$500 million dollar plan selected for City’s entertainment and sports facilities

This article, from July 18, contains information on the $500 million dollar plan to revitalize the Downtown sports and entertainment venues.

Hello Ward 8 Neighbours,

Hamilton City Council announced on July 17th that it will move forward with the development plan presented to them by Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group L.P. (which includes Carmen’s Group, LiUNA, DPAI architects, Fengate Capital, Meridian Credit Union, Paletta International and Jetport Inc.).

The development calls for a $500 million plan to modernize the former Copps Coliseum, to newly renovate the convention centre and concert hall, a major investment in the AGH as well as new residential and affordable housing, and office and retail space.

For more details, please continue reading below…

A “historic decision” for the City

The July 17 announcement comes after City Council was originally presented with two proposals in February (see below) and Council’s approval of the Urban Precinct Group’s proposal is a first step between the City and the consortium, as both parties will negotiate a “Master Agreement”, likely finalized by this Fall.

That would mean construction would likely begin in Fall 2021, according to a media release from the City.

Mayor Eisenberger called the proposal “historic” and believes that “it’s going to be a great opportunity for transformational upgrades to our facilities”.

PJ Mercanti, the group’s president and Carmen’s Group CEO, told CBC Hamilton that should this process be successful, the group looks forward to delivering Hamilton’s “next generation of entertainment and cultural assets.” 

“We are delighted that council and staff have put their confidence in our group and we certainly look forward to making Hamilton proud,” Mercanti told the CBC. “We recognize that this is a tremendous opportunity to redevelop the city’s prime cultural and entertainment assets. And so we are eager to get to work”, Mercanti would add.

“The Precinct Group’s proposed revitalization plan lays the foundation for a world-class entertainment precinct, right in the heart of downtown Hamilton, that will drive additional tourism and serve as a premier sports, entertainment, and cultural center for all Hamiltonians. On behalf of Council, I would like to thank the Precinct Group, Vrancor, and all other private sector entities that participated in this process.” – Mayor Fred Eisenberger, City of Hamilton

Redevelopment Proposals Presented for Downtown Arena

Some of the plans so far are as follows, via CBC Hamilton:

  • Planned FirstOntario Centre renovations include a new building exterior, a “transformation” of the lower bowl, expanded concourse level, and new curtaining system for the upper bowl balcony. The group proposes a microbrewery, suites and hospitality clubs.
  • They’re also looking at developing the York Boulevard side to make the building accessible at street level so that people can experience services — like food or retail — outside of when the centre is hosting an event.
  • HUPEG originally suggested keeping FirstOntario’s seating capacity, and relocating the convention centre to a part of Hamilton City Centre.
  • Three high-rises downtown would include the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the convention centre, condos and commercial space. Two more towers are possible at the corner of Bay Street and King Street East.
  • The media release said more than $16 million in upgrades are planned to the convention centre, concert hall, and art gallery.
  • Around $340.5 million in “auxiliary mixed-use development, including affordable housing” will be a part of any residential developments that come out of this.

According to the City, the capital costs to renew the facilities, as well as operation and maintenance of FirstOntario Centre and FirstOntario Concert Hall would be taken on by the consortium for 99 years. The group would also take over the convention centre “indefinitely” without any monetary contribution from the city.

The city estimates this would create $155 million in savings over the next 30 years.

Why Not Limeridge Mall?

As previously reported on this site, in December 2017, the previous term of Hamilton City Council approved a motion directing City staff to investigate opportunities for the redevelopment of the FirstOntario Centre (Copps Coliseum), the Hamilton Convention Centre, the Hamilton Art Gallery and the FirstOntario Concert Hall (Hamilton Place).

A copy of the original motion is available here as Item 16 on the Minutes from the December 8th, 2017 City Council Meeting: Sports, Entertainment and Convention Venues Review (Item 9.1).

In January 2019, the current term of Hamilton City Council approved a staff recommendation to commission an independent third party expert consultant to conduct an assessment of Hamilton’s sports, entertainment and convention centre facility needs, given the City’s size and position within the Southern Ontario marketplace.

An Arena, Concert Hall and Convention Centre – What to Do About Hamilton’s Aging Sports and Entertainment Venues?

At the January 16th, 2019 General Issues Committee meeting the scope of this investigation was specifically limited to Downtown, in a clustered precinct that includes residential and commercial development.

The General Issues Committee also confirmed that Council’s contribution was restricted to land and/or approval authority.

The amended January 2019 staff report is available here as Item 18 on the General Issues Committee Report from the January 23rd Council meeting.

At no time was Council anticipating funding redevelopment of any of these venues through a City capital investment of tax dollars.

As the City was beginning it’s review of Hamilton’s sports and entertainment venues, the ownership group of the Hamilton Bulldogs submitted an unsolicited proposal to the City of Hamilton for a new arena at Limeridge Mall.

On October 2nd, 2019 Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer presented details of the Bulldogs proposal to the General Issues Committee.

The cost of a new 6000 seat arena at Limeridge Mall was estimated by the Bulldogs to be a total of $126 million dollars ($72 million for the arena and another $54 million for a parking garage).

Mr. Andlauer suggested that the Bulldogs ownership group would invest $30 million dollars towards the cost of construction. However, when provided the opportunity during questions, Mr. Andlauer refused to publicly guarantee this commitment.

Reached for comment for this story, Councillor John-Paul Danko had the following to say about the Limeridge Mall Arena debate:

“At the time Limeridge came up, the process that led to this deal was well underway.

It was clear from the outset that the Limeridge proposal did not meet the objectives set by council and would have required roughly one hundred million dollars of taxpayer financing – and it was only for an arena.

In contrast, the deal on the table now will eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer operating and maintenance costs and see a fully renovated and revitalized arena, convention centre and concert hall.”

“Unfortunately, the Limeridge Mall discussion diverted valuable staff time and likely delayed the conclusion of this deal and was entirely unnecessary.”

John-Paul Danko, Ward 8 Councillor

The other option considered was a $200-million plan by Vrancor Group. Among its changes, the project proposed limiting the arena’s capacity to around 15,400 seats, with the possibility to expand to 17,000 if needed.

Eisenberger told the CBC that “The numbers showed that the Precinct group was the better proposal, better bid and that’s the direction we’re moving forward on,” and added that he believes the announcement will receive a positive reaction from Hamilton Bulldogs owner, Michael Andlauer.

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