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Catching up with Hamilton: A city on the move

Cobaalt Residences is under construction in downtown Hamilton. (Courtesy Forge & Foster)
Cobalt Luxury Residences is under construction in downtown Hamilton. (Courtesy Forge & Foster)

Welcome to the inaugural instalment of Forging Hamilton, the monthly column where I’ll be providing commercial real estate (CRE) news and analysis from the Hamilton area.

I’ll explain how the Hamilton-area market is performing and what new developments are in the works. I’ll also provide the context necessary to distill how the headlines impact real estate trends for the present, plus what they could mean for the future beyond the Hammer’s borders.

Hamilton is a city with momentum and an incredible market. It’s a city known for steel and true to form, one of the biggest stories this year is Slate Asset Management’s purchase of 800 acres of Stelco land for $518 million ($647,500/acre) in June.

It’s by far the largest CRE transaction Forge & Foster has on record for our subject markets and we track not just Hamilton, but also Brantford, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Niagara.

The record for largest CRE transaction was previously held by Panattoni Development Company, Inc. with its purchase of 423 acres of industrial land in Brant County for $290 million (≈ $684,000/acre) in April.

The Slate buy smashes that record, as it looks to repurpose Stelco’s prime waterfront land into a state-of-the-art industrial park that will create 23,000 new jobs across the Greater Hamilton Area and $3.8 billion for the economy.

Making more sustainable steel

In other steel news, Stelco’s neighbour ArcelorMittal Dofasco has received commitments from the federal and provincial governments for a combined $900 million to aid in the transformation of current coal-fed equipment to new, low-emission technology.

This would help turn ArcelorMittal Dofasco into a world-leading producer of green steel, according to Premier Doug Ford and company officials.

And low-emission technology is also headed toward public infrastructure. Hamilton is primed for a multi-billion-dollar, city-transforming light rail transit (LRT) project.

The LRT has already stimulated many developments along the proposed 14-kilometre corridor, including Canlight’s Radio Arts Condos, LiUNA’s Cobalt Luxury Residences and LJM Developments’ LJM Tower and LJM Landing, to name a few.

Hamilton's life sciences sector

Life sciences is also a strength in Hamilton.

In April, the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine announced it would build a new $580-million cell and gene therapy manufacturing facility in Hamilton.

This will anchor the future of life sciences jobs and innovation while advancing pioneering medicine with the potential to cure many forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

It’s positioned to be the largest contract development and manufacturing facility for these therapies in Canada and will create at least 250 new jobs by 2024.

“This is a factory — it’s not a research lab, it’s not clinical stage activity — so when you think about how to industrialize, how you go to that next scale, Hamilton is the perfect location,” OmniaBio chairman Michael May told CHCH News at the event’s groundbreaking. “Cell and gene therapy is the medicine of the future.

"We want to make sure we anchor this innovation with the right strategy toward manufacturing.”

Entertainment sector and film industry

In entertainment news, the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG), a consortium which includes Carmen's Group, LiUNA, Meridian Credit Union and more, has committed $500 million to revitalize downtown Hamilton’s entertainment facilities.

Among those, Hamilton’s major arena FirstOntario Centre will also receive involvement from U.S. venue group Oak View Group (OVG), the global sports and entertainment company behind Manchester’s Co-op Live.

At 23,500 seats, Co-op Live will become the largest indoor arena and live-music venue in Britain when it throws open its doors next year.

OVG is also the company behind Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle and the UBS Arena in Belmont, N.Y., which the NHL’s Kraken and Islanders call home, respectively. Construction for FirstOntario Centre is set to begin in late-spring 2023.

The Hamilton film industry is ready for its close-up. The city, which sees around 150 productions filmed each year, experienced a record-breaking year in 2021, according to the Hamilton Film Office.

High-profile productions filmed locally include Netflix's The Umbrella Academy, Amazon's The Boys, Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale and DC's Titans.

Guillermo del Toro is also a regular in the city. Del Toro filmed his Oscar-nominated Nightmare Alley here, plus parts of The Shape of Water and Crimson Peak.

Productions brought a 38 per cent increase in job growth from 2020, says Ontario Creates, a provincial agency that facilitates investment and growth in the creative industries.

The city also broke records with $69.9 million spent as a result of film and TV productions.

The Bayfront Studio District is a proposed 14-acre mixed-used film and creative arts area located in the West Harbour, by the new GO Station.

In February, the district’s centrepiece Aeon Bayfront Studios opened its 80,000-square-foot studio, which accommodated the filming of the remake of Firestarter starring Zac Efron.

"Hamilton is Canada's third-largest film cluster and is home to over 9,000 people who work in the film industry, and over 900 film businesses," Mayor Fred Eisenberger said in a media release.

City surpasses $1B in construction annually

For the 10th straight year, the City of Hamilton surpassed $1 billion worth of construction projects, but this year it happened in record time. The city hit the mark on June 17, 13 days earlier than the previous record set in 2021.

Hamilton also reached a record $2 billion in building permit values this past year.

Clever investors have noticed that this city, which was once purely a manufacturing powerhouse, has been quietly making serious headway on the comeback trail for quite some time.

The Bank of Canada’s interest rate hikes have many people taking a wait-and-see approach, but they haven't had a noticeable impact here yet.

August saw 33 CRE transactions in Hamilton. It’s a healthy volume, especially considering August and September are traditionally the slowest months of the year for our market.

A trend worth noting is the increasing sales of offices, with most being medical-related.

Industrial land a hot sector

The demand for industrial land continues to grow.

In September, Anatolia Group purchased 35 acres in Grimsby for $56 million ($1.6 million per acre). Last year, prices were starting to just slightly exceed $1 million per acre in Hamilton.

In 2022, more transactions have hit and exceeded $1 million per acre, with multiple deals surpassing $1.4 million per acre.

In terms of high-density land, 150 Main St. E. was acquired in downtown Hamilton for $6.1 million ($9.5 million per acre), which is on par for market value.

It’s located across the street from the recently completed, 26-storey Walnut Place, which could potentially provide the template for a future development in terms of scale and density.

Hamilton continues to ride great momentum, but with the traditional September slowdown and another interest rate increase expected, it’ll be interesting to see on what note the third quarter will end.

In any case, Hamilton is primed to continue reaching new heights.

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