Last week, Ivor Wynne was offered up and accepted because it was cheaper, not because it was better. Now it's not even cheaper, so why is Council even considering it?
By Graham Crawford
Published January 25, 2011
In a show of almost unmanageable fiscal irresponsibility, the majority (10 out of 16) of our Councillors voted to pass the buck to two higher levels of government to avoid having to make the hard decision themselves. Funding gap? Oh, that's too hard to solve, so let's make it someone else's problem.
It was Councillor Lloyd Ferguson's idea, with Councillor Sam "No increase in the tax levy" Merulla as his seconder. Others lined up to support the jaw-dropping motion including, much to my surprise, Councillor Brian McHattie, although he did try valiantly to keep Plan B (West Harbour) on the table.
Instead, they voted to take Plan B off the table. They voted to spend $45 million from the Future Fund to rebuild half of IWS. They were told by the tag team of Chris Murray (City Manager) and Rob Rossini (CFO) that the cost to do so will leave a significant funding gap of approximately $38 million.
Council voted to let the Province and the Feds deal with that problem. They said: all we have is $45 million, you figure out how to make this work.
Well, first of all Lloyd Ferguson doesn't believe Infrastructure Ontario's numbers. He thinks they are at least 20% over-stated. I don't think he's entirely misguided on this, but it does cause me to wonder why he believes the Tiger Cat's numbers. I don't. And he shouldn't.
Secondly, Council believes the Province, and they hope the Feds, will close the funding gap for them. It's an election year, after all. Council seems to think the McGuinty Liberals are prepared to buy votes in Hamilton.
The problem is, it just might work. It's just possible the Liberals will end up rewarding the fiscally irresponsible behaviour of both Council and the Tiger-Cats.
Council dithers and the Ticats claw away any credibility and goodwill they have left, and McGuinty, Aggelonitis and McMeekin all say, "No problem. That's what we're here for."
While some might see the Liberal government stepping in to decide the IWS versus WH debate akin to the Judgment of Solomon, I think it's erroneous to view the choices as equal. They're not, especially if your rich uncle is prepared to foot the bill when you're unable, or unwilling, to make the tough decision yourself.
By channeling all of the money into the existing IWS site, you simply have to ask yourself: what will be different when it's finished? Sure, the seats will now have backs, and the luxury boxes will be more luxurious, but what will change really?
Access problems don't change. Visibility doesn't change. Noise violations don't change. Concerts will still be banned. Why would we believe the economic spin-off would change because of new seats?
Are we to believe that backless bench seats are the cause of the Ti-Cat's financial woes? Really? I thought this was the best stadium in the CFL in which to watch a game.
For me, its back to the leveraging critical mass argument I put forward in an earlier article on RTH. There isn't any critical mass on which to build at the IWS site, nor in the surrounding neighbourhood. Sorry, but economically speaking, it just isn't there.
What will be different is that the Brian Timmis stadium will be demolished to provide parking, which the Ticats have insisted be under their control for game day.
When asked by a Councillor if the Vanier Cup was considered a "game day", City staff hesitated and said yes, probably.
So, what's the definition of "game day"? Seems we haven't figured that detail out either. In fact, we haven't figured out almost any of the details. "Still working on it," say Murray and Rossini. I think we're supposed to be comforted by that. I'm not.
Apparently, we are 22 soccer pitches behind the identified need in Hamilton at the moment. We're about to increase that number to 23 by removing the Timmis site and replacing it with parking for the Cats. City staff say it will cost $2.5 million to construct Timmis' equal, not accounting for the land on which it would be built.
Where else does the City of Hamilton own enough land in Ward 3 for such a soccer pitch? If we don't own any, how much will it cost to acquire it?
Bob Bratina, when asked about the scalable stadium idea in the WH, responded with a question, 'Do you really think the City of Hamilton needs another 5,000 seat community stadium?"
Am I to conclude the Mayor thinks we don't even need the number we have right now? So Bob, does one less make for a better city? In a Ward that everybody says needs all the recreational space it can get? It seems as if it makes it better for the Ticats.
Some Councillors suggested doing some fundraising to build a Timmis replacement. Conclusion? When the adults can't figure out how to solve the problem, get the kids to go cap in hand to raise their own money, one loonie at a time, to replace their stadium you chose to bulldoze.
You gotta love it, don't you? Otherwise, you'd go mad.
Here's another important thing that will be different. We will have exhausted our Future Fund contribution, as well as a few not insignificant financial favours from the Province, and possibly the Feds, for a stadium on a site that would never be selected if the IW lot was an empty one right now.
No one in their right mind would select the footprint on which we will spend more than $160 million on behalf of a new stadium. There is no attractive, nor available, land on which to develop new residential - or commercial/retail that would support the residential, for that matter. Absolutely none.
Perhaps the Councillors who voted for the IWS re-build, and the provincial Liberals who may fund the shortfall, don't understand city building? Or maximizing ROI? Or legacy building? Or the domino effect?
Well, they do seem to understand football. And football teams. And football team owners and their needs.
Also, what will be different is there will be no senior's centre on the site. Bernie Morelli ensures he gets on the record that he still wants his senior's centre for Ward 3, even though the stadium makes that unlikely.
