Plans for the Knitting Mills Just Don’t Add Up
From the Nest, Issue 1
by Jessie Golem
I’ve lived in Hamilton for almost ten years now, and have lived in different locations all around the downtown core. Right now, I live in Beasley Park. It’s a unique place. The park is home to an elementary school and community centre, the popular Beasley skatepark and, looming over everything, the Cannon Knitting Mills, a knitting factory built in 1854.
Mary Street is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, and I’m reminded of the history everytime I walk outside and see the old factory standing guard over the park.
Recently, I’ve seen the owner of the Cannon Knitting Mills, Harry Stinson, has been advertising units for sale in the abandoned factory. I’ve also seen a recent CBC article where Stinson earnestly pledges that a condo at the knitting mills will be completed within three years.
I haven’t seen any shovels break ground at the factory, and in fact, the only activity that appears to be happening at the knitting mills is the constant stream of film production crews using the factory as a backdrop. The windows are boarded up or broken, the factory looks old and tired, and I often see people taking shelter and using the front steps of the factory as a temporary home.
In 2011, the Cannon Knitting Mills was purchased by Forum Equity Partners for $200,000 with help from the city in the form of a joint venture named the Hamilton Realty Capital Corporation (HRCC). In this transaction, the City of Hamilton loaned Forum $100,000 to purchase the building.
In 2012, during a tour of the knitting mills, a contractor estimated renovations to be between $8 and $12 million. The plan that was unveiled was to transform the knitting mills into the “Mills Innovation Exchange”—a mixed commercial and residential space that would attract technology, researchers, and creatives to set up their businesses in the space.
This plan ultimately fell through, and in 2016, the knitting mills was listed for sale for $2.4 million and purchased by Stinson for $3 million. In the deal, more than $2.5 million in profits from the sale went directly to the Toronto-based Forum Equity Partners, even though their initial purchase included a 50% subsidy from the City.
At the time, Councillor Jason Farr said, “I’m more inclined to think about the future of that knitting mill and how it integrates with the prosperous Beasley neighbourhood. If it sells for $2.4 million, that buyer’s got big plans and it will undoubtedly benefit the community, the core and the city.”
Stinson wasted no time in making promises. In 2016, in an article in The Hamilton Spectator, Stinson promised grand plans for what he called the “Beasley Park Lofts” and promised he would have tenants moving in by the end of 2017. It’s been more than four years.
At the same time he made these promises, some of his other buildings and projects sat vacant. An article in the Spectator dated September 20, 2016, notes Stinson’s abandoned project at the corner of Main and John—which he had promised in 2009 to be the “Hamilton Grand”—a thirteen-storey hotel condo that would cost $25 million.
Stinson’s history with abandoned projects goes far beyond the building at Main and John. In 2008, Stinson made a deposit on the Royal Connaught Hotel. He was so confident that he set up offices three weeks before taking possession of the building. Eventually his offer on the Connaught died, which is when he started promoting his “Hamilton Grand” project. In 2014, Stinson purchased Gibson School with condo sales starting in 2015. As of today, there has been no significant progress on the project. At this point, the only Hamilton project that Stinson has managed to complete is the Stinson School Lofts.
With so many unfinished projects left abandoned, and with such a high price tag on the cost of developing the factory, I seriously question if Stinson is able to come up with the funds needed to restore the knitting mills to her former glory. I am also concerned with how blindly trusting the City and media have been when it comes to Stinson.
I would love to see the Cannon Knitting Mills developed into a vibrant centre that can help my neighbourhood thrive. I love this neighbourhood because my neighbours are good, honest, hard-working people, and it would be wonderful to see an area that has struggled for so long, finally see it’s full potential.
At this point, the only thing I can count on is that I’ll see the factory in the next season of The Handmaid’s Tale. I simply don’t think Stinson has the funds, the vision, or the concern for the greater neighbourhood to realize the potential that the Cannon Knitting Mills holds. I know my neighbours very well, and I don’t consider Stinson one of them.
Jessie Golem is a photographer, a universal basic income activist, and a resident of Ward 2