Overcoming Our Own Worst Enemy

For once let's rediscover our ambition and work together, with real public input, to help bring an NHL team to Hamilton.

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published May 11, 2009

In the last year, Hamilton has heard some of the most path-altering announcements and proposals to turn this City around in a very long time. Predictably, our own Usual Suspects can't get excited or remain positive and hopeful.

The proposals have been: the Pan-Am Games bid (based in Toronto), light rail transit (Metrolinx), The Connaught Tower / Hamilton Grand (Harry Stinson), the Education Square plan, and most recently, The NHL (Jim Balsillie).

Do you notice anything in common with these names? With only one exception, all of them are from out of town.

(The exception, the Education Square project, is being stalled and might not happen, which would allow the Board of Education to fulfill its hidden agenda to move to the mountain. That project is being set up to fail.)

I'm going to suggest that our own mainstream media (one radio, one newspaper, and one television station), our City staff, our City Council and our business leaders either want to dampen the enthusiasm with negativity, make it their own project to champion, or protect their own egos because they've stopped making positive things happen decades ago.

A certain former local donut and coffee seller, 20 years after his own failed attempt, now thinks Hamilton can't support a NHL team and keep it economically viable.

A certain Hamilton trucking magnate suggested that anyone who wants to bring the NHL to Hamilton "needs to be medicated". Not only was this comment insensitive and downright insulting to people who need the "medication", it was basically calling Balsillie a 'mad billionaire' for believing in Hamilton.

Copps Coliseum: A Viable Urban Arena

Copps Coliseum is beautiful arena. I'm just as proud of it today as the day it was built. The fact that it's just one of three such arenas in the entire province doesn't stop our press and 'civic leaders' from constantly saying negative things about it.

So what if Copps needs new seats and some corporate boxes installed? The corporate boxes were roughed in for the future and seats happen to have a limited lifespan. If HECFI didn't maintain it in the past, that's something of a travesty, but Balsillie is prepared to pay for necessary renovations.

The arena seats 18,500 (more then the Kanata Senators), it's efficiently laid out and has a good view from every seat. Don't you think Balsillie knows what needs to be done to Copps?

Thanks to our media, now the country and the NHL basically think the arena needs to be torn down.

Sources of Optimism

There is one exception from the local elite: former regional chair Terry Cooke has been positive about Hamilton's potential. His most recent op-ed in the Spectator showed more hopeful excitement then any civic leader or persons of influence.

Unlike many current NHL owners, [Balsillie] also has a genuine love of hockey as a game, not just a business. He's more comfortable in the cheap seats with real fans than in a corporate box with the stuffed shirts.

That's why Balsillie's interest in bringing the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Ontario is fascinating despite local skepticism due to past disappointments. His failed attempts with Pittsburgh and Nashville simply stoked his appetite to try again. The word quit is just not part of his vocabulary.


The cost of overhauling Copps Coliseum remains substantially lower than the price tag to have a new arena built elsewhere. But maybe more importantly, Balsillie is an urbanist and a hockey fan. He knows that great hockey experiences are made in downtowns such as Boston or Buffalo and not at a sterile highway interchange in Phoenix or Kanata.

Last year, Harry Stinson said this city needs to "have a moratorium on negativity." He's right. But it's Hamilton's own regular citizens who are excited and hopeful. You can't beat our ambition, at least when it comes to the NHL.

NHL Day of Celebration?

Why hasn't City Hall planned a special NHL Day of Celebration? Let's dedicate a day for Hamiltonians to show the continent (and Gary Bettman) our excitement for the NHL. Complete with speakers - from everyday people to Don Cherry - music, banners, fireworks, hockey players, and maybe broadcast the next Coaches Corner from the event.

For once let's work together. That means everyone in the same room (and not in camera) but reported on from all our media outlets (big and small) with real public input, showing our ambition again.

This is a great market and a great city. We can do it, if we want it.

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".


