'Utilitarian' Stadium Carries Big Risks

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 04, 2010

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats seem willing to 'partner' with the city on a Pan Am stadium at the West Hamilton CP Rail Yard site (and I use the term 'partner' loosely, given that the team haven't actually committed any funding toward the stadium), but City Manager Chris Murray says that even if we close a $60-70 million funding gap, we will end up with a "utilitarian" stadium.

It surprises me to learn that the Ticats are okay with this, given owner Bob Young's concern, when I spoke with him back in July, that we might end up with another Miami Arena.

The Arena, built in 1988 in an economically depressed part of town, limped along until 1999, at which time the Miami Heat moved to a new arena just a few blocks away from the old location.

Young told me Miami Arena failed because it was built in a depressed inner city neighbourhood, but the evidence doesn't support this view. The main issue seems to be that it was built on the cheap, using entirely public money. It was widely regarded as obsolete from the day it opened, and its cheap construction materials aged badly.

The replacement, AmericanAirlines Arena, is literally a few blocks away (and on the waterfront, no less), about the same distance from the nearest highway. It's served by the Miami Metromover LRT line, and parking is available off-site in a number of surface lots within walking distance.

AmericanAirlines Arena (Image Credit: Wikipedia)
AmericanAirlines Arena (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The main difference is that AA Arena was built to world-class standards - at a total cost of $213 million in 2000 dollars - in partnership with the private sector and benefits from significant private funding (it's even LEED Certified).

I'm not 100% certain the lessons of Miami Arena and AmericanAirlines Arena are transferable to Hamilton, but it should be enough to give residents pause when the City's chief negotiator tells us the best we can hope for is a "utilitarian" facility funded entirely by taxpayer dollars.

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 mrjanitor (registered) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 08:00:43


I'm glad there is now a discussion on the quality of stadium being proposed. I was hoping simple and elegant would be the appropriate description for the west harbour site. Utilitarian beside the highway only seems to meet Bob Young's goals.

I read your July 13/10 report and came across this:

"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'm curious if you still have the same assessment now as you did in July?

Comment edited by mrjanitor on 2010-10-04 07:14:26

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By Robbie K (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 08:27:42

I particularly liked these lines :

"On January 2, 2000, the Heat moved to the American Airlines Arena located three blocks east of Miami Arena on the shore of Biscayne Bay"


"The arena was easily accessible via mass transit, with a Metrorail stop at Historic Overtown/Lyric Theater station just across the street (once known as Overtown/Arena station). Miami-Dade city buses also service the arena area downtown."

So they had the driveway to driveway, but decided to move it to the waterfront. I wonder if we ever pitched a similar waterfront stadium idea to Bob? Probably not....

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted October 04, 2010 at 08:37:26

Ryan, once again you're doing a great job of shining light on issues that deserve some illumination. Good stuff.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 08:55:31

Let's hope he sells the team. I know there are a lot of bad advisors out there only looking for a quick buck, but you gotta believe that our next owner would be someone who doesn't surround himself with 1970's thinkers.

Heck, other cities are grappling with owners who are looking for public money for downtown sports projects.

How did we end up paying 100% of the cost for a stadium with almost no benefit to anyone long term? Including the Cats. This is only a short term money grab. This stadium location will hurt them and everyone else involved within a decade. Forget the Miami Arena - we're making our own mistake right here.

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By Vod K (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 08:58:59

This is not a knock on the west harbour but I feel I am missing something- so I ask the question:

How would we have something larger, better, more appealing in th West Harbour? Wouldn't the funding gap (I'm talknig bricks and mortar here not the land) exist regardless of the location?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 09:02:50

^Frank Gehry's corporation wants to invest in the west harbour. So does Molinaro Group, Katz Entertainment, White Star Group, etc. Pretty sure we can come up with the money for a high quality stadium with those players.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 09:38:49

Vod K, I'm sure that Graham would be best to answer your question, but from my understanding the funding gap comes from the fact that the acquisition and clean-up of the CP rail site is 3-4 times more expensive than the cleanup of the WH stadium site. The city already owns the WH stadium land. There are no relocation costs at WH for a company like Steelcare. There is no need to start widening highway ramps and major streets like Aberdeen in the WH - there are 44 lanes of east/west traffic on major roads within 800m of the WH site.

