Odd things observed at the last COW meeting.
By Graham Crawford
Published October 04, 2010
Odd things can happen when you pay attention to your surroundings. I'll admit it helps if you're in an odd place, populated by odd people, who often make odd decisions. Such was the case at the specially convened Committee of the Whole meeting I attended on September 29th.
I noticed... the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were out in full force. At least the guys who wear dark suits and white shirts. Guys like Scott Mitchell and Don May, an ex-planner with the City of Hamilton. Actually, May is one of the Ticats hired guns. A small caliber one, judging by the quality of his presentation to Council. I'm sure he's a better planner than he is a presenter. At least I hope he is.
His presentation covered old ground. Slowly. When Councillors started asking him questions, I must admit I recognized all of the words that came out of his mouth, but just not in that order. How can you move your lips that much and make sounds as you move them, but say almost nothing? Boy, did Mr. May come to the right place to showcase his skills. Like coal to Newcastle.
He introduced Councillors to the Hamilton Legacy Foundation, which will be created by Bob Young, and which seemed to be limited to some chatter about how valuable children are to our future. No money. No programs. No plan. Just the suggestion that Bob Young is a good man, of which I have no doubt, who loves children. Is 'legacy' the ancient Greek word for hollow?
He also said the Ticats would be "willing" to partner with the City if the old Ivor Wynne site is going to be redeveloped for either commercial or residential use. I think they used to call that wanting to get in on the action, but Mr. May's pitch made it sound much more noble.
I noticed... that Scott Mitchell never takes to the podium. Not sure why. He's been present at the last few COW meetings, but prefers to sit in the gallery, take calls in the upstairs hallway, and do media scrums just outside of Council Chambers.
Busy guy. I guess he's always thinking about how to pitch the latest Ticat position on how they will work with the City of Hamilton and help us spend our money? At least that's what he seems to do, when he's not giving the City of Hamilton's Chief Financial Officer, Rob Rossini, what appears to be information and/or direction.
It's hard to tell which from afar and without the benefit of audio. Rossini came back to talk to Mr. Mitchell twice at the last meeting. He did the same thing at another COW meeting. Don't know about you, but I prefer to have my City officials negotiate with for-profit organizations formally, officially and on the record and not in the public gallery.
Apparently neither Mr. Rossini, nor his boss, City Manager Chris Murray, agree with old-fashioned and too-delicate me.
Can we at least agree the optics are bad? What's worse is Mr. Mitchell was curtly saying something to Mr. Rossini, and using his right hand to help him make the point. I noticed Mr. Rossini nodding his head, suggesting he understood what Mr. MItchell was communicating. Like I said, the optics are bad.
So bad, I think we should stop this kind of inappropriate and unseemly behaviour immediately. I'll leave doing that to Mr. Murray, and to Council to censure the behaviour. Perhaps the next time I see Mr. Rossini act this way I'll shout out, "I thought you were working for me, Rob."
Wonder if he'll then come over and talk to me about some of my ideas about how we should spend our tax dollars?
I noticed... Mr. Rossini thinking it was OK to allow the Ticats to get all $7 million (according to Delloite) of the naming rights money to operate the stadium. When asked about this by Councillor Duvall, he responded that the City of Hamilton was going to ask for more money from the Feds and the Province, which would offset the naming rights revenue.
Somehow, our CFO concluded that if other levels of government give you money, you can give away local money to for-profit organizations simply because they ask for it.
I suspect he calls this a wash. I call it naive. In fact, I call it stupid. I think a savvier CFO might consider keeping both amounts.
Why give $7 million away? Exactly what is his business rationale? How about highest and best revenue for the City of Hamilton? All of it is our money.
Hey, if we kept it, perhaps we could use it to hire lifeguards to ensure citizens don't drown while driving their cars on main roads in the middle of their city when we get another of the hundred year storms we've had this year? Just an idea.
I noticed... Chris Murray worked very hard to present a story of progress, of meetings with people from the Premier's Office, with Minister Aggelonitis and with MP McMeekin. All positive. All fabulous. All useless.
That is, unless you'll be happy with what Murray described as a "utilitarian stadium, much like BMO Field," only bigger.
I wasn't expecting spectacular, but for the kind of money we're investing, the amount of staff time of our highest paid bureaucrats, for the level of provincial and federal contributions, top-ups and favours, I had expected more than "utilitarian".
We use up all of this effort and money for average, or less. What a strategy!
