Published on January 11, 2011 10:47 PM by dbo.
For the past year the city of Hamilton and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have been involved in a extended game of chicken, each waiting for the other to jump. Just when it appeared each had stubbornly braced for a crash, one party or another would flinch before returning to the steely gaze they were locked in. As they accelerated towards each other the indications of concession increased in frequency, only to be revealed as feints. When we left this story, the Aberdeen site had been pulled off the table. Mayor Bob Bratina wanted to revisit the Confederation Park site next and we waited to see if a motion to investigate that site would pass council.
The motion would not pass as council decided to reject the Aberdeen and Confederation Park sites with no other sites available for study in the six weeks remaining before the Feb. 1 HostCo deadline. Some councillors felt a return to Ivor Wynne Stadium was their fall back position. They waited for the Tiger-Cats to jump and pointed fingers at everyone else but themselves.
Mayor Bob Bratina (Dec. 22, 5 PM Prime Time Sports) and Scott Mitchell (Dec. 23, 5 PM Prime Time Sports) did the rounds on sports talk radio to explain the events and next steps. Meanwhile, David Naylor wrote that another stadium miss in southern Ontario would be a lost opportunity that the CFL may never see again.
The Tiger-Cats remained locked into this game of mutual assured destruction. News leaked that the team had a fall back site in Burlington, specifically the Aldershot location for a new 22,000 seat stadium as part of an entertainment project with Paletta International.
The backlash against the Ti-Cats was swift and decisive from many fans. A move to a stadium in Aldershot was akin to moving the team out of province and the threats began, even though the Burlington site was about five miles from the proposed Aberdeen site. The team put out a statement explaining their position. Mayor Bratina indicated he didn’t blame the football club for looking at other options. The reality of other options available to the team seemed to open the eyes of business leaders in Hamilton.
Even our favourite colour commentator weighed in, agreeing that Burlington was acceptable if the alternative was a move farther away for the team to survive.
The Aldershot development push to win over Burlington council began in earnest with more details of the plans revealed. Mayor Bratina called a Burlington stadium “the next best thing” but refused to jump based on the Tiger-Cats latest direction. Meanwhile, Moncton considered what it would mean to be poachers of the Tiger-Cats to achieve their CFL dreams.
Faced with a quick pending decision on Aldershot, many Burlington councillors felt they were walking into a cost trap and wanted to end any possibility of considering the option. The mayors of both cities met to discuss the Tiger-Cats among other things.
The game was changed again when the consortium between the team and developer Angelo Patella presented a plan to Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring that called for no capital or operating costs for the city. This allowed a vote to pass council to explore the stadium possibility.
With the Tiger-Cats poised to win this game of chicken, the city didn’t concede but instead started grasping at straws as panic set in, unable to swerve or jump. A pitch to save some Pan-Am money and the West Harbour site started a revival of the idea to build a 5,000 to 6,000 seat stadium at the original site. Self-deceptive statements that the stadium be built so it may be expanded to 25,000 seats were used to justify this path, ignoring the head-on collision that was approaching that would mean both sides lose. Others pointed out that the city does not need another small stadium.
Two days before Hamilton council’s meeting to determine how to proceed on the stadium, Burlington Mayor Goldring appealed to Hamilton to take the lead in bringing the stadium to Aldershot. This was assumed by most Hamilton councillors to be a request for monetary help and was greeted by puzzlement and refusal.
One day before the last Hamilton council meeting to decide a stadium location before the February 1 deadline, a hastily called press conference by the mayor and Ti-Cats owner Bob Young announced an agreement in principal to rebuild and renovate Ivor Wynne Stadium and neighbourhood. Still pending council approval, both sides had stopped their vehicles yards apart and council’s decision could either send them crashing together or have them both swerve to avoid a collision.
Audio of the press conference can be found on the Scratching Post blog, who throughout this process has been reporting the breaking news and updates. If you are interested in the Hamilton stadium story, that is a blog to follow.
The story isn’t over. Besides council’s vote tomorrow, there are many details and questions remaining. To say that a plan exists would be erroneous. What we have is a agreement between the parties that Ivor Wynne is the location, a 20-year lease commitment from the Ti-Cats (apparently) and some general guideline requirements and ideas or options on how to accomplish them. I am not even sure there is a signed agreement in principle between the two parties (pending council approval of course). I am not sure most of the media understood that today when interviewing the parties (see Bob Young on the 5 PM hour of Prime Time Sports).
Answers to questions such as where will they play, what will the stadium look like, what changes to the surrounding area will be included, what about parking, how will construction be phased, what about transportation, and on and on will all be answered in time. First, it must receive council and HostCo’s approval and then the planning can begin. And the game of chicken will be over without any casualties.