Location, Location, Location

Published on May 10, 2010 12:35 AM by dbo.

The recent back and forth between Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young and Fred Eisenberger, Mayor of Hamilton, is interesting because of the difference in what is being debated. Other stadium debates in Canada, most prominently the one in Ottawa, are about whether to spend public money to build, refurbish or expand a stadium. In Hamilton, the debate is not over the need for a new stadium. All sides except a fringe element see the need for a new stadium to replace Hamilton’s ageing Ivor Wynne. All sides also believe the Pan-Am opportunity provides an ideal time to replace the stadium infrastructure. The debate is over the stadium location, with the City supposedly selecting a location that is best for the community and the Tiger-Cats, some state, preferring a location best for them, a tenant. The time frame for a decision and the conviction of both sides to their stands will make the coming weeks very tense and interesting.

The first sign there can be a positive conclusion to this standoff comes from word negotiations are set to continue with the City reaching out to the Tiger-Cats front office. Unfortunately some short-sighted councillors see a debate over the stadium location as a reason to not have gotten involved in the Pan-Am Games bid. Rather than put in some time and analysis of the issue and pick a side, they choose to duck and run. While I am not a Hamiltonian, CFLdb will provide our analysis of the situation and possible resolutions.

The Timing

There has been a lot of criticism aimed at Bob Young over both his statement and the timing of this declaration. From afar I don’t see an issue with the timing of the statement. It is apparent to me from Mr. Young’s words that there have been attempts to deal with the city on the long-term requirements for the stadium, which the Ti-Cats, as the only regular tenant, would have. Yes, he may have waited too long, but the late release of this information indicates to me a last act rather than a late attempt to negotiate in public or use public opinion as leverage on the city.

While the call for a 90-day moratorium when a May 17th deadline for site confirmation looms may seem either ill-informed or an attempt to derail the process or force the city into capitulating on a Tiger-Cat approved location, I believe it is a last effort to put the issues in front of the public after talks with the city went nowhere.

The Issues

Bob Young listed four concerns with the West Harbour location. They were no visibility, limited access, no parking and the effect on the stadium neighbours. Mayor Eisenberger stated that Mr. Young’s statements were all in the Tiger-Cat interest, not in the community’s interest and the city was moving ahead with what was best for Hamilton. Only one of the concerns brought forward actually affect the Ti-Cats and city and not ordinary citizens directly and that is the visibility/naming rights. Access, parking and neighbours are all looking out for not only patrons of the stadium (which will not only be for the two week Pan-Am Games and Ti-Cat games) but for those living in the neighbourhood. Therefore the mayor’s arguments here appear very weak. The issues of getting people to and form the stadium, parking and affect on the neighbours are all key to any tenant of the stadium, whether a one-time concert, a USL soccer team or any other event. Hosting many events, more than the 10 Tiger-Cat games a year, is important to the financial viability of the stadium.

Mr. Young also addresses his desire for Hamilton to not make a mistake in the stadium location, with the expectation that wherever it is placed, people will come. That has already haunted Hamilton with the placement of Ivor Wynne stadium as society and communities have changed. Other sports complexes as community revitalization projects without the proper design and commitment have also failed. The city has shown no more plan than we’ve selected this site to revitalize and connect the area with downtown. The project in Ottawa, where the plan is to refurbish a stadium at its existing location, has undergone multiple studies, designs and proposals while Hamilton has commissioned few in-depth studies that delve into what is needed to make the site work.

The truth comes from Mr. Young’s claims the Ti-Cats have not been able to find any developer interested in the West harbour concept, nor anybody willing to put their name on the stadium for the type of fee the city should be looking for. Without a developer willing to commit to a stadium concept and contribute to some of the stadium costs, who is going to just give the city $50 million to expand the stadium?

The Other Locations

Bob Young listed three alternate sites in his statement to Tiger-Cat supporters regarding the Pan-Am Stadium location. They are (A) the intersection of the QEW and the Red Hill Valley Parkway near Confederation Park, (B) the “Hamilton side of Aldershot” near Waterdown Road and (C) Chedoke Park, which surround the current location (1) Ivor Wynne Stadium and (2) the city’s West Harbour site. The Chedoke Park site is admitted to be complicated as it falls under the protection of the Niagara Escarpment Commission.

View interactive map

Mr. Young did not provide preferred sites in his message on ticats.ca. They were listed in a private breakfast speech to Ti-Cat supporters.

The issues with the West Harbour site the alternatives solve are primarily visibility and access. The West Harbour site is not near any major roads, reducing visibility for selling naming rights, which are important to offset the cost of operating the stadium year-to-year. Access and parking are also restricted due to limited space and an older neighbourhood at the West Harbour site. Creating a stadium that is just as hard to get to, park at and leave from as the current stadium will not attract people to come to more events. Access is restricted to one direction and the city has committed to residents no new roads will be built. Rapid transit is a possibility but is not included in any budget currently. Those factors may be easily dealt with during a two week event like the Pan-Am games, but they weigh on residents and patrons when they exist for years.