And yes, as the above poster mentions, there were several possible partnership options to be explore at the WH that may have resulted in less cost being borne by the taxpayer. Of course, these builders/developers are bullish on the WH because they don't employ 1970's consultants. They understand cities, urban economies and what makes for successful (profitable) development ventures. Not surprisingly those developers haven't mentioned any interest in the CP site. The WH might be one of the most exciting pieces of urban land left in Canada. That our only pro-sports team wants to pass on being part of the action is stunning and sad.

I'm now starting to believe that we can do something far better at WH without a stadium. But only if we convince council to preserve the future fund for WH projects instead of blowing it all on a stadium.

From the reading I've done of council minutes/agendas etc.... they are pushing WH development forward with or without the stadium. This needs to remain as the far more important focus of this debate, because it is.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-10-04 08:39:11

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted October 04, 2010 at 11:42:23

Jason has it exactly correct. The variables he mentions are all related to the true and total funding gap, not just the funding gap related to number of seats, which would not change because of the WH. We have to bear in mind that we've already spent $8 million to acquire land in the WH. We have another $2-3 million set aside to remediate the soil. Currently, we've purchased enough land to support the construction of the stadium.

One of the problems with the CP Rail site is that we would have to buy the entire site. CP will not sever a portion. It's all or none. Even with the Ti-Cats "willing" to purchase 10 acres next to the stadium for Ti-CatLand, it still means that Hamilton taxpayers are expected to buy and remediate the remaining 41 acres, which is far more land than we need. All of it would have to be remediated.

BTW, Steelcare pays $500,000 a year in taxes to the City. Sure, they may end up paying just as much after we pay to move them, but finding them an appropriately sized site that works as well as their current one won't be easy. Or cheap.

Comment edited by H+H on 2010-10-04 10:43:25

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 12:29:46

Ryan - I find your comment "My understanding is that he believes strongly in expertise: he surrounds himself with experts and then listens to them. I think he needs to find some new experts." quite perplexing. Are you telling us that you know better than the experts in their own fields of expertise? or that they are not really experts? or that he really should just listen to you? or surround himself with yes men instead of experts?

I all ways thought that the idea was to get the best experts you could get in their field and then listen to them. If you are not going to listen to them why bother hiring them in the first place? On the other hand if you know it all or have a vision that will be followed no matter what you do not need experts. There are lots of examples of both working. I cannot think of one example of hiring the best experts paying them good money firing them replacing them until you get an opinion you like working very well.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 13:50:56

I'm no stadium expert either, nor do I play one on TV, but I'd much rather see some sort of substantial analysis as to why WH would lose so much money for the Tigert-Cats, rather than a chart comparing U.S. MLS stadia.

Is that really a fair comparison? is this basis of the refusal to accept a WH stadium as the new home of the Tiger-Cats?

Firstly can you even comapre the American sports culture with the Canadian sports culture? Just look how differently the sport of football is viewed in each country.(and I'm not even referring to the difference in market size)

Secondly, comparing MLS to CFL? Really?

Wouldn't it be more realisitic to look at other CFL stadia and analyse what works well and what does not?

But, as I've said, I'm no expert either.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 13:57:54

z jones wrote, "Frank Gehry's corporation wants to invest in the west harbour. So does Molinaro Group, Katz Entertainment, White Star Group, etc. Pretty sure we can come up with the money for a high quality stadium with those players."

Great point!

You'd think that if the Tiger-cats could team up with all or some of those players that something wonderful could happen at WH that would include a successful stadium.

All this talk of funding gaps and all these players wanting in.

What's wrong with this picture?

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 14:07:18

Experts don't get a magic free pass just because they're experts.

No kidding. Forgive me for disagreeing 100% with the 'experts' who designed the crap we call King and Main and their 403 on/off ramps. My kids wouldn't design something that horrible if they tried.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 14:09:51

BTW, Steelcare pays $500,000 a year in taxes to the City. Sure, they may end up paying just as much after we pay to move them, but finding them an appropriately sized site that works as well as their current one won't be easy. Or cheap.

You bring up a good point here Graham. I can't believe how often we hear about a local company looking to expand, but they can't find a large enough piece of land so they move to another city. We have acres and acres of empty land along the Bayfront zone and we have entire business parks like Red Hill/North Glanbrook sitting empty.
Why can we never find a big piece of land for these companies when we are swimming in empty land??