I guess he did this so he can feature his statement in his Ward 3 newsletter and say that he hasn't forgotten the seniors.
Can you say pandering? He has no hope of delivering.
So, how does the senior's centre get funded? Where do they build it, because the land that was allocated for it is no longer available?
Will we simply buy some land using all that extra money we have? Oh, that's right, we don't have any extra money. Perhaps the seniors could partner with the kids and do their own fundraising.
Want to talk money, just talk to Sam Merulla. Apparently he knows everything about finances. Just listen to him talk, which would be a courtesy you'd be extending to him that he rarely extends to his own colleagues.
And Tom Jackson, may I suggest that you stop listening to Merulla and pay attention to your colleagues?
And Chad Collins, if you're going to take on the role of Deputy Mayor and run a meeting, then run the meeting! Pay attention to people like Merulla, whose behaviour would not be tolerated at any of the thousands of business meetings I have attended in my career.
But I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the good work done by a number of Councillors who asked well-considered, intelligent and often direct questions.
Brad Clark is the poster child for fiscal sanity. Thank you. Likewise, Brenda Johnston, Judi Partridge and Scott Duvall. Good work. No grandstanding, just penetrating questions.
They did not let the Cats off the hook, which many others did - including Jason Farr, Tom Jackson and Bob Bratina, to name a few.
Mayor Bratina states there are two key goals in this debate: save the Ticats and don't increase taxes. If this is his idea of multitasking, Houston we have a problem. A big problem.
If these are the criteria with which our Mayor determined how we should spend $160 million, then God help us all. Simplistic doesn't come close to describing this approach to building a city.
He can wax poetic all he wants about the ex-Ticats he knew, drank with and loved, and share his memories of great games at which he did the play-by-play announcing. But he should hold himself to a higher, and dare I say more complex, standard now that he's Mayor.
Speaking of the Ticats, exactly who on their team made the decision to ask for $18 million from the citizens of Hamilton over and above the $45 million we were already spending? Build them an office building on the stadium site? Honestly?
But hey, they added an addendum saying it was all a big mistake, so that makes it OK. I guess they think it never hurts to ask. It does, boys, it does. And you have asked too many times for way too many things.
Not only that, but you continue to confuse with your announcements. Take a look at this quotation from Chairman Bob at the Two Bobs news conference:
What is the corporate support for whatever stadium solution we have? I'm really excited to announce that our corporate sponsors of the Ticats have stepped up in a significant way. Molson/Coors Canada, Tim Horton's and Primus have made major new financial commitments towards keeping the Ticats in Hamilton and making this new stadium, in the old Civic Stadium neighbourhood, a possibility for us. So we are very excited. We believe that this will put the Ticats on firm financial footing going into the future.
What happened between the news conference on January 11 and the GIC meeting on January 24? No investment in the stadium by the sponsors - only, one must conclude, in the Ticats.
What was the purpose of Young's statement? Of what interest is it to taxpayers that Tim Horton's is going to pay more for their sponsorship of the Cats? Unless, of course, it means ticket prices won't need to go up?
The nonsense continues and hilarity most certainly does not ensue.
So, we spend $160 million to rebuild half a stadium and we still can't generate money in our facility from concerts. What kind of planning is that? What kind of bold new venture is that?
We spend $10 million from who knows where for land in the WH. I thought it was from the Future Fund, but apparently, and obviously conveniently for certain Councillors, I'm wrong.
I guess we should ask Sam Merulla exactly how he thinks we're going to pay off the $10 million. Certainly not through an increase in the tax levy if he has anything to say about it. No, sir.
So Sam, how do you propose we reduce the City's budget by $10 million so there will be no increase in the tax levy to pay for the WH lands?
Will this be before or after we build another soccer pitch to replace Brian Timmis stadium in Ward 3? Help us see what you see, Sam. I promise, if you talk, I'll listen.
No new taxes is the gold standard used by too many, but mercifully not all, Councillors. Not, here are my ideas to help reduce taxes. Not, let's be sure we maximize our ROI. No, simply being able to say to taxpayers in your Ward, "Hey, I held the line on your taxes. Please reward accordingly."
No taxes. No vision. No difference. No wonder we're in the shape we're in.
Last week, Ivor Wynne was offered up and accepted because it was cheaper, not because it was better. Everybody, including the two Bobs and the "win at all costs" Scott Mitchell, said so.
According to City staff, it will cost the same to build a new stadium at IW as it will building a new stadium in the WH on land we also own.
Why, if we are playing poker with the Provincial government, would we not ask them for money to close the funding gap in the West Harbour? Because the Ticats still don't want to play there? As far as I'm concerned, the Cats have lost all credibility. The facts are on my side on this one.
If there is no difference in the amount we spend, then I say let's spend it where it makes most economic sense to do so. Let's use the money as a catalytic investment to trigger more investment from more people - investment that builds on our existing critical mass, not on imagined future critical mass.
As much as it pains me to say this, I worry that not doing so will result simply in having a major league sports team in a minor league city.
People who know me know I'm a Hamilton booster of the first rank. But, this kind of irresponsible fiscal behaviour and remarkably short-sighted thinking on the part of the majority of Councillors makes it very difficult to be a booster some days in this city. This is another one of those days.
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