A majority of Hamilton councillors sided with city staff on Wednesday and passed on the prospect of a 6,000-seat arena at Lime Ridge Mall.
Councillors voted 11 to 3 against participating with Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer in a development at the Mountain mall.
At the centre of the discussion was a report presented by authors Glen Norton and Ryan McHugh from the economic development and planning department (EDPD) during the city’s general issues committee.
The study recommended “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.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger supported the report’s suggestion “to take no further action” engaging the Lime Ridge proposal made by Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer’s group.
The mayor defended the city’s current downtown arena and suggested further investment in FirstOntario Centre as a more feasible option.
“But to continue to disparage a facility that is actually probably as good a facility as any that are around other than in size, I think is a little disingenuous,” said Eisenberger.
Ward 11 (Glanbrook) Coun. Brenda Johnson said she was “not on board” with a $100 million-plus price tag on a new arena.
“It really comes down to the feasibility and whether or not we can afford it and what kind of asset are we going to get at the end of the day?” said Johnson. “We’re not getting an asset. We’re just giving money away to a private investor who’s going to benefit.”
Councillors in favour of the Lime Ridge Arena included Ward 14 (West Mountain) Coun. Terry Whitehead, who questioned the empirical data of the city report saying metrics related to transportation and the number of available hotel rooms was flawed.
“I am suggesting that we shouldn’t kill this thing until we determine if we’re gonna even put a new 10,000-seat arena on the scope for downtown,” said Whitehead.
Coun. Esther Pauls — whose Mountain ward (7) includes Lime Ridge Mall — accused the report of favouring a downtown arena as part of a potential revitalization plan.
“In my opinion, the whole report was written with a preconceived lens to defeat the proposal of an arena on the Mountain,” said Pauls.
“Overall, I am very disappointed with the feasibility study, and I think we could have done more due diligence and gotten all the facts, all of them. Not just the assumptions.”
Pauls also questioned the report’s data, which stated there was a significant distance between a potential Lime Ridge facility and the closest hotels.
The councillor also was not impressed with the effort put into reaching out to the province and the federal government to confirm whether those levels of government would be interested in funding a potential park and ride from the downtown Harbour GO station to the arena.
In August, 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 outlined a 6,000-seat arena at Lime Ridge 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 questioned 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 assumed 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 touched 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.
Global News has reached out to Michael Andlauer and the Bulldogs in connection with the city’s decision. Neither has responded to requests for comment.
Wednesday’s council vote will still have to be ratified through another vote on Jan. 22.