Young has a straightforward "agenda" in the sense of wanting the Ticats to be commercially successful, and believes he negotiated with the city on a stadium location in good faith.
By Ryan McGreal
Published July 13, 2010
I had an engaging face-to-face meeting yesterday with Bob Young, the owner of the Ticats, to discuss the Pan Am Stadium location issue.
In case you've been living in a rock for the past few weeks: after a two-year process that settled on the former Rheem factory in the West Harbour as the city's preferred location for a Pan Am Stadium, the Ticats announced publicly at the last minute that they could not support the West Harbour.
A mediation process was hastily arranged with Michael Fenn as the facilitator. Fenn's report recommended building a stadium on the East Mountain on a provincially-owned parcel of land bounded by the Lincoln Alexander Parkway, Red Hill Valley Parkway, Mud St. interchange and Stone Church Road.
The Ticats immediately followed the report's publication with a promise of $15 million in investment into the "stadium precinct", coupled with $3 million a year in stadium operating costs for ten years, $10 million in "transition costs", and $14 million to attract two Grey Cups to Hamilton.
Hamilton's City Councillors voted overwhelmingly on July 7 to spend the next month evaluating the two sites - but the preferences of most Councillors for the East Mountain site was obvious.
Young contacted me to discuss the issue in part because he has concerns with some of the statements made by Mayor Fred Eisenberger in last Friday's RTH interview, particularly the Mayor's claim that it was a "surprise" to learn that the Ticats opposed the West Harbour.
On a personal level, Young really is a genuinely likable guy. I came away with a strong sense that Young has a sincere and straightforward "agenda" in the sense of wanting the Ticats to be commercially successful; and that he believes he negotiated with the city on a stadium location in good faith.
I didn't record the discussion, so what follows is a summary of his arguments rather than a transcript of his statements. However, I sent a draft of this summary to Young to verify that I didn't miss anything important or mis-characterize anything he said.
Young made it clear that his overarching issue is access to the stadium. He argued that West Harbour is hemmed in on two sides and has limited access for drivers in terms of both road capacity and parking. He noted that the city has promised North End residents it won't increase street capacity in the neighbourhood.
The Ticats' market analysis tells them most fans come to games from the region, not from downtown. For them, the difficulty of getting there by car is a major factor in whether to attend a game or watch from the couch.
He would prefer a downtown location (his favourite option is somewhere in the vicinity of Chedoke Golf Course and McMaster Innovation Park with highway access via Aberdeen Ave.) but his first goal is a profitable stadium and he doesn't see that they can run a profitable stadium in the West Harbour. He does think they can run a profitable stadium on the East Mountain, i.e. it won't need annual subsidies from the city. (This is why he regards the $3 million a year in stadium operating funds as a true infusion of money into the deal.)
He argued that an unsuccessful stadium on the West Harbour would be bad for both the Ticats and the city as a whole and would actually be an obstacle to community development.
The Ticats are afraid of a situation like the Miami Arena that was built in a depressed part of town in 1988. The Miami Heat played there from 1988 to 1999 and the Florida Panthers played there from 1993 to 1998. After the two teams moved into newer venues, the Arena fell into disuse and was sold at public auction in 2004 to a property investor. He demolished it in 2008.
Young raised the issue of the Miami Arena as a "worst case" scenario in which an arena placed into an economically depressed area not only didn't revitalize the core but lasted only a decade before its two tenants fled to newer facilities.
Interestingly, in January 2000 the Miami Heat moved to a new stadium just a few blocks away from the old location - a new stadium on the waterfront with great views, close proximity to other urban amenities and about the same level of highway access.
I'm not sure what the Miami Arena debacle tells us about the viability of the West Harbour location, given that its failure seems mostly related to the fact that it was built on the cheap (it was widely regarded as obsolete from the day it opened) using only public money, and was situated in an American city slum.
I noted to Young that the North End around the Harbour already seems to be on a trajectory of reinvestment. I walk around there and see anecdotal evidence of this reinvestment like stamped concrete driveways and brick refinishing. Likewise, acquaintances of mine have profited handily from selling North End houses near the waterfront for considerable gain over the buying price. Young seemed interested in this.
I pointed out that the purpose of the Future Fund money is to promote community redevelopment and social inclusion, and an East Mountain stadium doesn't do this. He replied that if the city doesn't contribute the Future Fund money, there's no stadium. And with no stadium, there are no Ticats in Hamilton.
For Young, it makes no sense to invest public money to build a stadium that will not be successful as a stadium.
He also pointed out that the Province and Hostco support the East Mountain, in part because the government Pan Am money depends on a viable legacy use (i.e. the Ticats).
I noted the demographic trend toward urban intensification - both Boomers (with assets) and young people (with long-term earning potential) are moving back into cities - and Young noted that he's a case in point. I said the East Mountain may look like a good location now but the picture might not be the same ten years from now. We agreed to disagree over this.
He entirely agrees with the Peak Oil concept we sometimes bang on about here at RTH - he said it's only a matter of time until we're paying $5-6 a litre for gas - but seems confident that higher oil prices will incentivize both higher automobile efficiency and public support for more/better public transit (i.e. out to places like the East Harbour) that today is economically or politically unrealistic.
He pointed out in support of this view that the city owns an old rail line out to the East Mountain location that could come back into use in the future as an LRT line.
I asked him what the West Harbour would need to be viable for the Ticats. He said it would work if Burlington St continued across to link up with the 403.
I also asked him what the Ticats will do if Council still picks West Harbour. He pointed out that the Pan Am committee's mandate entails building Pan Am facilities that have a well-defined legacy use after the games, which in the stadium's case is a future home for the Ticats.
He indicated that without the Ticats' support for a chosen West Harbour location, the Pan Am stadium will be built elsewhere and the Ticats may well leave Hamilton.
He also wants to see the city proceed with the original Setting Sail plan for the West Harbour. He agrees strongly that the West Harbour is a valuable asset that "would benefit greatly from location-appropriate development."
Yet if the city spends its Future Fund money on the East Mountain, it's not clear where the money would come to remediate the brownfield site of the Rheem plant.
Young originally contacted me in part because of last Friday's interview with Mayor Eisenberger. Young argues in contrast that Mayor Eisenberger wasn't being accurate when he expressed "surprise" that the Ticats didn't agree with the West Harbour. Young claims the team raised their concerns eight months earlier but didn't go public because the negotiations with the city were still underway.
He also disagrees with the mayor's claim that cities no longer put stadiums on highways - he argues that every successful stadium has good highway access.
Unfortunately, the one issue we didn't get to discuss in detail is the deep sense of betrayal many people seem to be feeling over this. I've been bombarded with calls and emails over the past few days of people who are outraged that the city seems to have switched at the last minute from the West Harbour to the East Mountain.
From downtown business owners to neighbourhood advocates to amateur urbanists to architects and designers - the people our economic summits keep insisting we need to attract to make Hamilton successful - city supporters are asking: how could this happen? What can we do to stop it?
In a subsequent email, Young pointed out by contrast that he has been "bombarded with emails, phone calls and letters from our audience who almost universally express 'relief' that a compromise site has been found."
Again, Young believes that while some people may oppose the East Mountain location and even boycott the team, many more will be "pleased that they can get to the stadium more easily than they can today at Ivor Wynne, or the even less accessible proposed West Harbour location."