Why It's Still Being Discussed

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 17, 2010

In response to today's RTH blog entry on the myth of the inaccessible West Harbour stadium, a dispirited commenter asked, "Why is this still being discussed?" The context of the question was the writer's belief that a stadium will probably not be built in Hamilton without the Ticats as tenants. I started to write a response but my comment grew into a full essay so I'm posting it here.

This is still being discussed because the issue is still in play. Bob Young and company have been threatening since mid-July that the Province and the Feds won't fund a stadium unless the Ticats commit to playing there, but the Province and the Feds have indicated differently.

Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin confirmed this in an email in which he wrote, "The Province is committed to a Pan Am stadium for Hamilton and will support whatever decision the City Council, in its infinite wisdom, finally makes." Liberal MPP Sofia Aggelonitis reconfirmed this in a later email in which she wrote, "For our part, we've tried to be clear that the province is committed to help fund a stadium for the Pan Am Games, that we want this stadium to be in Hamilton, and that we will support the outcome of the site location process currently in place."

More recently, after a bizarre claim emerged that the Federal government would only fund an East Mountain stadium, Ottawa also confirmed that "Federal funding is not contingent upon the location of the stadium."

Of course it's Hamilton Tiger-Cat owner Bob Young's right to seek whatever arrangements he believes best serve his interests; but it's also the City of Hamilton's right - indeed, its most basic responsibility - to ensure that a public outlay of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars be so conceived as to serve the broadest public interest.

I'm firmly of the opinion that the best choice of stadium location for the City can also be the best choice of stadium location for the Ticats. Young, Ticat president Scott Mitchell and their supporters insist that the West Harbour cannot work for them - and Mitchell flat-out stated that the team will "never" play there - but nearly a month after Young promised to release his business analysis proving the West Harbour cannot work, we're still waiting to see that study.

The studies we have seen conclude that the West Harbour is accessible by multiple transportation modes and multiple lanes of traffic from several directions, has plenty of parking, and can form part of a larger strategy to revitalize the waterfront; whereas the East Mountain would be tens of millions of dollars more expensive for the city and would produce far less public benefit.

A Big Gamble

Ultimately, the Ticats made a big gamble by categorically refusing to accept the West Harbour (after previously agreeing to play in whatever location the city chose) and by warning that a vote against the East Mountain was really a vote against any Pan Am stadium at all.

They gambled that the City - and even the Provincial and Federal governments - would be so afraid of alienating a sports franchise that they would capitulate to the most outrageous terms to build a facility at massive public expense that was designed specifically to cater to the most narrow private interest.

It was actually a pretty reasonable gamble. Wealthy sports team owners are accustomed to getting their way with governments and securing concessions that in any other context would be considered downright extortionary. Certainly they went into their endgame confident that Pan Am HostCo and the government would back them up. Young warned the nascent Our City, Our Future campaign: "If you win you will commit Council to a path that will ensure nothing gets built anywhere in Hamilton for the Pan Am games."

But something happened that the Ticats didn't expect: a massive upwelling of intense, broad citizen engagement on a scale few Hamiltonians have ever seen before. Our City, Our Future managed to focus the passion - the anger, the hopefulness, the determination - of literally thousands of citizens no longer willing to sit by and watch our city governed by fear and intimidation.

After the Province indicated that it was listening to the campaign and would support Council's stadium decision - thus undercutting Young's threat - the team apparently turned to the Federal government, hoping to pull the plug at that level. It took less than 24 hours for the Feds to "clarify" their position and get behind the Province in agreeing to support the City's decision.

The other threats and increasingly ridiculous claims revealed a franchise desperate to salvage a situation that had slipped inexorably out of its control.

A Prison of their Own Making

When the Ticats realized just before the vote that their bullying and intimidation hadn't worked, they chose to withdraw altogether from discussions with the city rather than soften their position on the West Harbour. Now they and their apologists are trying to discredit and heap ridicule on the brave Councillors who stood firm against the threats and reaffirmed their commitment to the public interest.

