It’s been a vision for four years — and counting — for Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer.
When the local businessman and philanthropist purchased the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls in 2015 and moved them to Hamilton, Andlauer had already begun plans for a new arena in the city — one that could accommodate the Hamilton Bulldogs while also serving as a solution to the oversized, cash-guzzling FirstOntario Centre at York and Bay streets.
Andlauer’s proposal will finally be reviewed by Hamilton city council’s general issues committee on Wednesday.
“I never wanted to wait four years, but there were circumstances that dictated it would take longer,” Andlauer told 900 CHML’s Scott Radley Show. “Now that we’re here, Hamiltonians can be given an option.”
That option is a brand-new Hamilton Mountain facility at Lime Ridge Mall on Upper Wentworth Street.
Andlauer says he’s partnered with Cadillac Fairview, the city’s largest taxpayer and owner of Lime Ridge Mall, to make his vision a reality.
The caveat, however, is that many councillors have been vocal about their desire for a downtown arena.
An independent report commissioned by the city earlier this year says Hamilton would save as much as $26.2 million over 30 years by tearing down FirstOntario Centre and building a new 10,000-seat arena with help from the private sector rather than fixing and maintaining the current building.
The report, compiled by Ernst & Young, also says a new arena could bump up Bulldogs attendance by 20 to 50 per cent, adding that the current facility is too large for the market.
According to the report, only 13 of 98 events used the facility’s upper bowl in 2019, and that was considered a good year.
The average attendance for concerts was 9,140.
However, the report specifies a downtown location, not a Mountain one.
“There’s the opportunity to feed other businesses… that you can feed the hotels, for instance, with a downtown location,” said Glen Norton, head of the city’s economic development. “The economic research going back over many different locations, different cities, different countries… suggests downtown is generally the better location.”
A proposal to upgrade the current arena has been rejected.
Another option recommended in the report was to relocate the arena somewhere else in the downtown area and build a new convention centre in place of FirstOntario Centre.
But, again, the report only referenced downtown, and Andlauer’s Lime Ridge Mall plan falls outside that area.
“The location has to be a place where people feel safe and comfortable,” he said. “The experience should be more than just a hockey game or a concert.”
Andlauer has indicated that he’s “open” to a downtown facility, however, he says Cadillac Fairview may not be on board if the plan doesn’t involve Lime Ridge Mall. According to Andlauer, this could place a higher financial burden on taxpayers.