Storm Cunningham: Downtown Stadiums Have Larger Benefits

By RTH Staff
Published July 22, 2010

Storm Cunningham, the keynote speaker at this year's Hamilton Economic Summit, wrote an op-ed in today's Toronto Star on Hamilton's Pan Am stadium dispute:

The Ticats are putting $15 million into the new stadium and worry they won't make as much money downtown. But a University of Maryland study showed that downtown stadiums have larger benefits than suburban stadiums. With the Pan Am infrastructure and other enhancements, the Ticats might sell more tickets downtown.

That's what happened in Indianapolis and Baltimore. All Indianapolis sports facilities are downtown, generating loads of foot traffic and commercial activity.

Baltimore's revitalized Inner Harbor used a "critical mass" strategy, simultaneously creating many attractions in a pedestrian-friendly waterfront environment. Visitors "cross-fertilize" among Camden Yards baseball, National Aquarium, shopping, concerts and waterfront promenade. That concentration motivates visitors to travel from further afield, thus expanding the market. Hamilton's great waterfront parks, marinas and promenade put it well ahead of Baltimore's ugly starting point.

The entire essay is well worth reading for its larger perspective on the role of this stadium in the city's overall trajectory of development.


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By Hunter (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 11:37:22

That's a good summary of what the downtown stadium is all about.

People are not hesitant to point out that Copps did not turn downtown around. Unfortunately Copps was built in good faith for an NHL team that was given to Ottawa instead, thus delaying for a generation other downtown developments that might have led to "critical renewal".

We are approaching the "critical renewal" point now with the art gallery, central library, farmer's market, Copps, accessible and desirable waterfront, james st., lister restoration etc. all being reasons to live in and visit the core. The stadium in this general area, new GO stops and most importantly the LRT I believe will all galvanize the reality of "critical renewal" and private sector momentum can take over.

Increasing the desirability of downtown automatically increases the desirability (and property values) of the suburbs. It does not work the other way around.

A WH stadium will not make the ti-cats rich but it is economically feasible. The reality is that that's the most a CFL owner can hope for.


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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 11:54:49

Read the whole thing at and then came here.

I've said for years that downtown's decline has been a snowball effect, people leave, businesses leave, more people leave, more businesses leave, etc. etc. Undoing that is not easy, and it's not going to happen overnight. Unrolling that snowball (or jelly roll for a easier analogy) is a slow process, but can be done by getting more people downtown, which attracts more businesses, which attracts more people, which makes the area seem safter, which attracts more businesses, etc.

At some point, the process starts to roll down the other side of the hill, and that tipping point is this critical mass people are talking about. Will the stadium be what puts the downtown core over the edge? I honestly don't know. But what I do know is that the East Mountain Stadium will do the downtown no good at all.

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By HamiltonFan (registered) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 12:06:49

I suspect that the EM site will get the go ahead IMHO unless something drastic changes things. I would encourage people who are agains't using the FF money for a EM site to lobby strongly agains't using this money for the EM site.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 12:29:20

People are not hesitant to point out that Copps did not turn downtown around.

Another thing, they actually demolished real working downtown homes and businesses to put in the craptaculous Jackson Square complex, it took out vitality and then drained all the formerly busy streets around the block.

West Harbour isn't taking out existing use, it's taking out an empty festering industrial site that's harming investment from the area around it.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 22, 2010 at 13:17:28

"Another thing, they actually demolished real working downtown homes and businesses to put in the craptaculous Jackson Square complex, it took out vitality and then drained all the formerly busy streets around the block."

While I would never hold up the divergent result from original plan ('Civic Square') that Jackson Square ended up being, I do have to point out that the above statement is, at the very least inaccurate. It paints the picture that the entire area was thriving and some kind of evil deed was perpetrated upon the citizenry. It wasn't...and it wasn't.

This is a great example of either not having a good grasp on the circumstances at the time and looking back from a biased, revisionist standpoint...or not having a good grasp on the circumstances at the time and looking back from a biased, revisionist standpoint.

In either case, ranting doesn't really dignify any matter that there are no exclamation marks involved.

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By Centrist (registered) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 13:42:27

To understand the Jackson Square complex, you need to understand that it was in vogue in the 1960s to build shopping centres in downtown central business districts. The idea was to bring the success of the suburban shopping centre to the somewhat declining central city. This, unfortunately, didn't really work out as planned in many city across Canada and the States. To rant about it as if it was some sort of evil scheme to "demolish real working downtown homes and businesses" only shows ignorance.