The Shared Stadium Idea

The fresh debate on the stadium location has resulted in the idea of a shared stadium for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts to be floated again. Specifically, Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star says the time is right for this idea to solve multiple problems of Southern Ontario’s CFL franchises.

There are a lot of seemingly pros to this idea: a shared, football-friendly facility would solve the stadium picture for both the Argos and Ti-Cats, one stadium would be guaranteed twice the dates and an increase in the private funds available would be expected to build the stadium.

However, there are a lot of cons as well: the timing almost prevents any change in location at this time, without a market study it is risky for both sides to bet their fans will follow them to Oakville or wherever, and replacing the $60 million in funding coming from the City of Hamilton from small communities would not be likely.

Besides the cons, what about the unanswered questions about such an arrangement. Presumably combining forces should result in a 25,000 to 30,000 seat stadium. Will this be expandable? One of the keys for Hamilton is to be able to host the Grey Cup regularly and reap those rewards. It is assumed Toronto can still host the Grey Cup at Rogers Centre. Is there as much benefit to Hamilton to host the Grey Cup in Oakville or another location between the two centres?

David Braley may have a key position in this debate, owner of the Toronto Argonauts, former owner of the Ti-Cats, resident of Burlington and a member of the Pan-Am 2015 Toronto Board of Directors, but even he, in the narrow window available, likely does not have the time to broker a deal to relocate the stadium outside of Hamilton.

The West Harbour Location

The lack of debate over whether the stadium should be built because it comes with the Pan-Am Games which have been awarded has resulted in little design and planning work for what the stadium site will look like in terms of size, parking, access, sight lines, etc. The only artist rendering I have seen is the one on the city’s Pan-Am page. It displays a nice view through the stadium to the harbour, including the rail yards. I have never seen any overhead designs depicting streets, parking, and other spacing. It perhaps exists, but I have not been able to find it. There is the rub of the city’s plan. They have selected this stadium location for community renewal purposes but have done nothing to sell the location or provide a vision of its impact on the renewal of the neighbourhood.

The criticisms of the West Harbour site — lack of access, parking, visibility and a small location sandwiched next to residential and industrial land — have never been properly defended nor an offer of a design change made to reduce the issue. These are the concerns I have with politicians who select a site for a stadium for a single reason (renewal) and refuse to address or even see the shortcomings, even when some of them are repeating the issues that exist with their current stadium.

The Possibilities

What are the possibilities at this point? It appears to me that if the city is committed to the West Harbour site, they need to mediate the concerns the Ti-Cats have for that site. That would mean addressing the visibility, access, parking, size and operating costs of the stadium.

The Mayor’s dedication to West Harbour is clear. Whether he would build a 15,000 seat stadium for the Pan-Am games there to complete the city’s plan and leave the city with a white elephant legacy that serves no purpose while the city still had to maintain Ivor Wynne Stadium for the Ti-Cats remains to be seen. While that seems like a long shot, those are the stakes. Without private contributions, including from the Ti-Cats and private developers, the expansion to a 25,000 seat stadium will not happen, making the Pan-Am stadium worthless for the Ti-Cats, under any owner, and the City of Hamilton.

There may be little the city can do in terms of what the Ti-Cats want for visibility, that being adjacent to a major thoroughfare. However, the visibility concerns relate to selling naming rights to the stadium. The Ti-Cats want to maximize these revenues for the stadium to offset stadium operating costs, which should mean less of the burden of operating the stadium falling on the Tiger-Cats lease. If the city is prepared to forgo the maximum revenue from naming rights by locating the stadium where it won’t have thousands of eyeballs passing it everyday, then they should have other plans for managing operating costs rather than the majority of cost falling on the primary and only tenant at this point, the Tiger-Cats Football Club.

Access and parking can be addressed by the city by reversing their current promises for not providing viable infrastructure for the new stadium. The access routes should be reviewed and plans to increase the flow of people to and from the site through roads, public transportation and other means should made with firm deadlines as to their completion at the city’s expense. This infrastructure cannot be promised for the future with no plan as to when or who will pay for it. It is integral to a new stadium, especially one being established in an old neighbourhood.

The size of the stadium is key for the Tiger-Cats to relocate. The public funds for the Pan-Am stadium are to build a 15,000 seat stadium. Additional private funds are sought to contribute the $50 million expected to increase seating to 25,000 seats. Bob Young indicated the Ti-Cats spoke to several large retail and commercial developers in Ontario and have not found any interest in participating in the West Harbour site. Without some ancillary development, private funds would have to come from Bob Young and other parties in the form of a gift. It is clear that the city will remain owners of the stadium and the Ti-Cats will be tenants, no matter the private contribution received to increase the stadium capacity. In Ottawa, the proposal is for the developers to manage the city-owned stadium, with the idea private enterprise will generate more event dates to offset the stadium operation costs the developers are responsible for.

