Steeltown is reinventing itself by looking to its future for inspiration, ingenuity, and industry, rather than its storied manufacturing past.
And in doing so, the one-time steel capital of Canada is turning into an increasingly urbanized hub of creativity of special appeal to millennials.
The influx is part of what a recent report called Emerging Trends in Real Estate identified as “18-hour cities” — secondary urban hubs like Austin, Tex., Denver, Col. and Raleigh, N.C. are attracting younger people discouraged by higher costs of living in “24-hour cities” like New York San Francisco and Toronto.
Millennial-aged Torontonians, in particular, are moving to Hamilton in droves, where housing is affordable and economic prospects are buoyant. But Hamilton is doing more than merely offering affordable, diverse housing stock and jobs, it’s cultivating culture.
“Young people are not just coming to live but to set up businesses, whether it’s in the restaurant industry or digital media and other creative sectors,” says Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development for the City of Hamilton.
“The dominant pattern in the GTA is people move to ‘905’ municipalities and commute to Toronto for work. In Hamilton, you can acquire commercial property at good rates and it’s a city that’s embracing arts and culture. We are seeing a very entrepreneurial, younger demographic with access to restaurants, shops, vibrant streets, transit and older buildings.”
Hamilton is also promoting its existing assets to attract new residents, for example, the downtown neighbourhood of Beasley, with its abundance of historical buildings.
And as the city continues modernizing, it expects an LRT to be up and running within a decade.
“There are a number of programs in the city designed to help bring more development into our downtown area,” said Thorne.
“We’re embarking on a light rail system in our downtown, which I think will make it even more attractive to people who can live in a community where they don’t necessarily have to have a car, which again, is something a lot of millennials are looking for,” he says.
Thorne says the city is wise to invest in arts and culture as part of its economic development strategy. “The more we can nurture arts and culture in the city, the more attractive we can make ourselves to millennials and the more we can attract that kind of growth to the city.”
Hamilton has also seen a boom in ‘co-work’ spaces such as Platform 302 and Seedworks Urban Offices. There’s also the Cotton Factory — now one of the most popular co-work spaces in the Golden Horseshoe and billed as the largest in Hamilton.
A former cotton factory, the repurposed building has retained its industrial heritage, which owner Rob Zeidler, Partner at The Dabbert Group, says millennials flock to.
“A lot of our tenants are coming from Toronto,” he says. “They’re looking for places to work and they find us. It reminds them of 401 Richmond [a downtown Toronto co-work building) and the Distillery District. The other thing is they love the rent prices.”
Zeidler says “what we’re trying to do is keep a very industrial look and feel to the building. We don’t want it freshly painted with stainless steel — we want to keep that raw, industrial feel in the building.”
Roughly 70 per cent of millennial-aged tenants in the building are running web-design and marketing firms, and post-production film companies to go along with an assortment of filmmakers, photographers, sculptors and other artists renting space.
“People in creative industries want to be inspired when they go to work,” said Zeidler.