Pan Am / Ticats Stadium Belongs Downtown

By Jason Leach
Published January 15, 2009

I was going to wait until we find out if we are awarded the 2015 Pan Am Games to post this, but given the hot debate taking place around town on possible locations for a new stadium, I thought it best to bring this issue forward and outline a few important considerations.

Let me start by saying that I already have a favoured location for a new stadium in Hamilton - downtown.

Airport lands or some industrial park alongside the Linc are bad ideas that smack of 1970s thinking. I feel the need to bring this issue up now because we all know that Hamilton loves to made decisions as though it's 1970 all over again.

Here are my three top priorities for a new stadium:

  1. Economic spinoff;
  2. Easy access by all modes of transportation; and
  3. Hamilton's image.

Economic Spinoff

A multi-purpose stadium will bring hundreds of thousands of people to its doorstep each year. Do we want them all arriving in their cars in the middle of nowhere, heading to the game, and then driving back home? Or do we want them pumping money into local businesses and restaurants before and after their event?

Think of the location of the Skydome or various ballparks in other cities, or even our own Copps Coliseum - built in the 1980s, downtown. Doesn't do much for my arguement on 1970s thinking, but remember, the entire city had downtown as a real priority back then. Today, most people don't.

The spinoff effects on the local economy are potentially huge with a stadium located downtown. As the global economy begins to change and in some cases shrink, we'll see a higher priority put on supporting one's local city economy. What better way to do that then to bring human beings with money to our city streets?

Transportation Access

Transportation access to places like Fenway and Yankee Stadium is so much superior than to a stadium like Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium. If we're going to get light rail transit in this city, let's make sure that our stadium is located near the route.

Whenever I see a stadium located outside of a city in the middle of nowhere I can't help but think that the city must be a bit of a dive. Cities that care about themselves and their downtowns always seem to be the ones building new stadiums downtown - like PNC Park in Pittsburgh or the Bell Centre in Montreal. You want visitors coming to the heart of the city.

Our society lives in multi-acre parking lots in the suburbs. People want the excitement of walking a city's streets to a big event and popping into Hess Village afterwards or a pub on Augusta.

Hamilton's Image

This of course, ties into image. Those of us who live here know what a gem Hamilton is. We also know that word is slowly spreading as more and more people move here from Toronto. Imagine a stadium in the Bay/Barton area with amazing views of the west harbour, downtown skyline and escarpment.

We spent much of the '70s and '80s destroying this city for no good reason, so why don't we finally put some of our empty land downtown to good use? Has anyone been to John and Rebecca lately? Only if you needed to park your car, probably.

Acres of empty land are sitting there being used as $3.00-per-day parking.

Last year, Ward 2 Councillor Bob Bratina had a brilliant idea - the Sir John A MacDonald site. Think of Qwest Field in Seattle with it's small footprint and tall grandstands. The high school could be moved to any number of empty lots in the area and we could have our new stadium across the street from Copps. It's a five minute walk from there to James North or Hess Village.

I realize that a segment of the population will want the stadium located in Binbrook because they can zip through the Horton's drive-thru on the way to the game and have a massive parking lot around the stadium, but let's have this discussion with the best interest of Hamilton at the front of our minds.

The steel industry appears to be dwindling away. The North American economy is changing before our eyes. The days of wasting resources and capital are long gone. We can only make this decision once, let's get it right.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By arienc (registered) | Posted January 15, 2009 at 12:47:33

I wonder why we're talking about a new stadium like it were the only option.

Any stadium project to be built using taxpayer funding is a white elephant. The only likely long-term tenant is the Tiger-Cats, who will play there eleven times a year (if you count exhibition games). Unless we're planning on eventually charging NFL-level ticket prices, there's no sustainable source of funding for any new stadium that will even pay for the maintenance and operations, let alone the capital costs of building it.

We've got to make full and better use of the infrastructure we've got, before we even think about building more. That goes for stadiums, just as it goes for rec centres, pools, parks, roads, sewage treatment, whatever.

New infrastructure means new costs to maintain it, which we can hardly afford at this time with so many other priorities (LRT, downtown renewal, sewers, existing roads...)

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 15, 2009 at 12:53:37

arienc, I'm assuming that when the city talks about a 'multi-purpose' facility they are thinking of hosting many events other than just TiCat games. One-off 'larger' events could become more viable such as the Grey Cup etc.... Other sports like soccer could use the stadium...heck, perhaps we'll land an MLS team although I doubt it. Track and field competitions could be a possible use along with concerts and whatever else people go to stadiums to watch these days. I get the impression that the idea is for many uses to take place here, not just 11 Ticat games (plus playoffs - LOL!!)