While major city mayors and national press editorials applaud Council for standing up to the incredible pressure brought to bear against it, detractors would have us believe that Hamilton is somehow a laughing-stock.

It's deeply unfortunate that Young and the Ticats remain so committed to their course that they would rather HostCo deny stadium funding to Hamilton altogether than try to work with the city to find ways to be profitable at the West Harbour.

It's not like there's a shortage of ideas beyond make them all drive and charge them to park. Progressive cities around the world have thriving sports franchises in downtown stadiums that form part of the fabric of city life.

But the Ticats bet the farm on getting their own way with the East Mountain location and have left themselves no way to back down from that position without losing face. Even so, the city, the fans, and the supporters of a progressive stadium legacy remain prepared to sit down with the Ticats and make this work.

Positive and Respectful

Perhaps the most amazing factor in this whole affair has been how positive and respectful, by and large, the Our City, Our Future campaign has remained, despite the increasingly desperate tactics of the Ticats and the increasingly meanspirited interjections of a few of their supporters.

On August 11, the day after the Committee of the Whole vote that decisively reaffirmed the West Harbour, an RTH reader wrote a moving comment, which read in part:

We may believe that Bob Young was misinformed about the EM. Let's prove him wrong in the most positive and supportive way, because we all know how much he has put into this city and how much he has lost doing so.

The comment was strongly upvoted and led to some constructive follow-up discussion. It also turned up yesterday in Paul Wilson's Street Beat column in the Hamilton Spectator, sadly unavailable on the newspaper's website.

Reading this on my phone on the path leading to the camp bathroom in Gatineau (there was a 200 metre stretch by the water where I got a couple of bars of 3G signal), I actually felt tears coming. In a flash I understood: This is a campaign built on love and optimism, not fear and cynicism.

When we chose the "Our City, Our Future" campaign title, I liked it because it sounded catchy and evoked the hopeful community engagement that energized it. It wasn't until I was following the late stages of the campaign intermittently from seven hours away that I came to appreciate just how prescient the name was.

Against the threats, bullying, back-channel dealing and desperate rationalizing of the narrow interests opposing the West Harbour, the open, public, broad movement to reaffirm the choice of a full community has only grown more positive, more focused and determined. In several years of observing and participating in civic affairs in Hamilton, I've never seen anything like it.

What a shame that the Ticats still can't see their way to becoming a part of something this exciting.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By westandonguard (registered) | Posted August 18, 2010 at 00:49:57

Thank you Ryan McGreal for your brilliant essay! For your brilliant insight and wisdom. Nice way to bring a tear to the eye!

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By amAlilyday (registered) | Posted August 18, 2010 at 00:52:14

I was so happy I took my sons to the Our city Our future rally in Hess Village when I saw and heard and felt that incredibly positive vision and Energy Ryan speaks of in this essay! It felf great to me as a parent to show my children how to express a passionately held position in an intelligent and respectful and positive manner. That tone was maintained throughout the Whole Day of the presentations to the Committee of the Whole.(We were there for 10 hours and only a couple snippy comments and one quickly derailed heckler swayed from the overall positive. Tone) I've always loved my hometown but I have never felt Prouder or more optimistic about this city and Our future- and like so many who signed on to our city our future- We are here for the long run- I really appreciate the role of Raise the Hammer in keeping the flow of info so easy to access.

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By brian (registered) | Posted August 18, 2010 at 05:35:50

The poll which stated people were in favor of the West harbor 51%-49% really shows alot to me. That isn't a real big difference but.... but the fact that a good portion of them are in favor of the east mountain only out of fear of losing the team is interesting. The scare tactic worked and what would have been that number had Bob Young orginally agreed to the West harbor?.. We don't know but i would guess half of that 49% would have thought it was ok. If he was orginally ok with it i bet the number would have been 70% in favor of the west harbor, it just makes alot of sense. Add in the fact he thinks that location is on planet mars or something, he has pretty much painted that picture of it being that way. They point to the accessabilty as if everyone would park right at the stadium..or would have to?. Has he ever gone to the ACC or a places like that or other CFL stadiums..where there isn't any parking at all?. Edmonton and Montreal have no onsite parking. Edmonton you get FREE parking at the bus/lrt parking lots (6 of them) you get free parking and bus/lrt. Montreal states "Parking is limited and available on the street only - there is no parking at the stadium" . People park blocks and blocks away from the ACC and go there in a city with a heck of alot more traffic than hamilton. I remember going to a blue jays game, there was a red hot chili peppers concert and a one of the big theatre shows had just ended. People were everywhere out in the street as it is...walking all over...None of them seemed too concerned they had to maybe walk 3-4 blocks back to their cars..

