I'm glad this affair is finally over; but I lament the lost opportunity to parlay a sports stadium into something much more ambitious.
By Ryan McGreal
Published January 31, 2011
What to write about the Ontario Government agreeing to close the funding gap in a renovated Ivor Wynne stadium?
Obviously, anyone who has always regarded the Pan Am Stadium as essentially a vehicle to provide the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with a new venue will be happy with this decision.
Politically, there's certainly a precedent to think in these terms. Hamilton joining the Pan Am bid originally looked like a win-win for the city and the team.
The City would remediate a keystone brownfield that would help propel a north end community into a broader renaissance and showcase the city's gorgeous waterfront to the world.
The team would get a new stadium that would allow them broader revenue opportunities at a time when their old stadium had reached the end of its lifespan and was in any case landlocked inside a neighbourhood composed entirely of single family residences and schools.
The rift appeared once the Ticats publicly announced, at a late hour, that they couldn't live with the City's preferred location.
Suddenly the whole business turned from a cooperative win-win dynamic to a competitive win-lose dynamic: either the City got a site that met its needs, or the team got a site that met its needs.
That competitive dynamic has played out all the way from the big showdown last summer over West Harbour vs. East Mountain through the increasingly-desperate compromise locations the City studied over the past several months, only to culminate in another location the Ticats originally said could not work for them: the very Ivor Wynne Stadium in which they are already playing.
The economic difference between Ivor Wynne and West Harbour for the Ticats is at best negligible (though it allows the team's ownership and management to save some face). If anything, the West Harbour has better visibility, better accessibility and more nearby parking than Ivor Wynne.
The economic difference between the two sites for the city, on the other hand, is significant - as Graham Crawford has argued eloquently in his recent essay on ROI.
A refurbished Ivor Wynne won't be appreciably better for neighbourhood economic development than today's Ivor Wynne. In fact, the demolition of Brian Timmis stadium to build 1,500 surface parking spots will arguably hurt the neighbourhood.
However, a remediated West Harbour site would eliminate the financial risk for developers of having to take on soil contamination, and thereby unlock the adjacent properties for reinvestment.
Mayor Bob Bratina, City Manager Chris Murray and Liberal MPPs Ted McMeekin and Minister Sophia Aggelonitis deserve credit for mustering up the political will to close the funding gap and secure a deal all the political players can live with - including convincing the Ticats to agree to a site they had previously rejected.
At the same time, I can't help but wonder why they couldn't muster up the political will to do the same in the other site that the Ticats had previously rejected, a site that actually has real potential to grow the city's tax base and achieve the intended mandate of the Future Fund.
After all, the original arrangement specified that the City and the Pan Am Host Corporation would finance a 15,000 seat stadium, while the Ticats and their corporate partners would bring the balance of capital to upgrade the stadium seating to CFL standards. That never happened.
Normally, in a negotiation, money equates to leverage - but not in this case. Fear of losing a venerable Hamilton institution, coupled with the Ontario Liberals' desire to be seen supporting Hamilton in an election year, turned out to have more political leverage than $150 million in public funding - virtually 100% of the total.
And so we end up with a deal that achieves many of the team's objectives but almost none of the City's - unless you count retaining the team as a primary municipal objective.
I'm glad this affair is - or in any case may be - finally over; but I lament the lost opportunity to parlay a sports stadium into something much more ambitious.
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