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By Argyle (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 18:13:03

don't forget these experts are some of the same that turned the centre mall into the disaster it is today.
I don't know one nearby resident that likes the new centre any better than the old one.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2010 at 19:53:35

Hamilton needs tax reform, NOT more spending.

Hamilton tax rates 2010

Residential 1.538%
Commercial 4.113%
Industrial 5.842%

Burlington tax rates 2010

R - 1.039%
C - 2.328%
I - 3.639%

For every $1 million in new residential investment, Hamilton charges residential investors $15,380 in taxes. That same investment in Burlington costs only $10,390.

A $1 million investment in commercial property costs $41,130 in Hamilton, yet in Burlington, investors only pay $23,280. Last but not least, Industrial taxes per million dollars of investment cost $22,030 more in Hamilton than Burlington.

If the goal of the city is to increase the amount of new investment into this city, the best way to do this is to allow investors to keep more of their money. Like Ryan says, tax something more and you get less of it.

However, if the city's real goal is to keep our reputation as a poor city, high tax rates and high spending will do the trick.

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By real dollars vs phony dollars (anonymous) | Posted October 05, 2010 at 23:09:32

"Frank Gehry's corporation wants to invest in the west harbour. So does Molinaro Group, Katz Entertainment, White Star Group, etc. Pretty sure we can come up with the money for a high quality stadium with those players."

None of these guys have invested a nickel in Hamilton.
Why do Hamiltonians always turn their backs on the local guys who are investing in their city, in favor of pie-in-the-sky out-of-towners who promise the moon but never come through?

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted October 05, 2010 at 23:46:22

The original plan by the City of Hamilton to build a flagship Pan Am athletics/multi-use stadium in a utilitarian location has now morphed into a plan driven by the Tiger-Cats for the city to build a utilitarian stadium in a non-utilitarian location the cost of which is yet to be determined. And, if the CP rail yard is relocated elsewhere to accommodate the stadium, it could possibly move out of Hamilton further impacting our fragile local economy. Big risks indeed!

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By westandonguard (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 01:45:10

"Frank Gehry's corporation wants to invest in the west harbour. So does Molinaro Group, Katz Entertainment, White Star Group, etc. Pretty sure we can come up with the money for a high quality stadium with those players."

"None of these guys have invested a nickel in Hamilton. "

Molinaro group certainly have built buildings in Hamilton. Hired many many Hamilton workers!

There are developers and investors ready for WH development. Yes.

As for money spent in Hamilton, White Star have nearly completed a redevelopment project on a large derelict building on Walnut Street. They saved that building among others. They also own property in WH (both sides of the Rheem site) and have been forced into abeyance by the city for years -- in full cooperation with the Setting Sails WH plans. Waiting. Silently. Patiently. Paying taxes and not able to develop for the last 10 years. They even own a valid business license for the property at WH and cannot operate. Now there is a story. Even Bob Bratina stated in public that White Star plans have sat on his desk for 5 years. Nothing done.

So I'd say they've invested some money in Hamilton. Is Hamilton not open for business? Sure, White Star plans seemed grandiose, with retractable stadium roof and condo development plans etc, but it was also a plan to create jobs, clean up the lands and help kick-start overall downtown rejuvenation. There is no talk about downtown rejuvenation anymore with this project, or LRT or GO. Enough with the stadium. Let's spend this money on smaller projects that truly INVEST in Hamilton, create some parks, open our selves to young business people who want/need good old vacant buildings ZONED correctly... clean up brown-fields, upgrade some infrastructure, and find solutions that fix the poverty in Hamilton. Combine the best of capitalism in the knowledge base society and the best of socialism for the good quality of life we all deserve. And spending so much money carelessly, so much of the PEOPLE's money, is down right criminal. The Future Fund was not designed for this...

Are we living in Bizzaro world?

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted October 06, 2010 at 21:21:08

An article by John Kernaghan on website tonight reports that Bob Young says that he is willing to invest in the stadium at the CP rail site and will also bring some small investors to the table. The amount of Young's financial participation in the stadium and whether it will be tied to stadium naming rights will be announced at the Committee of the Whole meeting next Tuesday:

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2010-10-06 20:21:31

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