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By adrian (registered) | Posted August 18, 2010 at 07:20:50

The poll which stated people were in favor of the West harbor 51%-49% really shows alot to me. That isn't a real big difference but.... but the fact that a good portion of them are in favor of the east mountain only out of fear of losing the team is interesting.

Ask someone who lives on the mountain who hasn't thought about the issue a great deal where they'd prefer the stadium, and maybe they think, "Well, it's a bit closer for driving, a little more convenient...okay, East Mountain it is."

Ask someone who is supportive of the West Harbour who is involved in this process, and they'll say, "We HAVE to build it at the West Harbour! We need to build this city, remediate a toxic brownfield, honour the decisions of our local democracy," and so on.

The poll will record this as one vote for EM, one vote for WH. But there is a world of difference between these types of opinions. One is a vote of convenience, the other a deeply held civic belief.

Certainly there are people who were (are?) passionate about the EM, but none of those were really passionate about it as a site, they were passionate about the Tiger-Cats getting their way out of team loyalty, or fear of losing the team. Among most Hamiltonians, I think these are a tiny minority. You only had to attend or watch the COW meeting to see which group had more committed and involved citizens.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted August 18, 2010 at 10:11:00

Adrian, it's funny you mention Mountain residents.

My wife and I actually live on East Mountain, not incredibly far from where the stadium would have been.

We ended up living in EM because when I sold my previous house unexpectedly quickly, I had to try and find something fast. When we searched for property downtown, we came up empty. Lack of density and the fact that great downtown properties tend to be held on to meant that we had to look elsewhere.

When I was a kid, I remember asking parents (including my own) why they didn't recycle. My generation was being taught about recycling in school, while parents were intolerant, uneducated or relaxed. My wife and I are looking to have children in the near future and I know their generation will be heavily fixated on fixing the environment and studying the effects of the populous. I know our kids are gonna want to know why we live near sprawl and support it's sketchy underpinning.

I'm hoping our next move is downtown Hamilton, but that largely hinges on availability.

I support West Harbour because revitalization will create investment. Owners will be more likely to fix up their house or property, or sell it to interested people who will. Density will free up some mostly derelict property and create more opportunities for development.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 18, 2010 at 12:21:06

In the poll results, WH supporters are younger, wealthier and more educated, ie. the folks Bob says he wants to attract as fans. He's listening to the dinosaurs and they're leading him to extinction.

Also forget about the business study, either there isn't any or it's so bad Bob knows it'll just make him look even more ridiculous.

The most important thing is, we can't sit back and rest, Bob's cronies like Foxy sure aren't.

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By F. Ward Cleat (anonymous) | Posted August 18, 2010 at 13:39:20

"What a shame that the Ticats can't see their way to becoming part of something this exciting." Indeed! The West Harbour Stadium is inspirational and the challenge of getting it built is exciting. The Ticats are in the 'excitement' business as I see it and the WH momentum is an opportunity to elevate that excitement. The current Ticat management have shown their marketing skills by reviving interest in the franchise. Now take the next step help the city build the new Hamilton Tiger-Cat Stadium in the heart of Hamilton.

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By Windermere is the best site (anonymous) | Posted August 18, 2010 at 15:06:35

The Windermere site is the best choice by far. It would allow the city to de-industrialize a healthy piece of waterfront, has great highway access/visibility Bob Young was looking for and would reduce Hamilton's scare factor for people looking from the QEW.

In contrast, the west part of Hamilton already has lots of public amenities, all it just needs now are business people with some talent.

