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Gehry in Hamilton!?


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Apr 7, 2009
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World-class architect interested in west harbour

World-class architects don't come any bigger than Frank Gehry.

And, if everything works out, Gehry will design a building for the city's west harbour lands that will put Hamilton on the map, says Richard Abboud, president of Forum Equity Partners.

"There is a unique opportunity to reposition Hamilton with an iconic building that would redefine its waterfront and hopefully redefine the city," Abboud told The Spectator yesterday.

Gehry's Los Angeles-based firm has "confirmed their interest through a letter and proposal to participate with Forum in the development of the iconic building," Abboud said. "It would be one that was big enough to have the desired effect."

He would not reveal how many of the city's 20 west harbour acres a Gehry building would require.

"We want to do something that will have a meaningful impact on the west harbour and on repositioning the city of Hamilton, and that can't be done with a small building."

Abboud said the building would house a single client, whom he refused to identify. "Oh yes, we certainly have uses contemplated for this building. It's a single-use."

He refused to provide any other details of his envisioned plan, saying it was simply too early.

Gehry's city-changing star power is no idle boast.

The Toronto-born Canadian-American architect's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is universally hailed as one of the most important buildings of the 20th Century. It transformed Bilbao into one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain.

Among Gehry's other world famous works are the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A., the Dancing House in Prague, and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

Forum Equity burst into the Hamilton stadium debate spotlight on Tuesday when Abboud, 44, presented a development proposal for west harbour to council. Forum Equity has been interested in a west harbour redevelopment for a while, he said yesterday, but remained behind the scenes until the emergency council meeting Tuesday necessitated a public presentation.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said an iconic building in west harbour would add value to the downtown and the waterfront.

"When we hear Forum Equity, in association with Frank Gehry, talk about their interest in west harbour, that's a pretty exciting opportunity to look at what kind of iconic building could be put there that would a signature for Hamilton," Eisenberger said. "It could potentially be a major attraction that would bring people to Hamilton."
Hmmm... what's going on with the Canadian Music Hall of Fame lately? Not sure if anyone remembers when Hamilton's bayfront was to be the new home back in early 2000's.
Canadian music hall of fame would be a horrible choice to go in an "iconic" building. Like the Bilbao museum, the building would be the only reason anyone would visit it. I actually wrote a small bit about Bilbao in my thesis:

As cities transition from industrial to post-industrial or “creative” communities, there are a growing number of communities using tourism and other service-oriented sectors as vehicles in regeneration projects. As a means of fixing the problems of brownfields, unemployment, economic stagnation or even economic despair, communities have heavily invested in creating places of interest in formerly unattractive locations as a means of attracting wealth, jobs and people to their communities. While tourism is not always an important component of regeneration projects, part of the goal of regeneration is image restructuring, and often the strongest means of recreating an image is to create a bold image that will garner attention from the outside (Gomez, 1998). Often these bold creations come in the form of unique architecture, spaces or attractions that embody the changing image of the area and attract residual businesses in the surrounding area. One of the most recent and well known examples of the “creating of place” is in Bilbao Spain, where an old industrial area was redeveloped with what is today one of the world’s newest landmarks -- the Guggenheim Museum.
In the 1980s, Bilbao’s economy struggled with a declining industrial base, unemployment rates near 25% and the highest emigration rate of young and highly educated people in the country, all of which contributed to a declining population throughout the decade (Gomez, 1998, p. 117).
The city determined to tackle these problems through a holistic plan. It created a new a subway line, new drainage and water/air clean-up systems and an airport; residential, leisure and business complexes were built in town, while new river and sea waterfronts, a seaport and industrial and technology parks were built away from the urban center. The icing on the cake was the construction of the Guggenheim Museum and additional cultural investments, such as a concert hall and incubator for young artists, to promote art and cultural tourism as a means of diversifying the economy and reducing unemployment. (Plaza, 2007, p. 2)

