A study on the feasibility of a proposed 6,000-seat arena at Limeridge Mall is suggesting the city take a pass on the idea.
Councillors will discuss a report from the economic development and planning department in the general issues agenda on Wednesday recommending against building an arena at the mountain shopping centre.
The study recommends “no further action be taken” in terms of moving forward with the project, citing cost and location as issues as well as the potential “negative perception” associated with downsizing to a capacity of fewer than 10,000 seats.
“Removing a major amenity such as arena out of Downtown would be viewed as counterproductive to Council approved strategic plans,” said the report.
“Building an arena of less than 10,000 seats would impede the City of Hamilton’s ability to compete for major events, shows and concerts.”
In August, Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer said he would pay up to $30 million toward the construction of a mountain arena for his Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team.
His proposal outlines a 6,000-seat arena at Limeridge Mall, along with a three-storey parking garage at a cost of $126 million with his group taking over management of the facility for 20 years.
The staff report also questions some of the finances brought forward in the Andlauer proposal specifically when it came to costs involved in building the parking garage, a potential park and ride from the downtown Harbour GO station and maintenance.
Estimated costs of the parking garage put forward by the Andlauer proposal outlined $30,000 for each parking stall in the 1,800-car garage.
However, economic development says based on industry benchmarks for an above-ground parking garage, a cost of $35,000 to $40,000 per stall would be a more “appropriate range.”
With respect to park and ride, city staff said the Andlauer group’s meetings to get the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to provide funding for exclusive bus transportation to and from West Harbour GO did not provide any evidence that “investment was imminent” from the MTO.
The report also assumes the operation and maintenance of the existing First Ontario Centre over a 20-year period would be tens of millions of dollars cheaper than maintaining a new mountain arena.
Additionally, the report touches on a consultant’s study from Ernst and Young Sports, Entertainment and Convention Venues that said the “right-sized” arena for a market the size of Hamilton is 10,000 seats and recommends the arena be situated downtown.
Ernst and Young said the city still has the potential to host large events like the JUNO Awards, Memorial Cups and larger concerts, which would require an arena with a 10,000-seat capacity.
The estimated cost for said arena would be in the neighbourhood of $130 million, according to Ernst and Young.
Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko – an opponent to the Lime Ridge proposal – told Global News the feasibility study shows the development “is clearly not in the best interest of taxpayers.”
Danko says Andlauer’s $30 million offer is “generous” but believes a 6,000-seat arena is too small.
“Building a 6,000-seat arena that is too small to host major concerts or events and only suits the Bulldogs’ needs makes no sense,” said Danko.
“The fact is, Hamilton is one of the largest hockey markets in North America without an NHL franchise, so while we appreciate the contribution of the current Bulldogs ownership group, there is no reason to believe that they are the only OHL or AHL owners who would be interested in financially backing a Hamilton team.”
Coun. Esther Pauls – whose ward (7) includes Lime Ridge Mall – argues that the mountain has more families and double the population of downtown, which is where most of the Bulldogs’ fans come from.
“I believe that the potential arena on the mountain has been a one-sided argument as staff and some of council have always planned to have an arena downtown only,” Pauls told Global News. “It’s one-sided because it does not benefit all the taxpayers of Hamilton to have an arena downtown.”
Meanwhile, Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr believes the report coming before council mid-week will speak for itself, and he’s holding off on any judgment until it’s presented.
“I am sure staff will be very able to defend the review process and ultimately the conclusions when the matter comes before council on Wednesday,” said Farr.
A spokesperson for Andlauer told Global News that his group is waiting to hear what council says on Wednesday before commenting further.
The Bulldogs owner expressed his disappointment with the staff report through a statement to season ticket holders on Thursday.
“Although my intention for this was to find a win-win option for the City, the Bulldogs and especially for our dedicated fans, unfortunately, city staff have dismissed the plan without any alternate solution.”