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By waterboy (anonymous) | Posted August 18, 2010 at 17:20:06

A+ for your essay. Well articulated and fairly sums up the discussion to date.

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By brian (registered) | Posted August 18, 2010 at 21:15:43

I would like to add crime stats for Canada for 2009 , since sometimes we hear a concern of going to downtown hamilton

1 Regina 3 Winnipeg 5 Edmonton 8 Vancouver 14 Montreal 18 Calgary 24 Hamilton 31 Toronto....Ottawa was ranked 27

Every CFL team has a crime rate higher than Hamilton except Toronto. Regina and Winnipeg are always near the top and 4 of the worst are out west and rank 1-3-5 and 8. Regina sells out every game, Winnipegs crowds are pretty decent and Edmonton tradionally has the largest crowds. Bottom line the fact people are 'afraid" to come to Hamilton is a bit much. I bet if you asked every one of them which is safer hamilton or regina...they would pick regina but regina and winnipeg have held that title for years. It's the same thing with Toronto, well i got news for people for a city that size its amazingly safe and always has been. Also for 9 years in a row Saskatchewan has the highest crime rate for provinces...Ontario had the lowest for 3 years in a row.

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By Peter (anonymous) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 01:51:35

Windermere is a terrible location. Talk about bad optics for Hamilton. Imagine sitting in a stadium surrounded by heavy industry; it's bad enough at IW.

Great essay. We've got to give Young an opportunity to escape this trip he's caught himself in without looking weak. That'll be a challenge.

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By cityfan (registered) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 10:38:07

There is a suggestion floating around on CHML that is being thrown out there that a Longwood and Aberdeen should be a compromise between the TigerCats and the city. What does everyone think?

Comment edited by cityfan on 2010-08-19 09:38:52

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By Hunter (anonymous) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 10:51:27

That is an actual 'compromise' site. It's downtown with east and west transit access and yet right next to the highway with visibility.

If it can be integrated with the Innovation Park (offices inside stadium?) then I say this is the best option for a city/young solution.

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By Hipgnosis (anonymous) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 10:58:29

I would say that if they can figure out a way to do it it could be great. Looking at Mac's plan for that whole area I don't see it happening though. There is no way that parking would be able to be incorporated as far as I can see and there are NO lots in that area at all. The visibility is great but I can't see how this would work.

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By cityfan (registered) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 11:10:26

I can only see it happening if HostCo says it's ok, so we will see. A long time ago I thought this would be a good site when the Commonwealth Games was being brought up. So it's ironic to me that this site is being considered. We going to hear alot of buzz on this one.

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By JM (registered) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 11:29:36

Agreed - definitely a compromise!

I'm assuming they're looking at the "Careport" site? Would the CP rail lines still be needed? They terminate over the bridge no? I see opportunities for expansion there, with walkway connections to Westdale and the LRT (over the bridge, like the John St bridge @Rogers Centre). Only missing element is GO - is it possible to build a temporary station for the Pan Am events? A full service station doesn't seem warrantable since the actual line goes to the Hunter GO station (junction just before Aberdeen).

The MIP would still be able to function, and could spur some corporate sponsorship maybe? ...sports research incubator on site?

I can see this working, lets hope it does and the fighting stops! Then we can focus the velodrome on the WH, and consider the option of a more permanent facility? - just no useless amphitheater please!


Comment edited by JM on 2010-08-19 10:31:29

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By redcliff (anonymous) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 11:50:31

Longwood and Dundurn all of the way..this is a nice compromise for those on both sides of this debate


- Urban redevelopment (may not be contaminated ground, but still redevelopment)
- Public transit access HSR, GO Bus and GO Train(there is a rail spur right beside the location - easily accessible by GO)
- Parking would be reclaimed from abandoned gravel surface off of Frid
- Congestion should be cut down due to access to 403 (people will jump on 403 to link - rather than cutting down Aberdeen)
- Realizing that the downtown may not get a direct boost - but option is better than the ti-cats leaving and not having a presence in the city
- A stadium is not the cure to downtown revitalization and renewal, I understand that there would have been some benefit but LRT and gentrification of current business district can help the process along much faster and maintain a sustainable downtown (if the cats are having a poor season i.e., 5,ooo people 9 times a year is not going to revitalize the downtown core - nor will the high school finals played in the stadium)
- boost to ailing portion of Main St. W. and Dundurn St. district
- promote use of bikelanes on Dundurn St


