Special Report: Pan Am

Leaving Things to the Last Minute

Rushed planning, confused priorities conspire to mire stadium process in confusion and uncertainty.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 25, 2011

So did City Councillors vote to take the West Harbour stadium proposal off the table at yesterday's General Issues Committee meeting, or didn't they? It's hard to say.

Councillor Brian McHattie moved a motion to keep the 15,000 seat West Harbour stadium option as a plan B in case Council can't figure out how to close the $36.5 million to $54.5 million funding shortfall for the Ivor Wynne Stadium renovation.

The committee voted against this, prompting the Spectator's Emma Reilly to write, "It's Ivor Wynne stadium or nothing."

Except ... the City already submitted a bid for a 5,500-6,500 seat scalable West Harbour stadium to Toronto 2015 on January 20. The following motion, included in the report for yesterday's meeting, was approved by Council on January 12 and is still on the official record:

That should arrangements for the use of Ivor Wynne Stadium as the Pan Am Stadium for some reason not be successful, the City of Hamilton prepare a written submission to TO2015 by January 20, 2011 stating a willingness to construct the 5,000 - 6,000 seat scalable Pan AM Games Soccer stadium, and that it be ratified by Council no later than February 1, 2011.

What happened to that bid?

January 20 West Harbour Bid

McHattie certainly seems to believe the community-sized West Harbour bid is still in effect. In an email response to RTH he wrote noted that Council rejected his motion to keep the 15,000 seat WH stadium option, stating it was "no big deal in that staff did submit a proposal for the smaller stadium as required by TO2015 on Jan 20."

Councillor Brad Clark also believes the community-sized West Harbour stadium bid "may still survive". He adds that the motion Council approved yesterday "does not comply" with Toronto 2015's requirement that the City's stadium bid includes financial assurances that all the costs are funded and committed.

I was hoping City Manager Chris Murray - poor, long-suffering Chris Murray whose working life has been consumed by the ever-thrashing stadium file for months - could bring some clarity.

He confirmed that the City did submit the scalable West Harbour stadium proposal on January 20 and noted that the Couuncillors "directed us to focus on Ivor Wynne", but didn't specify whether the latter invalidates the former 5,000 seat proposal or only yesterday's 15,000 seat proposal.

According to McHattie, the 5,000 seat proposal will automatically kick in if Hamilton drops the Ivor Wynne proposal, though he notes (as have others) that the West Harbour community stadium will be evaluated along with the Plan B submissions from other municipalities.

No One Seems to Know

Frankly, I have a distinct sense that no one quite knows what our Councillors actually decided yesterday.

Maybe we'll find out on Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 9:30 AM when the General Issues Committee reconvenes to finish thrashing this stuff out; or, failing that, on Monday, January 31, 2011 at 9:30 AM when a special Council meeting makes a final decision.

Nothing like leaving things to the last minute.This, of course, is what happens when a group of people spends five tense hours trying to digest a hairy mess of policy options that was dumped on their laps at the last minute and includes big financial impacts, multiple unknown conditions and overlapping imperatives.

This is no way to run a $150 million business project.

Of course, it doesn't help that the Chair of the committee is the one leading the charge to pressure Councillors into making important, far-reaching decisions based on faulty objectives with only partial information and no time to stop and reflect.

Faulty Objectives

Mayor Bob Bratina, who sprang the last-minute proposal to partially rebuild Ivor Wynne onto the City at a press conference two weeks ago, told Councillors yesterday that their priorities are to retain the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and to avoid a tax increase.

Nothing about securing legacy facilities for high-performance amateur sport, which is the mandate of the Pan Am Games.

Nothing about growing the city's economic base and building community, which is the mandate of the Future Fund. The Future Fund Board of Governors hasn't even been consulted on the proposal - and likely won't be before the February 1 deadline.

No - according to the Mayor, the City's biggest priority in developing a stadium plan is to retain the Ticats, who have not actually committed any money toward the stadium.

Digression on Cost Overruns

Speaking of which: Mayor Bob Bratina and Councillor Lloyd Ferguson argued yesterday that the Infrastructure Ontario cost estimate for the Ivor Wynne renovation is inflated to take potential cost overruns into account, and that Council can safely assume the real cost will be lower.

Murray seems to disagree with this blithe dismissal of the potential for surprises. "Given where we are in the design process its prudent for IO to carry a healthy amount of risk and contingency."

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 writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 25, 2011 at 13:24:08

Apparently Ferguson isn't aware of the cost over-runs happening in TO right now on their PanAm facilities.

There were so many lines that stunned me and made me mad yesterday...but at the end of the day, the fact that council is even considering proceeding with any option that doesn't involve Ticat money (aside from the 6,000 seater) is unfathomable. Bratina apparently asked "what has Bob Young done wrong??" I assume it wasn't meant to be a roaring joke.
Do you have a few hours Bob? I'd like to fill you in.

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By AnneMariePavlov (registered) | Posted January 25, 2011 at 13:37:28

"Maybe we'll find out on Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 9:30 AM when the General Issues Committee reconvenes to finish thrashing this stuff out; or, failing that, on Monday, January 21, 2011 at 9:30 AM when a special Council meeting makes a final decision."

