landfill.

The owners of the hotel do have title to some of the land but surely not all the land right up to the edge of the lake.

My friends, who don’t want their names trotted out at this point – at an appropriate time they will be more public.  These are men who comment intelligently on public matters.

They wondered aloud if there was not some kind of land swap that could be done.

And that was when a light bulb lit up.

It doesn’t function all that well as a place to work and the city is going to need a lot more space.

City hall as a building is not that functional.  It is past its best-before date but, because it is what we have, money is going to be spent on making the best of a bad situation.

It is an awkward building – there was no real design – additions kept being added. The entrance was once on the west side.

The Art Gallery has never been a truly functional building.  It is a collection of additions to a structure that were added on when there was a donor.

So – here is a swap that could be done:

The owner wants to build and has some impressive designs – that will, if ever built, change the heart and soul of the city. There is a chance to give the developer what they want and to save what is left of Burlington.

Exchange the Waterfront Hotel site for the city hall site and the Art Gallery site.

Then design a purpose built building that would house City Hall and the Art Gallery on the Waterfront Hotel site.

Include a band shell and ensure the roof of the structure is environmentally friendly.  And ensure that the building is not more than four storeys.

Two for the Art Gallery and two floors for the city.

Hold a charette and commission some design ideas from architects from around the world.

Imagine for a moment: City Hall and the Art Gallery nestled at the base of the slope of the land immediately south of Lakeshore Road leaving a clear view of the Lake.  Try the idea on for size the next time you are walking along the promenade and talk it up with your friends.

Parking – that is something that would have to be figured out.  The Lotus Street Parking lot is used by city hall staff now – that could continue and there could be some parking beneath the four storey building.

Can’t be done you say?  With the right leadership – it certainly can be done.

Rob MacIsaac, a former Burlington Mayor, took bold steps and changed the city in a way that no one has since his time.

Rob MacIsaac, a former Burlington Mayor, did it when he turned the former police station on Locust into the Performing Arts Centre, then had the building that houses a restaurant along with the tourist office on the ground floor and office for the Chamber of Commerce, the BDBA and the Economic Development Corporation on the second floor with five levels of parking above it all.

Then he got really ambitious and got a pier built as well.

So – never say it can’t be done – think about how it can be done and where the leadership is going to come from.

More on this going forward.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.


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13 comments to Could a land swap save the city and keep the waterfront in the hands of the public?

  • Charles

    Darko paid $27,000,000 for the Waterfront Hotel.
    Do you really think the value of those other two sites comes close to that?
    Did you fellows also toss around the idea that Darko would pay for the cost of a new City Hall and Art Gallery too, perhaps for naming rights? ‘The Darko Vranich City Hall and Art Gallery’ does have a nice ring to it
    How many ‘adult libations’ had these gentlemen had before they come up with such a ludicrous idea?
    Sounds like a 10watt lightbulb, at best.

    Editor’s note: For some reason the writer of this comment thought he could toss in clearly libelous statements and leave us holding the bag. They have been deleted.

  • Mike

    Dear Mr. Baker
    I may state the obvious; I see no realistic solution from you. My solution is to stop putting up large buildings were the infrastructure does not support them. If a developer wants to build one of these things it should be up to them to provide the plan and funds to carry out that plan. Once more I remind you of the Burlington Transit Hub. That was a developer telling the residents of not just Burlington, but any city, their stupid.

  • Mike

    The biggest problem with all of the plans I have seen is the number of vehicles that will be brought to downtown by mega buildings. Try driving downtown now. Just imagine the future.
    The Burlington transit hub is and was a joke.

    • David Barker

      You state the obvious. We all get that is a major issue. What is your solution?

      Whether 12 storeys or 30 storeys will increase the car count. But the idea behind these towers is to attract non-residents to the restaurants and bars that will fill the podium areas. Non-residents will bring vehicles to park in the non-existent parking lots.

      The architect for the proposed waterfront development referred to it as a “destination location”. That implies attracting people to it.

      • Bob

        And your point? Burlington restaurants should only be available to local residents?
        Peppers idea was to use the site for a museum and City hall. Both are buildings catering to non residents and cars. Making the park bigger by closing off Lakeshore will still assume the residents of Burlington can get there. Yes even the ones that live north of the QEW, so they’d need to bring their cars to get there

  • Alfred

    Note to editor. I’m with David on this one.

    I assume when he say’s lets take the downtown back he intends on paying or trading the developers for their property to a mutual agreement by both.

    • David Barker

      Actually, Alfred, I don’t mean take the developers’ land. I mean people/pedestrians take the streets back from vehicles. I think the suggested land swap for the Waterfront Hotel property makes a great deal of sense…

  • Alfred

    The waterfront portion of the land would be confiscated, or dedicated by the developer for free to the City. In order to be allowed to develop the property. If i’m not mistaken is the Region not buying up much of the beach strip as it comes for sale and paying more than fair market prices to the owners? Pretty easy solution. Where is the problem? The developers in Caledonia that bought land that ownership was then disputed buy the natives. Where all reimbursed very generously by the Provincial Government I guess to prevent a war. Should developers who had the rug pulled out from under them, not be fairly reimbursed. Changing the rules in the middle of the game never looks good to others wanting to invest in Ontario. Instability scares investors.

    Editor’s Note: You missed the point – the idea was for a land swap – two pieces of city property for the waterfront site.

  • David Barker

    Fabulous idea. Fabulous thinking… far as it goes that is.

    The idea, as I say, has a great deal of merit. But it is incremental thinking. It’s thinking about the Waterfront site in isolation, not in the context of the downtown as a whole.

    Think how even more wonderful that patio deck you were sitting on would be if there was not a constant stream of traffic in front of you between you and the park. That’s right. That’s where I am going. Yes – pedestrianization of the Lakeshore/Lower Downtown area.

    Think big. Think bold. Think broadly.

    Let’s take the downtown back from vehicles, from profit driven developers and give it back to the people.

    Can’t be done you say?  With the right leadership – it certainly can be done.

    • Bob

      And where do the cars for existing projects go? Onto Elizabeth Street? I would hate to live on that one, but the Bridgewater development already exits onto Lakeshore. The apartment building right beside the gas station on Elgin etc will all need access to enter exit their property if Lakeshore road was closed.
      Although well intentioned thoughts, sometimes there isn’t a simple solution to a com0lex problem. I personally would rather see Brant from Caroline to Lakeshore pedestrian only. Although the building at Brant/Lakeshore has their parking garage exit to Brant, I believe it also exits to Elgin. Im sure I’ll be corrected if incorrect.

      • David Barker

        Bob, Bob, Bob

        Have you ever been to a city or town where the downtown centre is pedestrianized? All have substantial residential and commercial components that require vehicular access – residential parking, business owner and business suppliers’ access. A pedestrianized area does not mean a total absence of vehicles. It eliminates transient or through traffic along with “visitor” traffic. Cities with pedestrianized centres have remote parking sites. Those sites are services by efficient, low cost public transportation.

        • Bob

          David David David,
          My concerns had nothing to do with other cities, as you and I live in Burlington and were discussing the situation in Burlington. You didn’t answer my question. So how do you handle the traffic entering and exiting the Bridgewater development? Gore Variety etc?


    what a wonderful idea!! City Hall and Art Gallery on Spencer Smith Park:)