-Highway visibility
-Easily service their fan base via 403 and Go access
-Sufficient parking should be available to drive revenue requirement sought by Ti-Cat organization
-Accommodates both - those seeking a driveway to driveway option or those wish to access stadium via public transit

These are just a couple of points off the top of my head. I think the point I am trying to develop is that in life people have to make fair compromises. In my mind this would appear to be a fair compromise....

On a personal note, I understand some people have no interest in the Tiger Cats whatsoever or maintaining their presence in Hamilton.

However, I still enjoy hearing the stories from my wifes 94 year old granddfather about the epic battles that took place on the HAAA grounds by the Hamilton Tiger Cats (If the Ti-Cats were a building, they would be considered a heritage site).

To be honest I am not what you would call a loyal die hard fan, I attend maybe 2-3 games a year but the I heavily value and support my tax dollars going towards the Tiger Cats because they are an institution of this City (You only had to be at the final playoff game last year to understand what I am talking about).

Cities the size of Hamilton need things to rally around, something to cheer for once in a while. The Ti-Cats are Hamilton's elite team (by Canadian standards). Losing them would have a greater effect than I think is fully understood.

Sometimes you have to deal with greed and take the high road, because you know the result will benefit the greater good of everyone.

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By bigguy1231 (registered) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 11:59:02

But where will they put the 7000 car parking lot. It is a 16 acre parcel of land with less parking available than the WH. If the Ticats will accept this site then they should be in favour of the WH.

The city has made a decision, they should stick with it. No compromises.

Comment edited by bigguy1231 on 2010-08-19 10:59:59

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By JM (registered) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 12:07:51

....but WILL they stick with it? You know the drill!

"This is Hamilton!"


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By redcliff (anonymous) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 12:59:37

It would appear using Google Earth The Stadium site is 12.73 acres and the gravel field 273m away is 11.55 acres, this should be sufficient enough, like I said compromises on both sides.

To be honest I am a West Harbour supporter (but do not support it if it costs the city a institutional sports team). I also understand ("get") the economics Bob Young is trying to drive. The Dundurn/Longwood site is very different from West Harbour. I believe it accommodates both sides of the issue a more realistic manner.

Comment edited by redcliff on 2010-08-19 12:03:13

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 14:31:23

"There is a suggestion floating around on CHML that is being thrown out there that a Longwood and Aberdeen should be a compromise between the TigerCats and the city. What does everyone think?"

It would completely destroy the planned future expansion of the McMaster Innovation Park, the best and most promising economic growth opportunity in the city right now. I'd rather pave over 100 acres of cornfields, honestly.

That said, the stadium would be practically in my backyard and I would certainly enjoy that. But if we're to retain any semblance of sensible development priorities, then this is a bad idea.

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By brian (registered) | Posted August 19, 2010 at 20:46:20

The only way any other site is going to happen at this point is the Pan Am people say no at the end of the month and give Hamilton another extention. Of course there might be backdoor communication we aren't aware of and it's 100% clear the answer is no to the west harbor already. Without that there is no time to change it in 10 days, the city has picked the west harbor and that's that. I think if they did give the city another chance it would more than likely have to be fast tracked really quick and be city owned land. There won't be too much time for a decision and i would be surprised if it would be more than a month. The pan-am people are a bit stuck to because some city would have to step up to the plate. They would have to see if it's viable and a almost 100% chance they wouldn't have a anchor tenant either. The only 2 possible things for a true anchor tenant is a CFL team or MLS team...unless someone can think of something else, i can't. There won't be any other MLS team in the toronto area so you can pretty much say forget that idea. If some other city like Mississauga decided they want the cats it still takes time to make that decision, see if its financial feasible..finding a location, voting, zoning. That could take a year or more, things usually dont move as fast as we think. Maybe York university..but things dont draw too well for CIS sports..if they did their stadium would be bigger than 2,500 seats. I really can't see the province/feds coming up with 100-200 million dollars for a CFL stadium that isn't in conjuction with pan-am games or olympics or that type of thing. I have really a hard time believing any city in southern ontario would come up with that cash for a outdoor stadium that may have to be mostly funded by tax money. We wont get a clear picture until the end of the month but if they give a 2nd chance for a location confederation could be back on the table..even if it is a park. Knowing the CFL they might even try to have the cats/argos playing at the skydome. The teams aren't drawing enough but it is the CFL...they aren't too bright.