It seems the biggest positive Murray could report is that no one has said "No!" to him yet. No kidding, Chris. That's because you're just talking. No costs, no details, no offers, just talk. And plenty of it. Week after week, after month after month. Talk. All positive. Are you worried yet? I am.
When asked by Councillor Ferguson if he thought he could "bring this one across the finish line", Murray paused. Then paused some more. Then started to speak, hesitantly. I think Ferguson threw in another sports analogy. It was the feel-good moment of the meeting. Third down and 90 to go.
I wonder what it would take for Murray to conclude that this little game was not being played fairly by all parties, and that it was destined to end in tears?
Is it not an unreasonable expectation of our City Manager that he would put up his hands and say to Council: "Look, at this rate citizens are going to pay too much to keep the Ticats, even if the Province and the Feds pony up more money. Using up those kinds of government financial favours for an ill-advised stadium doesn't bode well for future government investments in higher priority and higher impact projects, such as LRT and all-day GO service"?
I noticed... that Councillors Ferguson and Jackson are doing everything they can to manufacture good news from this debacle. Ferguson asked if the site could work and if the Cats were supportive of the site. Really deep.
Jackson posited that we could probably build a larger (and even more mediocre) stadium for the money already allocated. Go big and go cheap. Now there's a vision. Thanks Tom.
We heard that BMO Field cost $3750 per seat, but that it wasn't big enough for a CFL stadium. We also heard that the funding gap, before the purchase of the land, remediation, and relocation of the existing businesses, was $35 million.
That's like saying your new house will cost $200,000 and not mentioning that you have to tear the building down that's on the site, buy the land and get services to the site. Suddenly that house starts to look a little more expensive when you add in the other unavoidable costs.
Sort of like believing in the $169 flights to London, England offered by Air Canada.
You can't help but notice, during this stadium debate, that we're very good in this City at getting numbers in the public's mind that really don't mean much in isolation, but that serve a nefarious purpose.
A $35 million funding gap? No problem. Surely the province can see their way to giving us that. It's kind of like a $75 million dollar investment from the Ticats. Or a $7 million dollar loss per year if forced to play in the West Harbour.
The trumped up number gets thrown out, and somehow it sticks.
I noticed... Mayor Eisenberger pursuing a line of questions about the number of parking spots proposed for the CP Rail site. Murray told him it there would be 2,500 spots associated with the stadium. Mr. May said that the Ticats would have between 300 and 500 on the 10 acre site they plan on purchasing and developing.
Apparently, the MIP will have a few hundred more. Total? 3,500 maximum. What happened to the need for 6,000 spots on the East Mountain? According to May, the Cats can make do with the 2,500.
That's even less than the 4,700 parking spots the City has identified within walking distance of the West Harbour site - the site that's impossible for the Ticats to play in because they will lose $7 million a year if they do.
When you generate $15 million in gross revenues, and you lose $7 million doing so, you have to wonder about that business model, don't you? While the Ticats remain flexible, I guess we're expected to remain gullible?
It seems that highway visibility is turning out to be the only difference between the West Harbour and the CP site. Hmmm. And highway visibility affects naming rights, according to the Ticats. Double hmmm. And who owns the naming rights? Shouldn't be debatable, as far as I'm concerned.
I noticed... the Ticats will not be investing any money in the new stadium, but are "willing", according to Chris Murray, to run it for the chumps we know as ourselves. In return, they expect to be paid a stipend so that community groups (likely including some of those wonderful, and needy, kids Mr. May talked about when he presented the Hamilton Legacy Foundation idea) could use the stadium they paid to build.
If I didn't know better, I'd swear Chris Murray was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Too much time with the Ticats as his captors?
I noticed... in the media scrum that followed, Scott Mitchell said the Ticats would prefer not to manage the stadium, as it represents quite a risk for them.
I feel for him and his organization. In fact, I think it would be unfair to put such risk on the Ticats' shoulders. I suggest we let HECFI, the organization we already have set up with a CEO, staff, premises, contracts, experience, etc., manage all of the current and future entertainment assets owned by the citizens of Hamilton.
For those people who don't think HECFI is up to the job, then we may need to change some of the players, or shut it down entirely.
Having said that, I prefer to keep it. Why on earth would we establish another organization to compete directly with a city-owned organization that would be operating our other entertainment assets? Please forward your answers to R.U.Nuts @ City Hall.
I noticed... that what passes for debate by Councillors in the peoples' Hall falls sorely short of real debate. Don't get me wrong, some Councillors are at least trying to point out, through their questions, just how ludicrous (if not downright irresponsible) this whole "Save-the-Ticats" stadium discussion has become.
Yes, I noticed.
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