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Developers propose modernizing Hamilton’s entertainment, hospitality venues — including arena

Vrancor Group is offering to 'reinvent' Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre.
Vrancor Group is offering to 'reinvent' Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre. Rick Zamperin/900 CHML

Now that Hamilton council has rejected the idea of a 6,000 seat mountain arena, two groups have come forward with visionary plans for the city’s downtown entertainment and hospitality venues.

Vrancor Group is proposing a $200 million modernization of First Ontario Centre and the Hamilton Convention Centre, while another consortium led by the Carmen’s Group has plans for a $500 million development.

READ MORE: City takes a pass on proposal to build Hamilton Mountain arena

In the Vrancor proposal, President and CEO Darko Vranich boasts that their concept would “fully reinvent FirstOntario Centre into a state of the art and technologically modern facility.”

He says that they would “expand and modernize the Hamilton Convention Centre by doubling its event hosting capacity” while “aesthetically refreshing the FirstOntario Concert Hall.”

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In regards to the arena, Vrancor Group Project Advisor Mario Frankovich told Global News “you will not recognize the lower bowl” when they are finished, adding that they’ve come up with some “tremendous innovations for how to take the upper bowl out of the picture” when the Ontario Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs are in action.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group — led by Carmen’s Group with Paletta International, LIUNA Pension Fund, Fengate Capital, Meridian Credit Union and Jetport Inc. — is calling for a “renovated” convention facility as well as a remodel of the First Ontario Centre and concert hall.

The main difference between the proposals is that the Urban Precinct Group envisions a new convention centre at the site of the Hamilton City Centre, turning the existing site into a hotel, residential and commercial complex.

Vrancor Group wants to double the capacity of the Hamilton Convention Centre on its existing site.

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READ MORE: ‘Disappointed’ Bulldogs owner looking at ‘alternatives’ after Hamilton Mountain arena bid dies

Both proposals make an attempt to meet the needs of Bulldogs Owner Michael Andlauer, who has indicated that his team’s current reality of playing in an aging facility with a capacity of 17,000 seats is not sustainable.

The Vrancor Group is working towards a lower bowl at FirstOntario Centre with the capacity to seat about 9,000 fans, while the Urban Precinct plan is to create a “significantly renovated” arena which would create “fan intimacy” but keep the flexibility for a 17,000 seat facility for live music and cultural events.

Hamilton City Council officially voted on Wednesday to reject a proposal from Andlauer and Cadillac Fairview, to investigate the potential of a 6,000 seat arena and parking garage at Limeridge Mall.

It’s a move that Bulldogs owner Andlauer called “shortsighted” in an interview with Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly on Jan. 17, 2020.

However, despite the disappointment, Andlauer said he would love to work something out with the city.

READ MORE: Hamilton city council reaches compromise to move forward with Hunter Street cycle track

“I think people know I love the city, ” said Andlauer. “I’ve been here for 16 years and this what we do in a community, and I would love to work something out.”

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Downtown Coun. Jason Farr says it’s very early in the process, but what he’s seen so far from Carmens and the Vrancor Group is exciting.

The proposals will go before a committee meeting at city hall on Feb. 5.

Farr adds that council will spend the coming months determining “which proposal works best in the interest of the taxpayers.”