For once let's rediscover our ambition and work together, with real public input, to help bring an NHL team to Hamilton.
By Trey Shaughnessy
Published May 11, 2009
In the last year, Hamilton has heard some of the most path-altering announcements and proposals to turn this City around in a very long time. Predictably, our own Usual Suspects can't get excited or remain positive and hopeful.
The proposals have been: the Pan-Am Games bid (based in Toronto), light rail transit (Metrolinx), The Connaught Tower / Hamilton Grand (Harry Stinson), the Education Square plan, and most recently, The NHL (Jim Balsillie).
Do you notice anything in common with these names? With only one exception, all of them are from out of town.
(The exception, the Education Square project, is being stalled and might not happen, which would allow the Board of Education to fulfill its hidden agenda to move to the mountain. That project is being set up to fail.)
I'm going to suggest that our own mainstream media (one radio, one newspaper, and one television station), our City staff, our City Council and our business leaders either want to dampen the enthusiasm with negativity, make it their own project to champion, or protect their own egos because they've stopped making positive things happen decades ago.
A certain former local donut and coffee seller, 20 years after his own failed attempt, now thinks Hamilton can't support a NHL team and keep it economically viable.
A certain Hamilton trucking magnate suggested that anyone who wants to bring the NHL to Hamilton "needs to be medicated". Not only was this comment insensitive and downright insulting to people who need the "medication", it was basically calling Balsillie a 'mad billionaire' for believing in Hamilton.
Copps Coliseum is beautiful arena. I'm just as proud of it today as the day it was built. The fact that it's just one of three such arenas in the entire province doesn't stop our press and 'civic leaders' from constantly saying negative things about it.
So what if Copps needs new seats and some corporate boxes installed? The corporate boxes were roughed in for the future and seats happen to have a limited lifespan. If HECFI didn't maintain it in the past, that's something of a travesty, but Balsillie is prepared to pay for necessary renovations.
The arena seats 18,500 (more then the Kanata Senators), it's efficiently laid out and has a good view from every seat. Don't you think Balsillie knows what needs to be done to Copps?
Thanks to our media, now the country and the NHL basically think the arena needs to be torn down.
There is one exception from the local elite: former regional chair Terry Cooke has been positive about Hamilton's potential. His most recent op-ed in the Spectator showed more hopeful excitement then any civic leader or persons of influence.
Unlike many current NHL owners, [Balsillie] also has a genuine love of hockey as a game, not just a business. He's more comfortable in the cheap seats with real fans than in a corporate box with the stuffed shirts.
That's why Balsillie's interest in bringing the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Ontario is fascinating despite local skepticism due to past disappointments. His failed attempts with Pittsburgh and Nashville simply stoked his appetite to try again. The word quit is just not part of his vocabulary.
The cost of overhauling Copps Coliseum remains substantially lower than the price tag to have a new arena built elsewhere. But maybe more importantly, Balsillie is an urbanist and a hockey fan. He knows that great hockey experiences are made in downtowns such as Boston or Buffalo and not at a sterile highway interchange in Phoenix or Kanata.
Last year, Harry Stinson said this city needs to "have a moratorium on negativity." He's right. But it's Hamilton's own regular citizens who are excited and hopeful. You can't beat our ambition, at least when it comes to the NHL.
Why hasn't City Hall planned a special NHL Day of Celebration? Let's dedicate a day for Hamiltonians to show the continent (and Gary Bettman) our excitement for the NHL. Complete with speakers - from everyday people to Don Cherry - music, banners, fireworks, hockey players, and maybe broadcast the next Coaches Corner from the event.
For once let's work together. That means everyone in the same room (and not in camera) but reported on from all our media outlets (big and small) with real public input, showing our ambition again.
This is a great market and a great city. We can do it, if we want it.
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