Reviving a historic architectural icon into the future

It doesn’t feel like I’ve been working out of CoMotion On King’s offices overly long, but a quick peek out the window sure shows how much has changed. My near-daily view over King Street East is of the beautifully restored Royal Connaught.

It was about a year ago now when I had the opportunity to meet Rudi Spallaci Jr., the Royal Connaught’s Construction Site Manager, and embark on an impressive guided tour. Just seeing what they had done with the lobby was jaw-dropping. A restoration success story – retaining seemingly-impossible amounts of the original building and even uncovering some unseen treasures.

Rudi Spallaci Jr., Project Manager, and Site Supervisor

Today, as I glance across the street, the transition of the entire neighbourhood is very evident. The refreshing and revitalization of Gore Park is now complete; the results feel like a more comfortable and welcoming downtown. The Royal Connaught sits at the eastern limits of the urban park, providing a nice extension of the promenade. As the brick-work on the road just outside the front doors concluded, the Connaught’s iconic marquee and entrance are back to being at it’s inviting best, no longer obstructed by heavy equipment and safety fencing.

One more iconic addition to the neighbourhood is set to open soon, too. As many passersby have noticed, a Starbucks is taking up residence in the ground-floor retail space off of King Street East. Whether you’re a fan of their coffee or not, they’ve long been associated with revived neighbourhoods on the cusp of thriving. And, thanks to their trusted site selection process, they, essentially, do the heavy lifting for other retailers looking to set up shop and reap the rewards. All good signs for the Royal Connaught as well as our city’s downtown.

“The Starbucks announcement was exciting for me personally,” explains Rudi Spallaci Jr. “They were one of the first companies we wanted to engage with about leasing space. I was able to invite a representative of theirs to tour the retail spaces and our lobby.” And, like most who have paid a visit, the tour left quite an impression. “They were floored by the potential they saw and just how great of a match the Starbucks brand was with our aesthetics, architecture, and brand. As a Hamiltonian, it’s going to be incredible to see a globally-recognized and renowned brand such as Starbucks in the Gore.”

This is more than just a moral victory for this area of King Street East. Let’s not forget that up until just a few years ago, this strip was stricken with critical levels of blight. Beyond a few storefronts, it was a sad story of historical buildings abandoned and left to rot. That’s almost hard to believe now. The momentum of condo unit sales at the Royal Connaught continues to be brisk. Phase Two of the development is now more than 95% sold out; which, Spallacci Jr. happily reports, has kept everyone on their toes since the units were released in February.

The developers, Spallacci Group and Valery Homes, have a substantial tenure in the city; boasting over 120 years of construction and development experience on their collective rosters. Even with this wealth of experience, their excitement about the progress of this project can’t be ignored. At least, I can’t ignore it. In my tours of the building and my chats with members of the team, it’s easy to sense the amount of heart that’s going into this project. They’re proud of what this building means to Hamilton, and they’re proud of what they can offer buyers.
Jumping right to the rational, Spallacci Jr. notes the real, tangible benefit that they’re bringing to the market. “We’re known for craftsmanship that can’t be replicated. Our floorplans offer something for everyone. They’re spacious and extremely livable.”

Location is continuing to drive sales here as well. Home-buyers from around the GTA continue to make their way to Hamilton to capitalize on downtown’s resurgence and, of course, the better prices. Our conversation, like many in these parts, became about the value proposition between listings in Toronto versus here at home in Hamilton. Strictly looking at the dollars and cents, the balance remains heavily weighted in our favour. And, considering the number of developments sprouting up in our downtown core, it’s an important selling feature.

“The reality is, in residential real estate, the purchaser wants a place that they can comfortably live in,” explains Spallaci Jr., “That’s number one. In Toronto there are so many studios. It’s difficult to live in a studio, even if you’re one person. You want some room to breathe.” A quality-built, liveably spacious condo unit that’s within a few blocks from just about everything is something that would come at an astronomical price in Toronto.
After living in Toronto while completing his Bachelor and Master’s degrees, Rudi was well exposed to the issues of value that renters and home buyers face in Toronto. Plus, to him, Hamilton is home. Soon after capturing his degrees, he made the move back to be closer to his girlfriend, Sarah, and the rest of his family.

Photos provided by Royal Connaught

His connection to this city seems to be an inherited trait. Beyond the positive sales figures, there’s a definite level of personal satisfaction that the Spallacci’s get from seeing their developments contribute to the community. Even in our discussions about the Royal Connaught, a job-site that Rudi has been on for four years now, he still notes how he loves taking a slow walk by the building to soak up the view of it.

“To see the windows lit up, people coming in and out of the building, people using the amenities, seeing the revitalized exterior – it’s just overwhelmingly positive for me.”

But, this seed of civic pride was planted long before the Connaught restoration began. Rudi basically grew up on the construction site. He recalls every Saturday morning he’d go with his grandfather to visit various projects. By grade 7, this became his full-time summer job; lasting right through six years of post-secondary education. This is where he got to see how the homes and schools they built created a community. And when you talk to him, you can tell this left a lasting impression. “It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of – especially doing it here in Hamilton.”