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Future of city venues dominates debate at Hamilton City Hall

FirstOntario centre opened Nov. 30, 1985 as Copps Coliseum as an attempt to bring an NHL team to Hamilton. 900 CHML

The word “divestiture” was thrown around a lot at city hall on Wednesday, as Hamilton politicians debated the future of First Ontario Centre, First Ontario Concert Hall and the Hamilton Convention Centre.

City Councillors overwhelmingly voted to support a motion from Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark to examine alternative models of ownership for the facilities and to put an end to taxpayer subsidies of the aging venues, which require tens of millions of dollars in upgrades.

READ MORE: Bill Kelly: Hamilton council’s ‘paralysis by analysis’ is hurting downtown’s revival

Clark says it’s about getting out of what is not the municipality’s core business “because you can’t just keep increasing taxes on the local tax base.”

His motion builds upon a 2017 initiative, promoted by Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla, who said the city should investigate transferring ownership of FirstOntario Centre, FirstOntario Concert Hall and the Hamilton Convention Centre to a developer in exchange for funding to build new, privately built facilities.

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Merulla has said it “could be a billion dollar development” idea.

Hamilton’s director of economic development Glen Norton agrees that the direction given by the general issues committee is clear that “any model that results in a residual and ongoing cost to the city is off the table.”

A $200,000 third-party review of needed repairs to the sports and entertainment facilities will also proceed with results to be presented to council later this year.

It’s back to the drawing board, meantime, in regards to the future of Auchmar Estate.

READ MORE: Hamilton councillors look for funding to transform historic Auchmar Estate

City staff will prepare a business plan for the historic mountain property after a lease agreement involving the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) failed to materialize.

The city-owned manor, which was built in the mid-1800s, needs about $10-million worth of restoration work.

Council direction has been given to keep ownership of the property in public hands while investigating the potential for a long-term lease or operating and management agreement.

The 13th Battalion Auchmar Heritage Trust, affiliated with the RHLI, hoped to raise $20 million to restore Auchmar as a museum, gift shop, chapel and park but has been unable to advance that vision over the past two years.

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