December 28, 2010
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats' stadium situation has had more twists than a bad daytime soap opera so far, so we're going to describe it in that style. Previously on The Days of The Week, city council originally voted in favour of a West Harbour location opposed by the Tiger-Cats, owner Bob Young pulled out of discussions and threatened to leave town, negotiations over East Mountain and Innovation Park compromise sites collapsed, a promising railyard plan was shot down by costs, a local election may have been influenced by the stadium debate and council decided last week to kill the last Hamilton site both sides were looking at in Confederation Park. Now, it looks like the focus has shifted elsewhere. After being spurned by Hamilton council, the Tiger-Cats are on the rebound and are now trying to land a stadium in nearby Burlington near the GO Train line (pictured above).
Burlington is a smaller city (population of 164,415 in 2006) than Hamilton (504,559), so the municipal government probably doesn't have the funds to contribute the $45 million Hamilton's council was going to put forward. However, there's apparently $30 million in private investment lined up for a Burlington site, and vast tracts of prime land are available as well, making Burlington a more attractive proposition. That alone would cover much of the funding that would have come from Hamilton, and it's possible the Tiger-Cats could get other benefits from the municipality (in-kind services, special taxes, et cetera). The presence of that private investment also speaks volumes, as none of the sites considered in Hamilton drew much interest from the private sector.
The Burlington proposal seems quite far-advanced for something that's just popped out of the woodwork, and that's for good reason. Discussions on the file have been apparently ongoing since the summer, which makes sense; there were plenty of times, particularly in late August, when it didn't look like there was any hope of a Hamilton stadium solution for the Tiger-Cats. That probably isn't going to make Hamilton council all that happy, though, as it looks like the Tiger-Cats were going around behind their backs. Relations on the Hamilton front had grown more optimistic in recent months, but the demise of the Confederation Park plan has apparently prompted the team to go back to looking at other options outside the city.
This seems like a reasonably logical move on the team's part. For one thing, the deadline to have a stadium built with PanAm Games money (a sizable portion of the funding that's already on the table) is the fast-approaching Feb. 1. That funding comes to about $70 to $100 million (depending on the specifications of the stadium). Ian Troop, who's the CEO of the 2015 Games, told The Hamilton Spectator's Ken Peters and John Kernaghan that the funding won't be shifted to Burlington unless there is a firm, solid proposal in place by that point. It's important to keep in mind that the Games organizing committee doesn't necessarily need the CFL, as a 5,000 seat stadium in any number of neighbouring municipalities is sufficient for their needs. A bigger facility that could have the Tiger-Cats as a long-term tenant would make a lot of sense for all parties involved, but it isn't a requirement. Thus, the Tiger-Cats needed to do something fast to try and still capitalize on the PanAm funding, and with things stalled in Hamilton, Burlington becomes an attractive suitor.
Burlington, and particularly the Aldershot area, is also a compelling suburban site for this project. There are often some significant issues with putting stadiums way out in the suburbs, as those stadiums often make arriving by transit difficult and lack amenities in the area (see Ottawa's Scotiabank Place for a perfect example), but Aldershot has a lot going for it. For one thing, it's right on the main GO Train Lakeshore West line, making it easily accessible from both Toronto and Hamilton by transit. It's also near Highways 403 and 407, allowing access by car. It's barely outside Hamilton (about 20 kilometres), and the team would apparently keep the Hamilton Tiger-Cats name. Hamilton mayor Bob Bratina would still like to see the team stay in his municipality, but he said this is one of the best potential options if they are going to leave thanks to the proximity and accessibility:
"There's an emotional thing, having grown up in the east end where we sort of thought we owned the Tiger-Cats and that hurts to think of the team moving across a boundary into another jurisdiction, but ... this is not the Brooklyn Dodgers moving to Los Angeles," Bratina said. "It's just as easy for me to go from my house to Aldershot as it is to go from my house to Confederation Park and maybe even Ivor Wynne"
That's the important thing to keep in mind here. If this deal comes together, there are significant advantages for the team and the league. The Tiger-Cats get their new stadium, close to the transit routes they wanted, and they stay close to the majority of their fans. At the same time, the CFL doesn't have to deal with any real relocation issues, as the team's only moving a few minutes away across a municipal border, not to Moncton or Quebec City. Tiger-Cats fans in Hamilton proper might have to travel a little farther to go to games, and there probably won't be much around the stadium at first, but at least they don't have to really lose their team. This might even work out for Hamilton city council; although there's some embarrassment in having a team leave town, they don't have to shell out $45 million to keep the Tiger-Cats and they aren't too likely to be on the hook in the future if the team no longer plays within their municipal boundaries.
However, when you consider the way things have changed on this project over the last several months, it would be foolhardy to assume that this is how it's going to be resolved. There's still lots of time for other things to come up, and we might yet see more cliffhangers and dramatic twists. WILL Hamilton council reconsider their opposition to Confederation Park in an attempt to lure the Tiger-Cats back? ARE there other suburban municipalities that will try to horn in on the action? WHAT will the PanAm Games committee eventually decide? WHERE is all the money going to come from? Find out next time on The Days Of The Week!