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By Frank (registered) | Posted January 15, 2009 at 12:58:58

Arienc, the infrastructure that runs under downtown streets is more than capable of handling sewage flow, the roads are already way to big and with the LRT service corridor as close as the suggested route is I can't find any substance to your argument. Also, if the facility is deemed as multiuse, it'd be multiuse meaning things other than football can be done there. THat means more sports clubs and possibly even teams from Hamilton and that in turn means better city image. And you complain but don't propose a solution either - last time I checked the only real stadium that we have is the one currently used by the Ti-cats which is in far to poor of a state to host an event of this caliber.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted January 15, 2009 at 13:19:19

Jason...good point...forgot about the playoffs. (It's been too long) :)

That said, while I'm sure there would be other uses for such a stadium, I'm referring to those types of events that attract large numbers of spectators (> 20,000) and paying customers.

Stadiums have to have large numbers of patrons in order that the staff to operate consessions, maintain the field, keep facilities working and clean for spectators, etc.

The only events I can think of that can provide this critical mass are are pro sports, concerts, and large community festivals.

There are enough large concert facilities in the Golden Horseshoe already, and very few touring artists these days command those kinds of crowds outdoors. That's good for maybe ten nights a year, tops.

The only current pro sports team that requires a stadium in Hamilton is the Ti-Cats. Maybe an MLS franchise would be an option. OK...that means maybe another 30 dates, if we somehow get a franchise.

That leaves community events. It's hard to make these into sufficient money-makers that reap enough at the gate to justify the cost of opening the doors. Anyhow, Gore Park makes more sense to be a place to bring the community together at its heart, rather than the confines of a stadium.

So maybe 60 days out of the year, the stadium has some use. 300 days or more out of every year, it sits empty. Plus there is the issue of what do we do with Ivor Wynne, and how much does it cost to dismantle?

We need to be realistic about this, and that means that we need a sustainable, sensible business plan before committing millions of dollars to building a new facility. Renovating Ivor Wynne would seem a better bet at this stage. Or investing in a few smaller, local facilities that can also be temporarily configured to handle Pan-Am (in the event our bid is even successful).

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By arienc (registered) | Posted January 15, 2009 at 13:28:25

Frank...I was in no way arguing that Hamilton's downtown couldn't handle the needs of a stadium.

My argument is that we should not spend scarce dollars on new infrastructure of any kind, when the existing infrastucture is not fully utilized and we can't even afford to properly maintain the stuff we have now.

That goes for stadia, just as it goes for the other types of infrastructure that makes up a city.

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By Interesting Article (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2009 at 16:16:32

Downtown stadiums score big/ Four cities see revitalization

The Colorado Springs Sky Sox open the 2003 minor league baseball season in three months - their 15th since leaving Memorial Park downtown for Sky Sox Stadium on the city's northeast outskirts.

Some hope it will be their last playing in the 9,000-seat facility that sits with its back to Pikes Peak, plagued by cold, stiff winds and surrounded by the suburban homes of the Stetson Hills and Springs Ranch subdivisions along the booming Powers Boulevard corridor.

Classic Homes developer Jeff Smith wanted to buy the Sky Sox, a Pacific Coast League AAA baseball franchise, and move the team downtown to a new $35 million stadium surrounded by new offices, shops, restaurants, apartments, condos and loft homes.

Although he is reconsidering the idea, Smith says baseball belongs downtown, and a stadium remains part of a redevelopment plan for the warehouse and industrial neighborhood of south downtown.

Other pieces of the long-debated plan for downtown include Confluence Park along Monument Creek, a major hotel and a convention center.

Downtown boosters suggested a proposal Tuesday for financing the project: an increase in the city's 3 percent hotel and rental-car tax.

Many people question the wisdom of putting a minor league baseball stadium downtown, with all its traffic, parking problems and access issues.

Can a new stadium succeed downtown? Will enough people turn out to justify the expense, whether funded privately or by tax dollars?

Are there really any spinoff economic benefits to a downtown stadium?

Talk to civic leaders in other league cities that have built downtown stadiums in recent years - Memphis, Tenn., Fresno and Sacramento, Calif., Oklahoma City - and the answers are unanimous:


Oh, yes.

Absolutely, yes.