Since 1997, the Guggenheim Museum has been promoted as one of the leading pieces of “must-see” modern architecture in the world and tourists have flocked to the city with the city receiving an average of 800,000 non-Basque visitors annually and 779,000 new yearly overnight stays (Plaza, 2007, p. 4). Further contributions to the economy include 907 new full-time jobs and roughly US$39.9 million annually for the Basque treasury (Plaza, 2007, p. 4). The Guggenheim Museum single-handedly turned Bilbao into one of the must-see destinations in Spain (a country that already sits near the top of the global tourism market). In fact, the prominence of the Bilbao regeneration project has created a new moniker for similar revitalization projects that use creative and unique planning, design and architecture, called the “Bilbao Effect.”
While it is undeniable that the Guggenheim Museum has been a great success in providing Bilbao with unequivocal international attention, the museum and the “Bilbao Effect” has not been without criticism. It is important to display some of these arguments as they pertain not just to regeneration projects but tourism projects as a whole. First, one of the most intriguing aspects of the Guggenheim Museum is its uniqueness as a piece of architecture. Amin and Malmberg (1994) argue that this poses problems for communities, as the quantity of unique architecture or attractions increases globally, the less unique they will seem and that achieving uniqueness will become more and more difficult. Furthermore, they argue that the risk of failure is even higher for each successive project as places are forced to copy ideas from other communities or use architectural plans from the same in-demand architects (for example, see the Royal Ontario Museum’s recent addition in Toronto, the Denver Art Museum and the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, all examples of similar architecture by Daniel Libeskind). Gomez and Gonzalez (2001, p. 899) argue that the economic benefits of the Guggenheim to the Basque region were overestiated prior to opening, and Plaza (2006, p. 453) points out that this miscalculation of perceived success is a common theme amongst these types of buildings as
…a number of museum expansions and openings have met with serious problems. Take Santiago Calatrava’s new wing at the Milwaukee Art Museum (USA), opened in 2001, which did not attract the number of visitors it had at first projected. The City Museum of Washington DC inaugurated new buildings, but was forced to close because of low attendance. This museum attracted only a fraction of the six-figure annual attendance projected when it opened in 2003. In the case of the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds, surveys predicted 1.3 million visitors, whereas in reality the amount was one-tenth that number, below 200,000 a year.

Granted that the primary goal of the Guggenheim Museum was to have it act as an economic catalyst, this approach of measuring success through attendance and economic impact is merely a capitalist evaluation. This evaluation is only concerned with receiving maximum return on investment, rather than acknowledging non-commercial values, particularly in the case of museums, which also act as educational and cultural institutions. Financial indicators are the simplest indicators to measure and understand and when the financial return on investment does not meet expectations, it causes the public and media to be critical of these projects, which can pose problems for future investments in the community. For tourism and tourism planners, this means that the perceived success or failure of one project can have a significant impact on whether other projects are developed, even if the project or future projects provide some immeasurable value to the community.

If anyone is interested in academic takes on Bilbao and other "economic generators" there's a lot of good reading out there. The conclusions are a mixed bag though. It's obviously put Bilbao on the map but most of these types of projects fail to meet expectations. Politicians and those behind the projects tend to feel they need to oversell them which creates too great of expectations which often can't be met. I hope Hamilton does some studying on this before they rush into it.
Cities embarking on these ventures could learn some lessons from something as close to home as Niagara Falls. I'm not sure any building man could build would match the impact of something like Niagara but even that impact is limited to the immediate area. I have been to the Falls dozens of times in my life but have never gone to downtown Niagara Falls, which I've read is in very bad shape. The Casinos have added some range but it seems most people who visit, stick to the Falls and the immediate surroundings.
... and yet development in the Falls is rampant and tourism has grown and spread beyond to NOTL and the wine route. Also, isn't dowtown Niagara Falls also undergoing a bit of a renaissance? People come a long way to view the falls and many are willing and wanting to spend a few extra days in the area to round out the stay.
There was a whole thread going on about the revitalization of downtown last year. I've only driven through but it would be nice to hear an update.

The big factor in its decline was how things shifted from the original rail terminus up to Clifton Hill and now the Fallsview area.

Ah, here's the old thread, FYI:
If the Bilbao effect was real, Hamilton would be logical choice to try it out in Ontario. They're both medium-sized cities dominated by industry that want to revitalize their cities and attract tourists. Hamilton has struggled in those regards, though it has a lot of positive attributes like its density, Victorian building stock and the interesting geography of the escarpment.
Who is making the decisions in Hamilton? Don't they know they should be calling Jack Diamond?
If the Bilbao effect was real, Hamilton would be logical choice to try it out in Ontario. They're both medium-sized cities dominated by industry that want to revitalize their cities and attract tourists. Hamilton has struggled in those regards, though it has a lot of positive attributes like its density, Victorian building stock and the interesting geography of the escarpment.

It's comparable at face value but when you dig a litle deeper there's a fair bit of difference (which is to be expected anytime you compare X to Y). Bilbao is the major city in the Basque region and it was suffering a great deal of decline and much of the young population was leaving (this was a threat to Basque nationalism). It was this very sense of Basque nationalism that called for the need to change Bilbao and make it a place where young people wanted to stay and live. I don't think people have that same affinity for Hamilton. Maybe some do, but it'd be like saying Hamiltonians are as passionate about Hamilton as Quebecois are of Quebec. There, it wasn't about just creating an economic catalyst; it was expected to be a catalyst for nation building. Hamilton just wants their downtown to look nice and be viable. That can be done without a Guggenheim.