Hamilton councillors vote to pass on Mountain arena proposal

 

Dreams of a new arena at Lime Ridge have gotten one step closer to being quashed.

On Wednesday (Jan. 15), the General Issues Committee voted 11 to 3 to support a staff report that recommends walking away from a costly proposal put forth by Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer in August 2019.

The proposal envisioned a 6,000-seat arena and a 1,800-car parking garage right beside Lime Ridge Mall, property owned by Cadillac Fairview.

There was even discussion about a hotel and residential properties for the site as well.

In total, the project was estimated to cost close to (and likely more than) $130 million. Hamilton taxpayers would foot close to $100 million of that.

Andlauer offered up to $30 million towards the project and would assume stewardship of the property upon completion for 20 years.

There was a lengthy debate among committee members Wednesday.

Councillor Esther Pauls, in whose Ward the new arena would have been built, fought hard in favour of rejecting staff's recommendation.

Ultimately, most councillors felt the city couldn’t afford the project, and an investment of this size for a facility on private property was not in the city's best interest or in keeping with the council- approved Economic Development Action Plan, Cultural Plan and Hamilton Tourism Strategy.

During a presentation to the GIC back in October, Andlauer put forth a number of suggestions that could potentially offset some of the burden on taxpayers, but it wasn't enough.

"We can’t justify spending $100 million at Cadillac Fairview," said Councillor Brad Clark.

Clark and other councillors argued that a 6,000-seat arena wouldn't bring in big-ticket concerts like Pearl Jam, who announced earlier this week they'd be playing FirstOntario Centre in March.

In 2019, the City of Hamilton commissioned Ernst and Young to carry out a detailed analysis of Hamilton's sports and entertainment facilities and sought feedback on options for the future.

The facilities in question are the Hamilton Convention Centre, FirstOntario Concert Hall and FirstOntario Centre.

The resulting report found that in its current state, the FirstOntario Centre did not meet market demand but "an arena with a capacity of 10,000 seats would best support the needs of the Hamilton market."

Under Andlauer's proposal, a 10,000-seat arena at Lime Ridge would cost well over $200 million.

The EY report laid out a number of scenarios in support of keeping Hamilton's sports and entertainment facilities in the core. Simply put, they involve renovating, rebuilding or selling one or more of the properties.

So while the future of Hamilton's entertainment facilities is still up for debate, a new Mountain arena seems to no longer be part of the equation. City Council will vote on the matter once and for all next week.

In the meantime, Andlauer has indicated that in the event council nixes the new arena idea he might consider taking the Bulldogs out of Hamilton.

During the debate Wednesday, committee members were adamant in their praise of Andlauer's contribution to the city and they were hopeful he would consider staying put.

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