Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor
By Rob Hardy, Contributor
The aging FirstOntario Centre, formerly known as Copps Coliseum, is reaching the end of its lifespan. It is generally agreed that tearing down the building in the coming years is the best option ahead. But, as with the Ivor Wynne stadium debate, what to do after the demolition has become a question which has fallen onto our councillor’s laps.
Here we go again with the latest disastrous drama that has befallen Hamilton’s hapless city councillors. What should have been a relatively straight-forward process has become yet another muddled affair that will trap citizens in a never-ending debate as things progress painfully slowly, in true Hamilton fashion.
With the recent renovations in our downtown core, the plan to build a new arena somewhere near the current venue seemed to be a no-brainer, up until recently. Incoming proposals to switch arena locations to a mountain site have suddenly complicated matters greatly.
FirstOntario Centre’s biggest tenant is the Hamilton Bulldogs, the OHL team which relocated from Belleville a few years ago. At the time, the Hamilton Bulldogs relocating here was considered a consolation prize when Hamilton’s AHL team, also named the Bulldogs, left in 2015. However, local businessman Michael Andlauer, owner of both teams, had always planned on a new facility for our city and his new franchise.
Now, City Council’s big dilemma is the possibility of the Bulldogs relocating once again due to poor ice arena conditions. Meanwhile, we are left with the task of having to build a new arena. Building the new arena on the mountain, the preferred outcome for Andlauer and his partners, might secure lucrative investment as the Bulldogs would be a large tenant. But this leaves a gaping hole for Hamilton in the downtown entertainment district, where the LRT will supposedly begin running. Yet, proceeding with plans for a downtown arena risks making the project suddenly more expensive if the Bulldogs wind up heading to Burlington.
Keeping the Bulldogs in town might involve having to spend municipal tax dollars to build an arena in a location which simply doesn’t serve local interests. Further details are yet to be released, and negotiations are ongoing behind the scenes, but this is already proving to be a lose-lose situation for our city. Operating any arena at all will prove very tricky without an anchor tenant.
The arena issue was already fuelled with some trepidation, as it also brings to the fore any future intentions Hamilton might have in pursuing a possible NHL team. However, the general instinct to build a “right-sized” arena for our city is without a doubt the best approach. If we are currently unable to accommodate even an OHL team, it should be clear to anyone that spending resources to entice the fickle NHL is a fool’s errand, especially when many factors well beyond the city’s control will also play into such decisions.
Hamilton’s councillors could greatly help itself by getting real and understanding its limitations. We desperately need to start getting things done and stop being weighed down by divisive back-and-forth issues. That we might lose another hockey team is an unfortunate situation that will no doubt have many people bummed out. But we have to remember that such teams often relocate, and could very well do so down the line, even if we yield to building a sports complex at Limeridge Mall.
Unforeseen events should not distract us from our vision and throw us off track. We might have to further downsize the number of seats in the new arena, and realize that certain acts would now pass on playing in Hamilton due to our lower capacity. But at the same time, we’re not Toronto and need to stop over-reaching as if we have the tax base to support projects bigger than we can manage. If we work on our problems and resolve to become the best city we can, given our demographics, then we needn’t worry as we will surely find a measure of pride, success and satisfaction.