open letter to mayor bratina and councillor morelli

Dear Mayor Bratina and Councillor Morelli,My name is Myke Hutchings and I live in Ward 3 with my partner. We have lived in this neighbourhood for twelve years, having owned 2 properties within the area. I moved here from Toronto to be with my partner as I found a community of like-minded individuals who were willing to try and bring a then faltering city …back to life.

I have worked in an office in Downtown Hamilton for the past seven years.  I also work as an artist and musician, attending St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church at James St. S. and Jackson St. as a paid soloist in the choir and have performed as a musician in a number of our local theater companies’ musical productions.

Much has been said about the ongoing urban renewal of the downtown, with new businesses, festivals, networks and opportunities. This is something that both my partner and I have witnessed both as spectators and active participants.Whenever we create a new culture, we need to do it in a way that coexists well with the existing culture of a place. You may have seen the t-shirts, posters and bags with the phrase “Art is the New Steel” over the past few years. In my opinion, this phrase sums up the fact that those directly involved recent renewal have been attempting to reinvent Hamilton as a city of culture and innovation with a healthy regard to the industries and culture that have preceded it. There is always danger of turning one’s back on the past and ignoring it, which is reflected in the gentrification that has occurred in many North American cities. The problem with this version of gentrification is it does not truly represent a renewal, however it is simply a shifting of poverty that has little to no concern for the overall health of a city and it’s citizens.

This is something that many of the newer transplants to Hamilton, particularly the residents of Wards 1, 2 and 3 have attempted to avoid. Believe me, it took me a while to WANT to move to Hamilton, but I DID see what was happening and what could be done when I decided to move here those years ago. As a former resident of Downtown Toronto, I wanted to be sure that my activities were aimed towards strengthening the culture of the city. I wanted to (and still do) focus on building community and relationships over profit and power. This renewal is less flashy, because it is more concerned with the common good than my personal and financial gain.

After months of engaging with the casino conversation, and reading articles from both sides, I have become convinced that placing a casino downtown would not create genuine urban renewal. Having performed extensive research on casino gambling and its effects as part of my final thesis in university, I noted that OVER 70% of existing independent businesses died in Atlantic City when casinos were legalized. More recently in Niagara Falls, New York, 30 restaurants declared bankruptcy within one year of the Seneca Niagara Casino opening, it had later impacts with restaurant supply companies and upstream small business supports.

The language being used by Carmens and their employees is of a “quick fix” to a “shitty downtown,” their articles and comments are filled with derogatory comments towards average engaged citizens (“Who are these people? What is their background? What have they done?” said Peter Mercanti. “They get almost all the same weight as the people who really count. It shocks me.”), small businesses, the poor, the mentally ill, and others who are in difficult and challenging situations. These comments present downtown as a problem to be fixed, instead of a place we should build, support and continue to grow. Ask those already deeply involved AND INVESTED in the downtown and lower city wards what they think of it. You will hear a love for this city as it is, and a desire to help it become even better.

Casinos pull money away from unique local businesses, they exist as entities unto themselves designed to keep their visitors (and their money) inside their four walls. Given recent focus on privatization, it is clear that the lions’ share of the revenues and profits of the downtown casino will be going to the private investors: Mercantis, Hard Rock and LIUNA with a mere pittance of this money being shared to the city.

OLG has confirmed that their casinos’ revenues are down due to people having less discretionary income and increased competition for the gambling dollar. To this end, the OLG has confirmed that downtown casinos are being considered to profit off of those who are vulnerable and are also trying to make casino gambling a more attractive draw for younger gamblers.

Casinos present themselves as fast, flashy, and big, which is the opposite of what so many of us love about downtown Hamilton. We want slow, sustainable and local renewal, the kind that will be good for all of us, and the kind that will truly last – it may not be as instantly glamourous, but it HAS been going on and WILL continue if you let it.

Barely two months into 2013 and eleven new restaurants have opened in the downtown core alone.
1,000 condos are being built, representing 1,500 new downtown residents to the over 100,000 already living here and the 24,000 working here.

Not to mention the hotels recently been built, the new hotel under construction and the McMaster University complex being built at Main St. and Bay St.

Let’s not ignore the fact that casino gambling’s revenues (including Niagara Falls, ON, Fort Erie and other local centers) have decreased steadily over the years, due to reduced discretionary income and increased competition. Let’s not ignore the fact that we citizens and private investors HAVE been investing in and building up the downtown core.

Let’s focus on continued, steady and sustainable growth instead of one person’s idea of a quick fix.