September 13, 2010
The mess around Hamilton's proposed new stadium has had more unexpected changes than a flea flicker play so far, and today saw a reverse added to the mix. So far, some of the developments have included the city council initially voting in favour of a stadium in a location opposed by the Tiger-Cats, owner Bob Young (pictured, right) pulling out of discussions and threatening to leave town for Ottawa, Quebec City or other locations, and mayor Fred Eisenberger being questioned by council over his discussions with the province. The idea of a 5,000-seat stadium that wouldn't accommodate football has been discussed, Frank Gehry has become involved, and the city and team have even discussed a compromise that could have seen the stadium built in McMaster University's Innovation Park. It looked like that would be the way forward until today's last-second audible to consider building a stadium on land near the Canadian Pacific Railway yards instead.
This new site might just offer a plausible solution that could work for all sides. The rail yards are close to the Innovation Park lands, which both sides appeared to at least be willing to consider as a compromise that would provide the stadium access the Tiger-Cats want together while still accomplishing some of the city's land-use goals. They aren't on those lands, though, which could quell concerns that the stadium would prevent that area from fulfilling its original goal of attracting high-tech business.
However, this move is happening quite late in the process. Most of the other Pan-Am venues are already either decided or under construction, and the clock is ticking. The staff report released today suggests that if council gives them the go-ahead, they'll report back with more details on the rail yards proposal by October 12. It won't be easy to resolve the situation by then, though, as staff will have to negotiate with CP over the land, with the Tiger-Cats on the details of stadium use, and with provincial and federal governments on funding details.
Those funding details aren't going to be minor, either; building a stadium to the approximate capacity of 25,000 the Tiger-Cats would require instead of the 15,000 planned for the Pan-Am Games is expected to cost an extra $50 million. If the municipal, provincial and federal governments paid that extra cost in proportion to their shares under the current funding agreement, that would result in the city having to come up with another $22 million and both provincial and federal governments throwing in another $14 million. That might not be the easiest sell for those governments in political terms, considering the controversy that's sprung up around potential plans for a government-funded hockey arena in Quebec City.
It's far too early to declare that this new stadium proposal will work, as there still are a multitude of issues for the various parties to work through, and the timeline for a decision is limited. It's also too early to declare that it's going to fail, though, and one positive element of the recent negotiations is that the city and the Tiger-Cats finally appear to be on the same page. Today's report says the team is on board with the new proposal if the funding conditions and other details are worked out, and that is a significant step forward from where things have been. The stadium situation is still up in the air, but today's report suggests that a soft landing is still a possibility.