Mark Chamberlain says that building a stadium on lands earmarked for new-economy businesses would actually "detract from the city's economic agenda" in the MIP by crowding out more valuable spinoff investments.
By Ryan McGreal
Published August 30, 2010
Mark Chamberlain believes putting a Pan Am stadium in the McMaster Innovation Park district at Aberdeen Ave. and Longwood Rd. would be "absolutely foolhardy" and Council should be looking at other sites to invest the Future Fund money in a city-building legacy. He called Council's interest in the west end park "a knee-jerk reaction" to their fear of losing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Chamberlain is the CEO of Trivaris Ltd., a high tech company that recently relocated its head office to McMaster Innovation Park (MIP). He is also the chair of the Jobs Prosperity Collaborative and the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.
MIP is a new high tech research and development facility anchored by McMaster University, which is intended to bring multi-disciplinary researchers together to spur innovation and new spinoff businesses in the adjacent designated employment lands.
Chamberlain told RTH in a phone interview that the City should only invest the Future Fund money in a location that has the best potential to leverage our existing built infrastructure, including transit links, to spur new growth and development in a strategically important downtown area.
The West Harbour fits this bill, says Chamberlain, because it is situated on the waterfront close to downtown and has sat underused for years due to lingering contamination from previous industrial uses.
MIP, in contrast, "does not need that kind of leverage. We've got it already."
Building a stadium on lands earmarked for new-economy businesses would actually "detract from the city's economic agenda" in the MIP by crowding out more valuable spinoff investments.
He notes that the MIP footprint is very small - only 12 hectares (30 acres) - and that other cities competing with Hamilton for high tech business have much larger innovation business parks. "It doesn't seem like that much - just a few acres - but we don't have the land to spare" at the MIP.
"The city really needs to rethink what employment looks like in 25-30 years," and MIP is a crucial part of that re-conception.
He sees a stadium as a similar use of this land. "Bob Young said it himself, the Ticats are retail business. We'd never consider putting a big box store in these lands, so why would we consider putting in a stadium?"
He also worries about the message that Hamilton will communicate to prospective residents and investors by putting a stadium on innovation employment lands. "I'm worried that we'll have a harder time attracting young people. You can do a lot with a beautiful design," he adds, but it must be in service of an economically valuable goal.
In discussing the broader issue of the Ticats' interest, he drew a distinction between the team of the Ticats and the business of the Ticats. "We all want the team to succeed," he said of the Ticats as a cultural touchstone. "As a city we don't want to lose another thing, be it the team or the Pan Am stadium."
However, the Ticats are also a business, and it's important to understand team owner Bob Young's business interest. The Ticats have a "rabid fan base", and attendance at Ticat games is roughly similar to other CFL teams. But Ticat tickets sell for over $20 less than the CFL average, meaning the team has some serious revenue shortfalls to make up.
Today the team is effectively bankrupt, but for the willingness of its owner to absorb annual losses.
Chamberlain noted that Young still has not released his team's economic studies - "We still haven't seen a business plan" - but acknowledges that the team needs to make up its revenue losses somewhere.
The problem, Chamberlain argues, is that the current demographic of Ticat fans just can't afford to pay the kind of ticket prices that would ensure a sustainable business - hence Young's efforts to re-brand the team more regionally and locate the stadium where a larger regional catchment area can easily reach the games.
In that sense, a MIP site represents an improvement over the West Harbour for Young. It is closer to Westdale, Ancaster, Dundas and beyond; and it has better highway access.
The problem for the city is that the land is much more valuable as innovation employment lands than as a stadium and parking. "We have to ask: what city-building are we doing" with the Future Fund money?
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