In January, the Ticats said they would get behind whatever Pan Am stadium site the city chose.
By Ryan McGreal
Published July 21, 2010
Whatever happened to this?
The Tiger-Cats are behind whatever Pan Am Games stadium site the city chooses, says club owner Bob Young.
Young's commitment wipes out fears the football club and city hall were on a collision course over the stadium location.
"We will make it work, whatever the site," Young said yesterday.
Then, as now, the city was contemplating two sites side-by-side: downtown (at the West Harbour) and out in the suburbs (the area around Hamilton International Airport).
Then, as now, people were worried that the various stakeholders might not come to an agreement in time and the Provincial Pan Am money might flow elsewhere.
A few things have changed since then, of course. The suburban option has moved from the area around the airport to the area around the Red Hill Valley Parkway.
More important, the Ticats now insist that there's no way they can "make it work" at a West Harbour stadium.
Team owner Bob Young has gone so far as to state that if the City picks the West Harbour, the Ticats will refuse to sign on and Hamilton will lose the stadium altogether.
In an interview with RTH, Mayor Fred Eisenberger said, "It was a surprise to me that Bob Young was not going to play in the West Harbour in any way, shape or form."
Young disputes this, saying that the Ticats raised their concerns with the city during the private negotiations over a potential site, hoping that the city would address them effectively. They didn't go public sooner because the negotiations were still underway.
After Council selected the West Harbour in May, Young went public with a letter claiming the city selected the West Harbour without collaborating with the Ticats and objecting that the location has no visibility for naming rights, limited automobile access, no parking, and is a poor fit with residential neighbours.
The site is currently an industrial brownfield consisting of junkyards and abandoned industrial facilities, including the Rheem factory, which overlooks a large CN rail yard on the waterfront. Local activist Matt Jelly published a photo essay yesterday that documented the conditions at the site.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger shot back that the city had engaged the Ticats directly through the entire selection process, that the West Harbour has excellent transit connections and is close to abundant existing parking, and that "the purpose of this project is community building".
Nevertheless, Council wavered and the two sides brought in Michael Fenn to facilitate a compromise. Late in the mediation process, Fenn is said to have suggested the provincially-owned East Mountain location, which he apparently knew about from his time as the Chair of the Ontario Realty Corp. (Mr. Fenn has declined to be interviewed by RTH to clarify his role in introducing the East Mountain site.)
The Ticats responded to Fenn's report with a letter of support endorsing the East Mountain and promising $15 million investment in the "stadium and precinct", $3 million a year for ten years to manage the stadium, the "transition costs" to manage the team between now and the opening of the new stadium, and $14 million to attract two Grey Cup games to Hamilton.
City Council fell in love with the proposal and actually considered dropping the West Harbour from consideration altogether before finally voting to study both locations side-by-side in advance of a final decision on August 10.
Since then, a closer look at the East Mountain suggests it will require millions of dollars in public spending to add a new highway interchange, increase road capacity in the vacinity, manage storm water runoff (the East Mountain location is one of the few greenfield spots at the top of the flood-prone Red Hill valley that currently absorbs rain water), and re-route the hydro line that currently bisects the site.
The East Mountain location sits where the Lincoln Alexander Parkway meets the Red Hill Valley Parkway, bounded by the Mud Street interchange and Stone Church Road. It has very limited local and regional transit connectivity and is essentially inaccessible by foot or bicycle.
A rail trail from downtown currently passes close to the site, but the trail runs along the Niagara Escarpment, through a greenbelt, next to the King's Forest Golf Course and through Mohawk Sports Park on the way.
It could potentially be converted into a light rail or GO Train line to access the stadium, but the potential for transit-oriented development along the line is extremely limited and the investment in building and operating the line would not be cost-effective.
City staff are preparing a comprehensive study of the new location and will present it to Council in August.
The Ticats have not yet shared their business analysis showing that the West Harbour cannot work, though they promise to release more details in the next week or so.
However, it seems clear from what we do know that the major issue is not the dearth of parking at the West Harbour (in fact, there are thousands of parking spots within walking distance of the West Harbour) but the promise of 6-7,000 spots on the East Mountain for which the Ticats expect to collect the revenues.
In response to the suggestion that a creative collaboration with the city and local stakeholders could generate plenty of exciting opportunities for generating revenue at a West Harbour location, Young replied that the team and developers they spoke with "have studied this for months now and we cannot find any" such opportunities at the West Harbour location.
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