Do you mean Jan 31st?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 25, 2011 at 13:39:13

Do you mean Jan 31st?

I sure do. Fixed - thanks.

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2011 at 13:41:12

I'm so glad we have such an ambitious mayor who truly sees the big picture... "Save the Ticats and Don't Raise Taxes"...way to shoot for the stars Bob!!!!....

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 25, 2011 at 13:51:32

^Not to mention that the two are mutually exclusive.

How is it that Bratina and Ferguson, the two councillors who make the biggest show of their 'fiscal conservatism', could be behind this massive handout? And they'll be the first one howling about the cost of LRT. It would be funny if they weren't taking us all down with them.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 25, 2011 at 13:57:23

The sad part is that I think they'll get away with it.

If you sat down with every single Hamiltonian and, without explaining the financials or the issues in detail, just asked them a simple question:

"Light rail line downtown, or keeping the Ti-cats. They cost about the same".

They'd say the Ti-cats. Bratina may have his heart in downtown, but his priorities will sell well up on the Mountain where nobody gives a damn about the LRT and just wants their property taxes cut.

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By JMorse (registered) | Posted January 25, 2011 at 14:03:01

My latest letter to council seems more of a tortured cry of pain than support for one option or another:

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

I'm writing today to express my disappointment in the direction our city is taking with regards to our Pan Am Games participation.

The latest deal to salvage our Pan Am opportunity is effectively turning our backs on virtually all of the positives the games and their associated investment were to bring. It seems any possible interpretation of the Pan Am theme has been made to keep the Tiger Cats on board. I find this so terribly irresponsible in that the only guarantees we have are what we will sacrifice to let this deal go forward. The velodrome, amateur sport legacy, contaminated land remediation, city building in the core, $10 million in land costs, all guaranteed to be gone or reduced to a fraction of their potential. Only the positives are not guaranteed. All of the returns on our investment are speculative, both economically and socially. We're have no private investment, not even from the main beneficiary of this "plan", the Tiger-Cats. Because all of the expected costs are only estimated, the best we could do was limit our contribution to $45 million from our Future Fund. Unfortunately this will not effectively limit our contribution. All future costs, whether construction overruns, maintenance and upgrades, and liability if the team collapses, will be borne by the city. At the least, the very issues will destroy whatever remains of our agenda at the time, as demonstrated over the past year or so.

We have recently found ourselves in what seemed like a good bargaining position when the Tiger-Cats came back around to a previously rejected site. As yet, we are still unable to control the process. Part of this I'm afraid is because of interference from other levels of government which is most unfair. It's now obvious that we were never in control. That the game we've been playing is merely to provide the appearance of democratic process, while the real decisions are being made up and changed by those with the most control or influence.

I'd like to close with a passionate plea for the right choice to be made, but I'm not sure what that is. I'm having a hard time because it doesn't seem to make much difference at this stage. Though I've pushed for it in the past, it may be best if there was no stadium at West Harbour either. Most unfortunate is that all non-stadium progress in the area has been stalled by the stadium madness.

Here we are, about to submit an unfunded, unqualified stadium plan to ensure our place at the games. No matter what happens, whether the province fills the funding gap, the criterion are waived, or we lose out entirely, our city council will emerge the worse for wear. Hamilton does not deserve this outcome. We know all of council has worked hard to stay ahead of this raging torrent of opportunity. Rather than harness it for the good of our city, it has laid waste to our solidarity, self-image, and forward momentum. This whole process has been poisoned from the start. We now need to mitigate and recover from the damage as best we can.

Please, for the future of Hamilton, we mustn't expose ourselves to future liabilities. We are already about to drain our coffers for this plan. If there isn't enough time to make sure we are in a guaranteed safe position we must step back and let the chips fall where they may. Let's use our resources, though meager, to help ourselves in a way we can control.

Comment edited by JMorse on 2011-01-25 14:03:35

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By MattM (registered) | Posted January 25, 2011 at 14:06:34

Bratina has taken a complete 360 on everything he seemed to stand for when he was a councilor. It's actually disgusting and pathetic. I have been nothing but disappointed with him since he ran for and became Mayor. He ran on a "platform, schmatform" that promised de-amalgamation in order to buy votes from the rich suburban crowd. It worked, getting him the roughly 70% majority he got. Now he has to turn his back on the progressive, urban ideals he had when he was a councilor in order to not let down the people who voted for him.

Bob was actually my favorite councilor before all this. I spoke with him in person many times about abandoned buildings and downtown renewal. He always seemed incredibly interested and I remember him spearheading quite a few initiatives. Him and I actually worked together to make sure the Royal Connaught was sealed up from trespassing on a few occasions and we talked about plans for the Century Theatre an Lister Block.

Now I don't feel that I could even speak to him any more. Amazing what a title can do to a person.