"What has our ballpark meant to downtown?" said Jeff Sanford, president of the Memphis Center City Commission, a redevelopment agency that helped relocate the Memphis Redbirds to an $80 million downtown stadium.

"People who hadn't been downtown in years were attracted by the ballpark, and they left converts not only to Redbird baseball but to all of downtown," Sanford said.

"I would estimate that as a direct result of the decision to locate the ballpark in the heart of downtown, we got an additional $75 to $100 million worth of development."

Going downtown

Smith's idea of moving the Sky Sox downtown is not revolutionary.

During the past 10 years or so, many major and minor league baseball teams rejected suburban settings in favor of urban stadiums.

Colorado fans saw the trend at Coors Field in Denver.

The list includes Baltimore's Camden Yards and Cleveland's Jacobs Field, as well as Houston, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Detroit, San Francisco and next year in San Diego.

In that time, nine of the PCL's 16 stadiums were replaced at costs ranging from $20 million to $80 million apiece.

Tens of millions more went to rehabilitate two older stadiums in Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque, N.M.

Economists have debated for years the value of sports franchises and venues to cities.

Some criticize civic leaders for portraying sports teams and venues as economic development tools.

Moving a stadium simply drains money from one area of a city and moves it to another, writes Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economist.

Stadiums don't create jobs, except for short-term construction work, other experts say.

Zimbalist and others voice another common criticism: Tax money spent on fancy new stadiums never can be recouped.

Instead, the stadiums create other public expenses such as security and sanitation.

One of the primary backers of downtown venues to defend the trend is Larry Houstoun, in an August article for the Urban Land Institute.

"Professional baseball is at least as important in smaller cities ... as it is in major league towns like Chicago, and perhaps more," said Houstoun, who heads the Atlantic Group, a consulting firm that helps cities with redevelopment issues.

"Many minor league ballparks have come into being in recent years, making minor league teams a new force in the revitalization of small cities."

Houstoun cites several reasons downtown stadiums are preferable to suburban locations, including the commonly touted benefit stadiums give cities a tool to redevelop vacant or run-down urban property and take advantage of assets such as parking garages and retail shops that might otherwise go unused after dark.

"The ability of residents and downtown workers to walk to and from games - this access actually builds attendance," he said.

His research traced additional wages, profits and tax revenues to pedestrian access to stadiums and nearby commerce.

The pedestrians, Houstoun concludes, offset the drain on public services, at least in part, by generating revenue and taxes collected on tickets sold, parking fees and the food and retail goods fans buy.

Benefits are greater if the money is being spent by fans who live outside the city limits or tourists attracted downtown to a game on a summer night.

Then there's the image issue and the desire of cities for a vibrant downtown - one with shops, restaurants, bars, theaters and other entertainment options.

Not every new stadium is a winner.

Tucson is not exactly packing them in at its stadium, built in 1998 as a spring training facility for the Arizona Diamondbacks and regular-season home of the Sidewinders.

Its 2002 attendance of 3,896 per game was second-worst in the PCL, just behind the Sky Sox and ahead of only Calgary, Alberta, which lost its franchise to Albuquerque, where the team will play in 2003 as the Isotopes in a refurbished stadium.

Tale of four cities

Houstoun's findings suggest Colorado Springs has much to gain from a downtown stadium.

That idea seems to be supported by the experiences of the four PCL cities, especially Sacramento and its River Cats team, the top farm team of the Oakland Athletics.

"Without a doubt, a sports arena located in the central city provides quantifiable economic benefits that can't be matched," said Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

Teams draw people downtown who might not be there otherwise. They spend money at restaurants and shops before and after games.

Most importantly, they come back downtown, after the season, to explore and spend more.

"Downtown restaurants and bars report their business is up 17 to 20 percent on River Cats game nights," Ault said. "Some restaurants are able to add another day of business on game nights."

The River Cats are so successful at the $40 million Raley's Field - built across the Sacramento River in West Sacramento - that Ault's group is finding it much easier to sell the idea of building an indoor arena in an abandoned downtown rail yard. The group hopes to relocate the NBA's Sacramento Kings basketball team downtown from suburban ARCO Arena.

Consider Memphis and AutoZone Park, the $80 million home of the Redbirds, which opened in 2000.

"The ballpark, by anybody's measure, was one of the cornerstones of our recent revitalization efforts here," said Sanford, the Memphis Center City Commission president.