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By TreyS (registered) | Posted May 11, 2009 at 16:15:12

For clarification regarding the seating for Copps vs. Scotiabank Place in Kanata

Scotiabank Place total capacity is 20,500 This number includes standing room and 1680 box seats in 140 suites

Copps' current capacity is 19,000 (currently less then Scotiabank Place). This number includes special needs and standing room numbers. For argument's sake I assumed that if Copps had an NHL team and added the same amount of box seats as Scotiabank Place, 140 boxes with 12 for each box = 1680 seats Copps' capacity rises to 20,680

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By rick (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2009 at 16:42:12

At the ACC in Toronto they hold only 18,800 seats for Hockey.From thier web site:
1020 Club Seats
40 Platinum Lounges (unique to a North American venue)
65 Executive Suites
32 Theatre Suites
16 Loge Suites (2nd and 3rd level loges)
Three Group Sales Areas, including a 200-seat gondola

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By Merrick (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2009 at 20:09:10

Have you even followed the Spec's coverage of the whole Balsillie drive to bring the Coyote's to Hamilton? Obviously not because they are completely over the top with their boosterism.

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By clearly (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2009 at 07:24:39

I agree that we should organize a "Hamilton Loves the NHL Day" within the next couple of Saturdays, try and coax Hockey Night In Canada to at least cover some of it. Perhaps even, *shudders*, get Don Cherry here; He's a fan of Hockey in the Hammer at least!

Throw in some local politicians, some (non-bitter) Business folks, local athletes... start a rally! I wonder if Judy Marsales has any of those NHL IN HAMILTON signs from last time?

Maybe we should start emailing our local reps? Get them involved again... I'm sure some National attention (such as HNIC, despite the lack of any Canadian teams) with a big rally would gather the attention of not only the NHL (and Fat-Headed Betteman), but the other club owners as well!

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By brian (registered) | Posted May 13, 2009 at 02:55:40

Basillie is going to pay for the upgrades to get the arena (NHL) ready buy wants the city to get the province and feds involved with paying the 100 mill or so to add the seats and boxes, etc...if we don't get the Pan Am games does anyone seriously think that would happen?.

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By hunter (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2009 at 08:22:44

Great idea for an NHL rally.

But Merrick is right. Positivity has far drowned out any squelchers this time around. The attitude has been a positive and assertive readiness. If it doesn't work out this time, we'll be ready the next time.

I believe that once the LRT is approved interest in Copps will only get more intense. Raise the hammer.

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By Huh? (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2009 at 17:28:53

Yep. Haven't seen a lot of negativity, except about the liklihood of Balsillie succeeding, but most seem to think someone will sometime soon. Personally, I don't much care. It's not a big boost for the local economy, but there are a lot of NHL fans hereabouts and they might as well have their day too.

Maybe if we put COPPS on a truck and moved it to the middle of the old HAAA Grounds, surrounded by a residential neighbourhood, we could build more excitement for this thing, do ya think?

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By No (registered) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 07:53:43

HAAA Grounds are a treasure in our Downtown area! Building anything there would be a terrible, terrible loss (a-la Thistle Club site).

Copps is in a PERFECT location currently: -Busy Downtown Intersection -Attached to shopping/eating/accomodations -Hotels & hundreds of restaurants/bars within a 10min walking radius -PLENTY of Parking (OH there is PLENTY! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Just google-map it!!) -Close to Highway Access for those out-of-towners -1 or 2 Blocks from LRT for all you In-Towners!

I bet I've missed about a dozen-or-so more points as to why Copps is in a perfect location, but I'm sure the few I pointed out are enough to make my point.

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By brian (registered) | Posted May 16, 2009 at 07:50:17

I agree about the economic impact to a certain agree that it isn't has much as people claim it to be. One thing is certain some of the hotel projects that have been talked about would get off the ground a lot quicker if a team came here this year or next. A few better restaurants and bars would also come around the area. The reason some places don't see the big economic difference is because they already have enough hotel rooms, quality bars and restaurants and they don't need to be built. If a team moves there, a football-soccer stadium down the road (if we get the pan-am games, the LRT, even the lister block finally done...well it's combination of things like that and confidence that a change is coming to a city that the real pay off happens. If you have a few more events at the harbour(and the railway yards gone) a new football stadium for the Ticats and maybe even a soccer team at some level, as well as the NHL you would start seeing a change downtown. If the NHL had 18,000 people for 41 games a year, the CFL 20,000-25,000 for 9 home games, a soccer team as well lets say 10 concerts at Copps with atleast 10,000 people...you could have 70 dates a year with probably atleast 10,000 people at a time..if Pittsburgh can change the way it has, so can Hamilton.

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