Comment edited by MattM on 2011-01-25 14:08:15

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2011 at 14:12:34

@ Ryan

From the staf report:


"7.5

Item 5.9 Correspondence from Toronto 2015

That should arrangements for the use of Ivor Wynne Stadium as the Pan Am Stadium for some reason not be successful, the City of Hamilton prepare a written submission to TO2015 by January 20, 2011 stating a willingness to construct the 5,000 – 6,000 seat scalable Pan Am Games Soccer stadium, and that it be ratified by Council no later than February 1,2011."


Does that mean council must ratify the scalable WH option by Feb. 1st?

Or has it already been ratified?

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By Council (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2011 at 14:23:45

Good point Kirk,

The vote yesterday is only official when it is approved by a City Council vote which will not happen until next Monday (the 31st)...so this means that they (technically) could vote on that date for the scalable WH option. The big issue right now is the funding gap and any progress on that front will be known on Thursday - if money doesn't get identified, there could be a swing back to a scalable WH. The final, final, final, vote date on this is Jan 31st - unless HostCo extends the deadline :)

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By geoff's two cents (registered) | Posted January 25, 2011 at 14:32:57

@ Jason - I don't actually think Bob Young has done anything wrong at all. He's simply trying, like any major CEO would, to get maximum revenue for minimal outlay. Young's professions of naive innocence in the face of nefarious city back room negotiations, a few strategically placed "Oskee wee wee"s, repeated references to all of the good he has brought the city of Hamilton - these things should be read for what they are. Any parent who has had to contend with television commercials showing children having the time of their lives with otherwise mediocre toys, and having to explain this to their own kids, should be prepared for this. It's marketing, pure and simple, and it's taken Young much farther with the mayor and others on council than any average, intelligent observer might otherwise have expected.

It's the city's job to negotiate with this in mind and use the leverage they possess in the form of a one-time-only public injection of tax dollars, combined with the genuine threat of withdrawal from negotiations altogether, to exert pressure on Young and the TiCats to contribute. Council has failed up to now because they have failed to present a united front demanding a TiCat contribution; any savvy business person would see in this divisiveness (personified perfectly in Bob Bratina) an opportunity to exploit to their advantage.

I think the "fiscal responsibility/city-building/let's not do something stupid with tens of millions of dollars" line of critique is best served by deflecting accusations of wrongdoing from an admittedly cutthroat but otherwise average business person onto city councillors from whom one has the right to expect, at the very least, an adult level of bargaining know-how and fiscal discrimination.

Bratina is pure gold to a CEO like Young. He reminds me of grandparents who show up at a toy store asking "Now what do youngsters like these days?", and end up writing a cheque in the hundreds on the basis of being led immediately to the most expensive thing in the store.

Comment edited by geoff's two cents on 2011-01-25 14:45:09

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted January 25, 2011 at 14:35:03

Ryan,

Yesterday, the General Issues Committee decided to inform Toronto 2015 that Hamilton's choice of stadium location is Ivor Wynne Stadium with a maximum City of Hamilton contribution of $45-million.

GIC also voted to revoke the West Harbour 5,000 - 6,000 seat bid which was submitted on January 20th.

The decision to ratify the passed motions as Council will not be made until Monday, January 31st.

This means that the City of Hamilton has not yet revoked the WH submission, but pending the ratification by Council, they will.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted January 25, 2011 at 14:36:26

Ryan;

Thank you for broadening your scope in editorializing in the way you have in this article. I've been saying here, in the Comments sections of numerous posts, as well as on my own blog that there is a much, much bigger lesson to be learned, well beyond whether we 'get 'er done' regarding the PanAm Games stadium site selection process. It has to do with the clearly flawed mechanisms in place to deal with substantive issues. (I have been consistently 'downvoted' on RTH when I've pointed this out, which doesn't disappoint personally so much as reinforces just how myopic some readers can be.)

So once again, I'm going to hope out loud that whatever the outcome of if and where our stadium will be built/rebuilt, we use this opportunity to take a good look at how things went so badly, and why we ended up here, in your own words, where 'Rushed planning, confused priorities conspire to mire stadium process in confusion and uncertainty.'

The city of Hamilton, its residents, everyone involved deserves better. The sad thing is that I believe our Councillors have the abilities to do better. They just haven't proven it yet.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted January 25, 2011 at 16:38:52

You might want to take a look at this post by Councillor Clark at his community blog:

http://councillorbradclark.blogspot.com/...

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By sbwoodside (registered) - website | Posted January 26, 2011 at 00:10:31

This, of course, is what happens when a group of people spends five tense hours trying to digest a hairy mess of policy options that was dumped on their laps at the last minute and includes big financial impacts, multiple unknown conditions and overlapping imperatives.

What people should do in that situation is punt. Unfortunately, they acted rashly instead.

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2011 at 23:46:52

Really, there would have been no need for last minute proposals if Fred & the WH/RTH crowd weren't so one minded about ramming the WH site down everyones throat this past yr. The whole stadium issue should have been settled long ago.
You can thank yourselves for the mess you have created.
Hopefully council has learned a very valueable lesson and will ignore radical groups in the future.
Can't wait for another last minute article on the stadium issue from one of the famous RTH writers. Their just so objective with their observations. NOT>

Comment edited by hammy on 2011-01-28 23:50:19

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