AutoZone Park prompted renovation of an office building that had been vacant for 20 years, new apartments, condos and lofts, the first new elementary school in downtown Memphis in 100 years and new retail shops and restaurants, Sanford said.

People like it so much they agreed downtown was the only place for a new $250 million arena for the NBA Memphis Grizzlies. It is being built a few blocks from the stadium.

"The ballpark was catalytic," Sanford said. "Ours was a typical deteriorating urban center. It had been allowed to deteriorate for decades. Now we have more people living in downtown than Denver does - 10,000 people today compared to just 500 in 1985.

"We not only got a new ballpark, we got a new neighborhood."

Oklahoma City achieved similar results from its $34 million Southwestern Bell Bricktown Ballpark, part of a taxpayer-financed and approved $700 million downtown overhaul.

"The old ballpark was located north of the fairgrounds, eight miles west of town," said Sean Simpson, vice president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

"In 1990, there was just one restaurant in downtown, and the rest was empty warehouses," he said. "Now we have the Bricktown, a canal, restaurants, nightclubs, retail, commercial offices, two new hotels.

"The ballpark brings everyone down. They are rediscovering downtown Oklahoma City and finding it's the place to be."

Fresno finds its new $27 million Grizzlies Stadium generating a rebirth of its downtown, which has a reputation as a high crime area with little night life.

"The downtown stadium has been a boon to development in our downtown area," said Stebbins Dean of the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce.

"We had been trying to figure out how to bring business back downtown. We need retail back. There's not very much retail left in downtown at all because of a perception that crime is a serious problem downtown."

All that began to change after the stadium opened last summer and Fresno residents attended games and got a glimpse of downtown, he said.

"The stadium has changed the whole complexion of downtown Fresno," Dean said.

"Turnover has occurred in real estate, and we're seeing businesses crop up in our downtown, including small restaurants."

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 15, 2009 at 16:44:48

thanks for posting that piece Interesting Article. In Hamilton the biggest obstacle is probably the same obstacle that other mid-sized cities face: will we cave into those who enjoy living life in their cars and circling vast parking lots for spaces? Or will we learn from cities like the mid-sized ones mentioned in the article above, and larger ones like Toronto, Boston, Pittsburgh etc.... and do the right thing for downtown? If we actually land this stadium I think common sense dictates that we put it right downtown for all of the reasons mentioned above. Unfortunately, we've learned in this city that the car trumps common sense at every turn.

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By another capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 21, 2009 at 14:27:06

I prefer the west harbour lands.

They are now brownfields that will probably sit that way for decades.

Although transportation is a problem, I think somehow traffic from the east and from the 403 can be accomodated.

I don't see the proper foot print downtown and I would rather see that property used for housing of some sort.

The airport lands are just stupid!!!

Did they not argue that these are valuable future industrial lands? Then use them for that.

A stadium there does nothing for the city.

My humble opinion.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted January 27, 2009 at 01:24:26

I can remember when we used to have concerts at the stadium but the noise bothered the areas residents so they were abolished. Concerts and the like are viable money producing events for a new stadium so lets build it were we can use it for concerts and other loud events. I doubt that is a downtown location.

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By Tiger (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2009 at 23:08:20

I dont wanna pay your kid 10$ to park on your grass lololololol. Everyone around that stadium is like im gonna loose so much money if theres no tiger cats playing here. Tear that shitty out dated stadium down and build a new one anywhere else but there!

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By ZING (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 12:30:14


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By livedowntown (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2010 at 14:48:17

The biggest problem for the location of the stadium will be overcoming the prejudice of our bedroom communities against the city.This is fact.I left Dundas to get away from this narrow mindedness.I love living downtown.Most of the people I grew up with neither come to the city core nor go to Toronto.They despise urban living.With Hamilton proper being a mid-size or small city,I can't fathom how anything will be built at all.Certainly nothing will satisfy these members of the community.They are not using the facilities we have now.Parking is all they care about.I must ask...what use is a light rail system up the mountain if most people in the community want to drive?They already do.They are taking shuttles directly from points outside downtown and 'avoiding' what they hate about urban living already.I have met many season ticket holders who have never been downtown and don't care to be there.

I personally want the stadium below the mountain.I do not want to go back to the burbs for anything.

Apparently,the Ti-cat owner is offering money to put it where he wants.That would be up the mountain.He is losing money and believes he can make this location work for him. He is also threatening to go elsewhere with the team.

Parish the thought my grandchildren watch our Hamilton team,in our downtown stadium,beat our former team with a new one.Leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

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