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Aerotropolis shrunk by updated job predictions


Sep 27, 2009


An updated land needs study has cut the size of the proposed aerotropolis because of an even larger decline in forecasts of new industrial jobs. Revising a document less than three years old, Hemson Consulting says Hamilton now needs to plan for about 40 percent fewer industrial positions over the next quarter century.

In 2006, the company argued that the city should find land for an additional 59,000 industrial positions by 2031. It has now lowered that number to 36,000 in light of census data showing that higher percentages of jobs are turning up in other categories like retail, office and service positions that generally don’t require business park locations.

The updated forecast is for a slightly shorter period – 2006 to 2031 instead of 2001 to 2031 – and it drops all references to a controversial 10,000 job addition made by city officials but opposed by the province. Hemson acknowledges that growth will be slow until 2011 because of the economic downturn, but maintains its earlier prediction that Hamilton is “well positioned” for strong industrial expansion.

“Hamilton’s ability to provide large new development opportunities is a major advantage within this competitive environment, particularly with respect to users demanding good transportation access,” argues the study. “Hamilton will become an increasingly attractive location for economic development over time.”

The report appeared on the city’s website more than a week after a new aerotropolis staging plan was quietly unveiled to the Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) community liaison committee. It called for only 830 hectares (2050 acres) to be developed by 2031 – exactly the same amount which Hemson now says the city needs to add to its inventory of industrial employment lands.

That’s a drop of 300 hectares (750 acres) from what was recommended by Hemson in 2006 and adopted by city officials. It is also well down from the 1470 hectares (3600 acres) around the airport that have recently been identified by city consultants for eventual industrial development.

The consultants foresee the remainder being used after 2031. This two-stage approach to the AEGD is similar to a proposal for aerotropolis development made by Mayor Eisenberger last year, but turned down by council. It also appears to be part of the response to strong criticism of the city’s land budget calculations by provincial officials – an issue that economic development officials have stopped issuing information about.

However, the Hemson study continues to argue that 10 percent of industrial areas will never be occupied and that amount should be added to land need calculations, and that another 20 percent needs to be added for roads and other services – both positions that have been challenged by provincial officials.

Other aspects of the Hemson calculations may be controversial in other ways. In the 2006 study, for example, the consulting company determined that the North Glanbrook industrial business park was more than 80 percent empty. In the most recent study, it claims the area is now more than half full even though no new development has occurred there in the interim.

The new study also reduces the amount of land that may be available for redevelopment in the older industrial areas along the harbour. Hemson says the Bayfront industrial area is “99% occupied” and the neighbouring East Hamilton area is “97% occupied”.

“Contrary to popular perception, the city’s industrial areas are nearly 100% occupied,” says the report. “Only 21 net vacant hectares are available for development [there].”

Another business park described by Hemson as “99% occupied” is the west Hamilton industrial area that includes the new McMaster Innovation Park on Longwood Road. The new study also reduces the total area of the city’s six greenfield business parks by over 230 hectares from the numbers Hemson used in 2006.

That’s explained as: “A refinement of the boundaries of some employment areas to better reflect the land use designations in the approved and in-force local official plans, including the removal of lands planned exclusively for airport uses in the Airport Business Park, as well as lands approved for commercial uses in some of the city’s business parks and industrial areas.”

The latter appears to refer primarily to the June 2008 council decision to overrule their staff and convert four industrial properties to big box retail, including Wal-Mart centred developments on Centennial Parkway in east Hamilton and on Fifty Road in Winona.

The overall effect of the updated calculations is that a 40 percent decline in expected new jobs has only translated into a 27 percent drop in the proposed size of the first stage of the aerotropolis.

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