Downtown Hamilton is becoming a destination of choice for a growing list of creative, digital, marketing, design and planning, and technology companies looking for an urban environment at a reasonable cost.
“Downtown Hamilton is well known for its amazing restaurants and exciting condo projects that are creating great places to live, but what isn’t as well known is the number of innovative, leading-edge creative and tech companies that are setting up shop in our core,” said Judy Lam, manager of urban renewal with the City of Hamilton.
“They are drawn to the beautiful urban architecture to be found, competitive real estate rates, great connectivity, access to talent, terrific quality of life that downtown Hamilton offers, and the distinct neighbourhoods across the city. There is a vibrant urban atmosphere that cannot be found anywhere else in the GTA outside of Toronto.”
A new vision for the Hamilton City Centre will only add to the vibrancy. IN8 Developments is about to close a deal to purchase the 30-year-old downtown mall and plans to build five residential and commercial towers as part of a $700-million, 10-year development.
The company is focused on urban densification projects outside Toronto and searched for four years for an appropriate project in Hamilton.
Here are just a few examples from the roster of strong and growing creative and technology companies in Hamilton.
Digital developer Hifyre built a digital sales, marketing and inventory platform for Canadian cannabis retailer Fire and Flower that led to the retailer buying Hifyre with an eye to marketing the platform to other retailers. Fire and Flower operates 30 stores and is expected to see explosive growth thanks to an equity investment by retail giant Alimentation Couche-Tard in August that could be worth as much as $380 million.
Hifyre founder Matthew Hollingshead moved back to his native Hamilton seven years ago and immediately knew it had changed in the decade he’d been in Toronto.
Broadband infrastructure is now world class, talent want to come to Hamilton, and the city is a “phenomenal place to raise my family,” said Hollingshead, who has worked with Mattel, Ancestry.com, K-Swiss and Puma, among a long list of prominent clients.
Hifyre is located in 5,700 square feet in the newly renovated King James building at James and King William streets. The cost of doing business in Hamilton means Hollingshead is able to rent space with a view to handling the projected doubling of his current staff of 23 in the short term.
James Wilson, owner of branding, interactive and communications agency Overdrive, moved his business to downtown Hamilton after 15 years in Toronto’s Liberty Village and 15 years in the Junction.
“We moved into those places before they were those places. Where we are in Hamilton feels like that now. We are a little before it’s time and that’s part of the reason we came here.”
It’s the familiar Toronto story: a longtime small business getting pushed out by skyrocketing rents and an inability to find anything to buy.
Now that he’s set up shop in Hamilton, Wilson is dedicating himself into building a design community in the city. Overdrive clients include RBC, TIFF, the Royal Ontario Museum, and Ontario Parks.
Wilson was shocked and impressed that the City offered him a grant to improve the façade of his King Street East office. He also has plans for alley art that will celebrate Hamilton and illustration.
“It really feels like a small town here but it’s a city. It’s a real city, too. I like that. I don’t like places that are too slick. Everyone is friendly. I know more people here out on the street than I knew in Toronto in 30 years.”
Global water purification company Ovivo recently set up a regional office in downtown Hamilton for its Filterboxx brand, which provides modular systems for industrial, construction, and mining sites.
“We made a strategic decision to come to Hamilton,” said Michael Trigatti, director of project execution. “Originally, we were looking in Toronto for something that gave us a trendy, urban feel. But the prices were astronomical.”
The price-per-square-foot was far superior in Hamilton, offering the company the ability to settle into a space that will accommodate an aggressive growth strategy.
“This whole area is the Silicon Valley of water treatment, so we wanted to position ourselves in the middle of that. We get good market exposure and access to next generation talent here.”
Hamilton-based staff also takes frequent advantage of Hamilton International Airport to fly to the company’s head office in Montreal or to a regional office in Calgary.
Ovivo is located in Core Urban’s King James building, which has an old industrial feel amid beautiful design and modern amenities, says Trigatti.
“Our visitors are always impressed when they come here.”
Planning and urban design firm Urban Strategies has opened a new Collaboration Studio in storefront space at 66 James St. N.
The Toronto firm has done extensive work in Hamilton, including secondary and master plans for the downtown and the waterfront, and wants to expand its presence and practise in a collaborative way, says senior associate Josh Neubauer.
“There is so much creative thinking happening in Hamilton with talented and dedicated people active in urban conversations. We are trying a new way of embedding an office in a city to work with stakeholders, consultants, developers, planners and the public. Hamilton is a real hotspot for creativity and engagement.”
The studio will host events and meetings and engage with Hamiltonians on important issues, including housing, affordability and renewal, says Neubauer, who moved to the city’s east end about 18 months ago.
“It’s a real city that has maintained a sense of itself.”