Mr. Young has been criticized for not putting a dollar figure on what he or the Ti-Cats are willing to commit. Scott Mitchell, president of the Tiger-Cats has stated as recently as this past week that the Ti-Cats/Bob Young are willing to make a multi-million dollar commitment, from $10 million perhaps up to $20 million for the right project. To me that is plenty of a commitment and you won’t see many businessmen writing cheques without knowing what they are investing in. Those that want a firm commitment without a more detailed plan seem to be expecting a philanthropist moment from Mr. Young rather than a business deal.

To achieve the expansion of the stadium, a private-public partnership is required as has happened in Ottawa and Winnipeg. The private commercial development provides the extra dollars for the stadium construction. In Hamilton’s case it also contributes to the revitalization of the area that is the city’s reason for selecting this site. This revitalization will not happen on its own by well-minded entrepreneurs. The proposed site bordered by Queen and Bay Streets and Stuart and Barton Streets is too small for any additional development to create the sports and entertainment area required. With the stadium in a north-south configuration, it just fits in between the two streets and takes about half of the horizontal space, the remainder would presumably be left for parking and other space, not development.

There is additional space in the area for the site. The most obvious is the City of Hamilton Central Services Building at 125 Barton St. W. between Caroline and Bay streets. While it would not be free to relocate the services in this building, it would not have remediation costs. This area could provide a buffer to the stadium and tie in nicely with the Central Park. The other obvious block for appropriation into the stadium site is the area west of Queen Street to almost Crooks Street north of Barton Street to the rail yards. This could be a mix of commercial development and parking areas behind. Most stadiums require at least 4-5 times the stadium size in additional space for buffer zones, landscaping, parking and other development and these additional parcels will provide that to this project.

Also required in a site design is road expansion, plans to provide bus and GO train access and studies that show the new stadium will be more accessible to event goers. Currently, the GO train comes no closer than 15 blocks away and the nearest stop in downtown Hamilton 15-20 blocks away. A plan to provide convenient GO train access (which shouldn’t be too hard with the rail yards right next door) will help ensure more successful events at the stadium and could also provide access to the parks and marinas around the harbour area. While public transport access is great, parking areas are also necessary for bus and car access so patrons don’t have to resort to parking on residents lawns as currently happens at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

With these improvements, the Ti-Cats may be willing to accept an increase in their lease costs if the economics make sense. Ask them to pay higher rent for a stadium with the same problems as their current one will result in estimates of $5 to $7 million per year losses. The Tiger-Cats are aware that in the economic market of Hamilton they cannot increase their revenues by simply restricting supply and increasing ticket prices, nor will a new stadium provide them huge revenue in private suites. They need to gather revenue from many streams, whether that be parking, private suites, concessions, advertising, or naming rights. Any increase in ticket prices from a city surcharge should be minimal to not affect Ti-Cat ticket pricing (from Bob Young’s post, it sounded like the ticket surcharge would come out of Ti-Cat coffers as they would hold the line on ticket prices) and should be applied to all events at the new stadium, not just Ti-Cat games.

In any event, the city must commit to more than the basic plan they have for a 15,000 seat stadium. This will cost money in additional remediation to acquire land, build and expand roads, bus or GO train routes and parking. This is not going to come from the private sector. Provide this environment and developer interest just might make it possible for the private funds to be raised to expand the stadium to the necessary 25,000 seats.

Conclusion

The difference in the stadium situation in Hamilton is the lack of a partnership. The city, in the old school way of letting government make all the decisions on public infrastructure like a stadium, forgot that in this day and age a private partnership is required. How this could be overlooked when the local, provincial and federal funds allocated to the complex could not construct the 25,000 seat stadium needed to house a CFL team, the primary legacy of the project, is a mystery. This failure is very close to causing a missed opportunity to replace an 80-year old stadium.

Timing appears to exclude any site other than West Harbour unless the city has a hard look at the issues the West Harbour site has and what it would cost in city funds to correct them. If they do realize they need to provide more than their current plan allows to attract the money to complete the stadium, they will have two choices: pay to correct the issues at West Harbour or move the location somewhere else that does not have those issues (if a cost analysis of that site was confirmed cheaper), the QEW-Red Hill Valley Parkway location being the most attractive. Seeing the stubbornness of the mayor and councillors over being pushed around by a private citizen I don’t expect that to happen. I hope there is a resolution to this issue and the Ti-Cats get a new home because of all the teams in the CFL, they are the most deserving right now.

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Location, Location, Location was published on May 10, 2010 12:35 AM by dbo.

3,151 words.

This article is categorized under Stadiums and tagged with hamilton, hamilton-tiger-cats, ivor-wynne-stadium and pan-am-games.