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Track group just wants to make its case to council

When it comes to sports facilities proposals Hamilton City Council has a lot of balls in the air.  Though it seems much longer ago, it was only at the beginning of this year that Hamilton Council was looking at three different mega-proposals for the redevelopment of all of Hamilton’s sports and entertainment facilities. The competing schemes variously called for demolition of First Ontario Arena and replacement with a smaller facility, either downtown or at Limeridge Mall. Conversely a different proposal would have seen extensive upgrades to the existing facility. Then there was talk of a new or renovated Convention Centre, either on its current site or somewhere else. All three schemes were rooted in significant ancillary condo development.

At the same time that this was under consideration the Hamilton 100 Bid Corporation was promoting Hamilton as a site for the 2030 Commonwealth Games, marking the centennial of the first British Empire games that were held in Hamilton in 1930. More recently the focus shifted to Hamilton as the host city for the 2026 games, due to an apparent lack of a Canadian city willing to tackle the earlier games. Then COVID hit and the world stopped.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton Collaborative Partnership Group —a coalition of more than 40 amateur athletic groups – local, provincial and national– had been quietly working on its plan of some six years in the making, of building a massive $60 Million, 200,000 square foot multi-use facility that would handle track and field, racquet sports, basketball, volleyball and other indoor athletic events. Initially the group received a good deal of support from individual members of council and city staff, but recently has found itself on the outside looking in as the aforementioned mega sports projects have used up most of the available oxygen.

The following are some of the groups that make up the Hamilton Collaborative Partnership Group:

Last month staff presented a report on the Partnership’s facility proposal and damned it with faint praise, suggesting the cost estimates were probably too low. The Partnership will be back in front of the Emergency and Community Services Committee with a more detailed presentation.

The key to the proposal is securing an Investment in Community Infrastructure Program (ICIP) grant—a $30 Billion federal provincial program that supports local infrastructure projects.  If successful, the ICIP grant would provide approximately $44 Million in federal and provincial funding, leaving 16 Million to be covered. The Partnership has qualified for an $8 Million loan, leaving $8 Million plus a donated site to be covered by the city. Kevin Gonci, a Partnership spokesperson says even the city’s $8 Million would be repayable.

The Partnership is proposing a design-build-operate model similar to the one that secured the Mohawk 4 rinks on Mountain Brow. There, the city has farmed the operation out to a third party and the initial loan that the city provided for the construction of the facility has been repaid, ahead of time, according to Gonci.

Gonci says his organization canvassed its 40-odd members to get a sense of how often they would use facilities and how much they would be willing to pay to use the facilities. From that survey the group was able to put together financial projections that suggest the multi-facility could produce about $2 Million per year after expenses which would enable the group to repay the city. After the loan would be retired there would be a revenue share plan negotiated.

Gonci his group surveyed a number of track and field, basketball and volleyball organizations and estimated that Hamilton could host up to 36 major tournaments  each year with the potential of producing significant sports tourism revenue and additional revenue for the facility.

As Gonci pointed out to the Bay Observer in response to an earlier story regarding the cool reception the proposal received last month, I couldn’t agree more with the context of your article in so far as this couldn’t be the worst time to be making such a pitch however please consider the following. Our project team has been working (along with over 30 community sport, recreation, cultural and social service organizations) for the past five years on this project and we have been awaiting the appropriate time to make our pitch to City Council taking into consideration that we have been aware of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program being available over a year ago.

Gonci said his group first approached the city a year ago when they applied for ICIP grant and expected there would be a series of meetings in the ensuing months to hammer out details. But those meetings were continuously postponed and never materialized. There was also more recently some discussion about how to integrate the Partnership proposal with a Commonwealth Games bid, but that did not happen either.

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