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By Peter (anonymous) | Posted August 20, 2010 at 01:52:55

Years ago I thought this might be a good site for a future stadium; I've since changed my tune. That said, it would be a compromise that I could live with.

I like the idea of integrating it into MIP in some way [space for sport-related research?] And yes, perhaps the existing tracks could be utilised for light rail, or even GO, though that seems unlikely.

As I said, not my first or even second choice, but this could be a way out of this sticky situation. We shall see.

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By Sky (anonymous) | Posted August 20, 2010 at 16:17:12

I must be missing some of the information ~ my understanding was that within the criteria of the Pan Am Games, the site must have a 'secured, long term Tenant'...I thought that the Ti-Cats were supposed to be that Tenant ? For the record, I do not watch football, I do not live near the WH nor EM...I am a business woman whom pays too much for property taxes to the City of Hamilton for nothing in return...From my professional stand point; anyone who wishes to make a profit (decent living), must know how to run their company successfully. In Mr.Young's case, he knows what is best for his business. He has poured millions of dollars into this City via the Ti-Cats, was willing to invest more for a new stadium and help rejuvinate the WH. Real estate close to and on the water is prime land...The City should concentrate on it's 'Setting Sails' agenda ~ mixed housing, light commercial, restaurants, walkways ~ simular to 'Olde Montreal' and 'The Port'...If any taxpayer truley wishes WH to win, look at our neighbors to the East and develop the core properly~ this will provide a permanent tax base with no loss...If the taxpayers wish to see us secure the Pan Am Stadium, look at the man who has a vision on what needs to happen for him and ultimately all of us to succeed. Please think twice about who is saying or doing what...look at all of the facts, not just through someone else's lenses. For some reason, even though a mediator suggested an alternative site, Council did not listen (more money down the drain) I want HAMILTON TO SUCCEED ! That will take the effort of everyone taking a step back and developing both sites in a profitable way. The WH needs major clean up (who knows what MOE will demand before it is deemed 'shovel ready', add into that the infrastructure, water, sewage, roads...this is not going to be a quick fix, the games are coming in 2015...We need a site large enough to entice more entertainment, not a one time shot. We have the opportunity to have a win/win here...Build a large enough stadium to host the Games, house the Ti-Cats, secure a Grey Cup and welcome open air concerts...Let's build the best at both worlds...not fight for any one cause. We have a chance to work together here, the passion that both sides feel is amazing...I am 100% behind rejuvinating the West Harbor ~ a stadium will not do it...I am 100% behind the Ti-Cats being successful~ a larger stadium, different location will do it...Bottom line is we all want Hamilton to grow and make money...West Harbor and East Mountain is Hamilton. Have an amazing day and bravo to everyone for working on making a difference !

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By urban guy (anonymous) | Posted August 20, 2010 at 21:23:22

When you break down the Angus Reid Poll, 70% are in favour of the WH in the 18-34 age bracket. And that was with AR polling land-line users and not cell phone users.

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By brian (registered) | Posted August 20, 2010 at 22:08:05

Sky you make some good points but the bottom line nobody who gives at most 10% of the cost should have 100% of the say in my opinion. The east mountain location would have cost 80 to 100 million more. If a city expressed interest in the ticats and had some sites lined up...and the ticats decided on what they wanted but it cost 80-100 million more...guess what the answer would be?...NO

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By sbwoodside (registered) - website | Posted August 21, 2010 at 16:20:57

Fantastic article/essay.

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