After participating in an 11-3 vote to ditch a plan by Hamilton Bulldogs and Cadillac Fairview to erect an arena at Limeridge Mall, some members of Hamilton council are scrambling around trying to get a reconsideration of the January 15 vote. It is not likely to succeed and they likely know it, but the gesture is an illustration of a dysfunctional council and an equally dysfunctional staff.
Whether one favours the Bulldog-CF proposal or not is beside the point. Hamilton’s largest taxpayer and its partner, a successful businessman, (who also happens to be an NHL governor if anybody is paying attention), who has fed breakfast to thousands of inner-city Hamilton kids deserved more than the laughable “analysis” provided in the staff report that recommended nixing the Limeridge arena. The biggest flaw was the overall premise of stacking up the Limeridge proposal against a so-called “status quo” scenario that would see the city pour close to $3 Million a year over the next 20 years into the aging First Ontario Centre in an effort to keep it running. First of all, where did this so-called status quo scenario come from? We’ve seen no council resolution that suggested continuing to patch up the arena for the next 20 years. On the contrary what we have seen is, as the report itself indicates, is council’s number one objective with regard to the facilities, “reducing or eliminating the City’s subsidization of the venues.” It hardly needs to be said that pouring $57 Million into the existing arena which would be almost 60 years old at the end of the 20 years fails to meet that objective.
It was a sham and a waste of council and staff time to suggest that the Limeridge arena proposal was up against a “status quo” scenario. What it was actually up against was whatever council discussed behind closed doors for three hours before considering the Limeridge proposal in public. There have been rumours for months that a group was going to make a major downtown redevelopment play. Such a proposal was alluded to in last year’s Ernst and Young report, which talked about a sort of musical chairs scenario that would see First Ontario demolished and converted into condos with a convention centre on the main floor, followed by the demolition of the existing Convention Centre to make way for more development on that site, and then somewhere in all this, a new arena would be placed downtown. Apparently we will get a look at a new proposal in February, but keep in mind the Ernst and Young report warned that wherever an arena is located, Hamilton taxpayers will have to pony up a substantial portion of the cost. There is no status quo and there is no “free” arena.