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By Centrist (registered) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 13:48:20

also, you never know, 50 years from now people might look back and think that it was idiotic to wasted time, energy and resources building a sports stadium down by water.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 14:22:52

@mystoneycreek They weren't thriving but they WERE surviving, no thanks to the one way streets the city installed in the 1950s (there was an RTH article recently with a newspaper from the time full of businesses telling the city the one way streets were killing them).

Go back and read Jane Jacobs "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" to see the difference between what 1960s planners saw in urban neighborhoods and what the people who lived in them felt about whether they were 'slums' that needed to be 'cleared'.

@Centrist I know it was the vogue, no one is saying it was an "evil scheme", it was ignorance and stupidity plain and simple. Most cities have figured this out and learned from their mistakes not to demolish working neighborhoods, leave their brownfields empty and dead or build new facilities on wheat fields.

Except Hamilton. We keep making the same mistakes over and over again, hoping for a different result.

Comment edited by nobrainer on 2010-07-22 13:23:13

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By LoveIt (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 15:42:13

Jackson Square is not enough for downtown. There should be more to create critical mass to transform into quality. WH should be the turning point. Besides, WH is more for general public than EM. We can hope for some public events to be held in WH and around. At EM - fooorget about it, it's all monopoly-like, too unaccessable. Some young families with kids cannot afford the ride, but they are important for the city wellbeing.

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By J Morse (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 17:55:48

Let's all put our energy into raising our voices to council and mayor. I just sent them all this letter:

Dear Mayor and Councilors,

Please consider the following regarding stadium location and funding:

An opportunity emerged for the people of Hamilton to participate in, and benefit from, investment in recreational and entertainment facilities related to the Pan Am Games. This received promises of funding from the Ontario government and Hamilton's 'Future Fund'. Not everyone agrees this type of public investment in recreational facilities is worthwhile. I believe it is worthwhile, however, as government has the ability to make decisions on large scale projects that represent the interests of the general population as well as those of business.

The province has clear guidelines regarding where development is to be targeted, and the focus is on infill concentration, regional transit nodes, and away from our province's dwindling agricultural and ecologically sensitive lands. The Future Fund, in my understanding, is to be invested in urban revitalization, to make Hamilton more attractive for residents and businesses to locate, or remain, in Hamilton. The reasoning behind the provincial policy and the Future Fund is widely accepted as what's best for the future social, environmental, and economic well being of our region.

As a result of the conflict between the interests of a single business and council's agreed position on location, you are now facing a choice between two options. The original West Harbour location fits all the criteria of the clearly stated goals of our city and province, while the East Mountain location is the opposite in that it satisfies not one of these goals. You must choose between our vision for the future prosperity of our city, or the perceived revenue needs of a pro sports franchise. There is a rising swell of concern that government money, our money, will be handed over to private interests. The choice is clear. Public investment is not for pro sports teams.
If we lose out on the stadium, the games, the football team, it will be disappointing. If we decide to hand over our hopes for the future to a private business to gamble with, it will be a disgrace.

Please state clearly your position on this issue, and that it is NOT to invest any public funds in an East Mountain stadium plan.

Thank you.

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By ReMorse (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 22:04:11

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted July 23, 2010 at 00:26:59

On tonight's Ticats game at Percival-Molson stadium on the downtown McGill campus, they gave the stat of the Al's having sold out 95 consecutive home games (20,000 seats). They just finished an expansion of 5000 seats and have already sold 3500 of them to new season ticketholders.

Check out google maps to show there is minimal nearby parking.

Mt Royal is an equivalent barrier to lake ontario for the WH site, so they are accessible from only 3 directions as opposed to 4 now at IW and effectively only 1 at EM. Percival Molson is closer to downtown and looks to have less parking. In both places, the downtown will derive significant economic benefit on game days. The same is not true for big boxes surrounding EM site.

"Honey, let's go see the Cats then look at some flooring." Right.

WH will have more use on non-game days than EM as it is closer to a dense population, hotels, varied businesses, many schools and Mac.

Stadiums are not primarily economic engines, they showcase the city. Still I wish someone in city hall would examine the economic argument, which if you look at the big picture will be solidly in favour of WH. Only if you take a self interested view, like Bob, does EM make any sense. Or if you buy into the rhetoric and refuse to recognize that you will creep along in seemingly endless queues for that single highway access.

I would bet if you put the question to fans honestly, i.e. would you rather walk 10 minutes to your car and then drive away easily (at WH or like now at IW) or walk 5 minutes to the EM parking lot then idle in the car for another 20 minutes waiting to get the hell out of there, well...

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