As Councillors prepare to digest today's last-minute reports from staff about a proposed Velodrome at Mohawk, as well as an "update" that we're actually going to build a whole new stadium at Ivor Wynne rather than half a stadium with a refurbished North Stand - but at no additional cost - we must ask some difficult questions about the whole process:
Why was the earlier cost estimate so high?
In the end, the assumption that a whole stadium would cost on the order of $175 million resolved Councillors against reconfirming their previously-preferred choice of the West Harbour.
Is IWS actually a cheaper location than the West Harbour?
This morning, Mayor Bob Bratina went on the Bill Kelly Show on CHML to dispel the idea that the West Harbour is a viable site:
The West Harbour keeps popping up. And whatever the costs are of anything at the Mohawk site or the Ivor Wynne site, you would have to add a premium of a lot of money in order to clean the West Harbour site. Now I'll give you a quick example: the Waterfront Trust built a rink down in the North End, and they found out that that rink required $400,000 worth of soil remediation. So, that's about a fifth of an acre. So you can extrapolate for a 20 acre site, somewhere in the $35-40 million range for site clean-up. Even if it's half that, that's extra money on top of all the other expenses. So I hope we're not gonna belabour that one and it's covered in the report here.
However, the cost to remediate the West Harbour has already been studied and estimated at $3-5 million, not $35-40 million or even $18-20 million. Why is the Mayor citing unsupported figures on the radio?
At the same time, the WH site provides a number of countervailing financial benefits:
The City would be able to sell the IWS property, which does not require remediation, to developers to recoup some capital costs.
The Ticats will not have to play in a temporary alternate site during construction. It is not yet clear how much that would cost or who would have to pick up the tab, but given the history of this project, the City is likely to end up at least partially on the hook.
A remediated West Harbour would generate new investment and new tax assessments in neighbouring properties, producing a net revenue increase for the city.
Finally, the city will have to spend the money at some point to remediate the West Harbour, if we are ever to fulfil our commitment to that site and to the community stuck with it.
Given that the City knew the North Stands could not be refurbished as early as the Spring of this year, why are we only hearing about it today?
In July, after Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young suggested IWS was going to be rebuilt rather than refurbished, everyone involved maintained that the project was still at a request for qualifications and could provide no details.
However, the detail that a refurbishment was not feasible seems important enough to share publicly sooner rather than later, regardless of the cost implication.
Unfortunately, the stadium process has been shrouded in secrecy since Young and Bratina announced their IWS proposal to the world - Council included - in a joint press conference.
Members of Council should press Murray and Bratina to determine who knew what, and when - and why Council was kept in the dark for so long.
What are we really getting out of the Mohawk Velodrome proposal?
Mohawk College is offering to contribute $2 million toward the Velodrome and associated parking, as well as $15 on an adjacent sports facility that will be for the use of students, not the public. This may be a good synergy for the school, but not so much for residents and taxpayers.
The only real benefit for taxpayers is the shared parking, but a velodrome on the West Harbour site would also benefit from shared parking with the Stadium, as well as thousands of existing spots in the immediate neigbhourhood.
All in all, some portion of $2 million toward the Velodrome itself is only a small fraction of the total cost, and the City would still be on the hook for any unfunded costs beyond its $5 million Future Fund contribution.
Update: I sent a note to the Council members of the Velodrome Committee - Councillors Russ Powers, Terry Whitehead, Brian McHattie and Robert Pasuta - to ask whether there are any agendas or minutes available for meetings they have had since January. Councillor Powers responded:
I'm not aware of any (but I'm sure that staff kept their own notes). The AC [advisory committee] was created to advise and assist staff (both internal and PanAm staff) in their development of a permanent, international-standard velodrome concept.
Asked why the meetings of the Velodrome committee did not come with agendas and published minutes, Powers replied:
As I said, it was an advisory committee to staff...it doesn't report to GIC or Council directly.
Powers further clarified:
Besides the 4 councillors, there were reps from the CCA, OCA, the NCCH, the Hamilton Cycling Club, the City of Hamilton Cycling Committee and reps from various social service advisors to advise the 4-6 city staff.
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