Caretaker’s Update: Stadium


In the depths of the great depression, the City of Hamilton came together to host the Commonwealth Games, known at that time as the Empire Games.  From that project emerged Hamilton Civic Stadium, now Ivor Wynne – a visionary endeavor that has enabled Hamilton to build a reputation for sports excellence across Canada for the 76 years since its construction.

Hamilton has a similar opportunity available today.  Canada is aggressively pursuing the right to host the 2015 Pan American Games. The bid committee would like Hamilton to host the flagship events of those games in a new stadium to be built in Hamilton, in a facility to be determined, in a location to be decided.

Here’s why I, and the rest of the Tiger-Cat community, believe Hamilton should enthusiastically support such a project.

Why we need a new facility:
The benefits of a new facility are primarily in the value it would create.  The reason new facilities are easier to finance than refurbishing old ones is simply because they create more value.  To maximize the value of a facility, whether we are talking office buildings or public stadiums, is to  ensure the largest possible number of people will benefit.   The more people who benefit will reduce the amount each person would need to contribute to support the facility.  New buildings are simply better designed for the needs of modern users.

A new Hamilton Civic Stadium could be designed to host everything from International Track and Field championships to a wide variety of sports from soccer to lacrosse to football – flag, amateur, and professional.

Maximizing the number of events that can be hosted in a facility will reduce the costs of the facility to each of those events.

But even more importantly, public facilities such as parks, arenas and stadia are essential to our democracy as they are the public forums of our modern free societies, where citizens can gather as equals to debate social issues, learn from world leaders, or just enjoy public events in each other’s company.

I’ve been asked how much money the Tiger-Cats are willing to commit financially to covering our share of building a new facility.  While it is a perfectly legitimate question, it is not one that is possible to answer at this stage of the process.  The Ticats, despite running yearly financial deficits, have invested over $6,000,000 over the last five years into Ivor Wynne Stadium to ensure it is suitable for our fans and players in projects such as new video boards, refurbished football facilities such as new locker rooms, training rooms and football offices.

The problem with answering that question is that we don’t yet know where the new facility might be built, or even what elements would be included.  For example; if it is on a large piece of land there may be real estate development opportunities that might help fund a large part of the construction, if it is on a very small site those opportunities would be much more limited; if it can host soccer, we might be able to attract a professional soccer team as a paying tenant, and a 30,000 seat stadium has very different economics than a 15,000 seat one.

All these and many more decisions will need to be researched, debated, and decided before the Tiger-Cats and other private sector partners will be able to answer the questions specifically.

Why investing in Ivor Wynne Stadium is not Hamilton’s best solution:
I love Ivor Wynne Stadium, and I suspect all Ticat fans everywhere share my affection for the current home of the Ticats.   We all have fabulous memories from attending events from Ticat games to high school championships there.  Yet all buildings have their time, and while Ivor Wynne Stadium has served Hamilton and Ontario brilliantly over the last 76 years, it is no longer the right facility or in the right place.

This past January, a light standard located on the south side of the stadium fell over.  While this was a fluke event, it does illustrate the growing maintenance cost of an aging facility.  Conservative estimates indicate that Ivor Wynne will absorb tens of millions worth of repairs just to remain useful for its current purposes in the next five years alone.  A major refurbishment of Ivor Wynne may cost tens of millions more.   But that will only ensure that Ivor Wynne can still be used for the same limited number of functions that it can currently host, namely Tiger-Cat home games, and some high school and other local regular season and championship events.

Due to the lack of surrounding infrastructure such as practice fields, tracks, indoor training facilities and even parking, it cannot be used to hold national events.  Which means that even with that level of investment it would not be a suitable facility for the PanAm games.  In turn, the result would see 100% of the cost of those refurbishments falling on the city of Hamilton.  Whereas the PanAm games bid committee is willing to fund 60% of a new facility that could host the games, leaving Hamilton and its partners to only fund 40%.

Ivor Wynne’s location in a residential neighbourhood limits the number of uses.  For example, our neighbours in the area quite understandably don’t care for rock concerts.   It is also true that while the average Hamiltonian can find their way to either Roger’s Center or BMO Field just off the Gardner Expressway in Toronto, I doubt that one in 50 Torontonians would be able to tell you how to get to Hamilton’s largest public venue.

Of course, rebuilding Ivor Wynne would be a much, much better solution than allowing it to fall into a state of disrepair.   But we believe Hamilton will be better served with a new facility than continuing to invest in a facility on too little property in the wrong location in modern Hamilton.

We can have our cake and we get to eat it too:
The debate about public investments in sporting facilities always starts with someone saying, “but wouldn’t that money be better spent on a new school or hospital?”

That is the wrong question.  This is not a choice.  We have to build both hospitals and public facilities such as stadiums.  Whether we like it or not, we are in competition with other municipalities across North America.  If Hamilton is perceived to be a less appealing place to work or live than other municipalities either in Ontario, or in Canada, or even in the United States, the people and companies who might have located here will chose to locate somewhere else.

The ability of Hamilton to build schools and hospitals requires the tax base to support these investments.  We all know this region is the perfect place to locate your family and company, but having a better mousetrap is not sufficient.  You need to convince the world you have a better mousetrap.  Investing in facilities that can hold the events that bring attention to our city and our region will attract the individuals and companies who will enable us to build and maintain the schools, the hospitals and improve the standard of living we all want for ourselves and our children.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Hamilton.  I like to think of this stage of this PanAm games stadium project as having the opportunity to get on a bus with an undetermined destination.  Since we don’t know where that bus is going we are not sure we should get on.  Yet once we are on the bus we can influence its choice of destination.   But if we don’t get on the bus it will leave without us.  And there is more than $60 million dollars on that bus we might be able to use for an important civic project.  Buses with that much money on board don’t come along very often.  I think we should get on the bus.  If we don’t like the destination our fellow passengers want to go to we can always get off – after all it is just a bus.

Cheers,    Bob.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats Caretaker.

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