Some decisions are huge and can only be made once. We either get it right, or we continue with our botched legacy of failed projects and misused tax dollars.
By Jason Leach
Published March 11, 2010
Today's Spectator carries a disturbing piece outlining a plan by some local businessmen to look at having Hamilton's Pan Am stadium built somewhere other than the West Harbour/downtown location currently proposed.
The thinking behind this "stadium coup" (as the Spec puts it) is so typical of Hamilton that it makes you wonder how we'll ever get ahead in the high tech, sustainable, urban world that we now live in.
There are several issues I have with this loosely outlined plan as presented in the article.
First, none of us will be surprised that a small group of Hamilton's elite are circling like vultures at the sight of public money.
I don't know who is involved in these talks, but I'm willing to bet that the names will be familiar when they are finally revealed. It seems that Hamilton's newest industry is filling the pockets of a few well-off developers with our tax dollars.
Even more disturbing is the continued notion that public money should be used to fill private pockets, even if it means sacrificing what's best for the city.
Go look at the disgusting exterior of city hall for one of many examples of this. Instead of spending the extra $2 million on decent limestone siding, we decided to save it as a kickback to the contractor upon the job being completed.
The seat of government in Hamilton and our most iconic public building ends up looking like crap so a few folks can jam their bank accounts with our money.
My second beef is with the three alternative locations. Let me say this right off the bat: if a group of private builders wants to build a stadium on the LaFarge Canada property, do it on your own dime!
Think Hamilton has an image problem now? Wait until the folks from TO visit for a concert or Labour Day game and find themselves surrounded by smokestacks, polluted air, transport trucks and absolutely nothing else nearby to do in terms of entertainment.
Only in Hamilton could we find a way to spend tens of millions of dollars and end up further harming the city's image, instead of helping it.
Oh wait, I forgot. That doesn't matter. The trucks and cars flying by on the QEW will supposedly help fill the pockets of someone (not you, or I, or city hall coffers) who gets to slap their name on the side of the stadium.
I hope they use carbon resistant letters or power-wash their sign three times a day.
I have absolutely no interest in putting our prized stadium in a location that will leave visitors gasping at their surroundings ... and gasping on the soot they just swallowed with their hot dog.
If public money is going to be spent on this project, we need to look at the location that best serves the public interest. In this case that means looking at accessibility, spinoff effects, image building, legacy building - you know, all the reasons the site study recommended the West Harbour.
What kind of legacy are we building by putting our stadium in the middle of the spot that everyone else in the country wants to avoid like the plague?
I love our steel heritage and the jobs that the industry produces, but I don't really feel like sitting in between blast furnaces and highways on game day.
Another proposed location is a piece of land at Centennial and the QEW. Again, there is only one reason why such a location would be considered - cars, cars and more cars. Maybe out-of-towners could walk up Centennial to McDonald's after the game for a night on the town.
Oh wait, there are no sidewalks on portions of Centennial.
Again, I have no interest in spending a lot of public money on a project that will benefit exactly one person - the CEO of whichever company wants their name on the side of the stadium.
We know there is a small group of Hamilton elites who have no interest in city building and helping to turn this into a sustainable city with electric light rail, walkable neighbours and downtown redevelopment as priorities.
Thankfully much of our business community, including the Chamber of Commerce and other heavyweights, slowly seem to be coming around to the fact that quality of life draws new companies, jobs and residents.
Finally, the Burlington St and Victoria site is most baffling. It's too far from downtown to have any spinoff effects. There is nothing nearby to walk to unless folks want tours of Bunge Canada after a game. Yet it's also too far from the QEW or 403 to offer any car-centric visibility.
This suggestion might be the most disturbing out of them all because it still involves the massive cleanup of a large Brownfield and yet offers absolutely nothing in terms of spinoff effects or city building.
Is someone really going to build a condo building with shops and cafes next to Bunge?
This location would seem to be on the list for one reason and one reason only - one-way highway access via Victoria and Wellington and Burlington Street. Again, the car reigns supreme.
If we're going to build a stadium in Hamilton that might be around for another ninety years like Ivor Wynne, we'd better make sure that we have a long term perspective in mind.
When public money is largely going to pay for this project, there is also a moral obligation to all taxpayers to do what is best for our city.
Properly designed urban stadiums have become the rage in North America in recent years. Look at the incredible district that now surrounds Fenway, Camden Yards or PNC Park in San Fran.
I want a stadium district that is a short walk to the wonderful cafes on James North, the beautiful trails of the West Harbour and gives visitors a myriad of options for dining and entertaining from simple sunset strolls to a night in Hess Village.
Hamilton's downtown core and adjacent brownfields have been ignored for far too long and it's up to the residents and politicians to make the right decision based on the positive effects to be gained by our downtown neighbourhoods and businesses.
A recent letter to city council from a local businessman suggested that the Pan Am Stadium be built in conjunction with the A-Line light rail system. This is proper thinking for a city in the twenty-first century.
Perhaps the one saving grace staring us in the face is the fact that the Pan Am Games committee wants to welcome the world and put on our best face while they are here.
It would be nice for Hamilton to make the right decision, but I'm hopeful that the larger committee responsible for the games and for securing the public money will wield some power and save us from the utter humiliation of welcoming our guests to the front gate of Columbia Chemicals for the games.
Cities stopped building stadiums out in the middle of nowhere, far removed from their urban cores many years ago. That alone scares me, due to the fact that Hamilton seems intent on remaining decades behind everyone else.
We can't let a small interest group hijack this process. Some decisions are huge and can only be made once. We either get it right, or we continue with our botched legacy of failed projects and misused tax dollars.
Make your voice heard and urge our council to make the right decision - for Hamilton.