Councillors hear pitches for multimillion-dollar entertainment facilities in downtown Hamilton

The city is entertaining bids from developers interested in renovating facilities near FirstOntario Centre. Vrancor Group / Hamilton Urban Precinct Arts and Entertainment Group

The two consortiums looking to redevelop the area around FirstOntario Centre and the Hamilton Convention Centre downtown made their pitches to city council on Wednesday.

The Vrancor Group — which is proposing a $200-million modernization of FirstOntario Centre and the Hamilton Convention Centre — said it could complete its concept in 12 to 14 months.

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

Project manager Mario Frankovich presented the group’s plan, which calls for expansion and modernization of the Hamilton Convention Centre by “doubling its event hosting capacity” while “aesthetically refreshing” FirstOntario Concert Hall and “taking out” the upper bowl out at FirstOntario Centre.

“We see the bones of the arena as a diamond in the rough,” said Frankovich, whose plan will offer adjustable seating configurations between live events and hockey at FirstOntario while enlarging the convention centre on its current site.

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Vrancor groups vision of a revamped First Ontario Centre Arena on the corner of Bay Street and York Avenue. Vrancor Group

Meanwhile, the other delegation, which calls itself 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 offering a more aggressive campaign estimated at about $500 million.


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The Urban Precinct plan also offered a remodelled FirstOntario Centre, which would see the lower bowl rebuilt to accommodate different seating configurations and capacities by employing a curtaining system and laser technology.

READ MORE: Burlington’s mayor says Hamilton Bulldogs have made contact about potential move to the city

However, the group’s plan for the convention centre and concert hall would see both move into an area near the site of the current Hamilton City Centre, turning the existing concert hall and convention site into a hotel, residential and commercial complex.

A rendering of a redeveloped First Ontario Centre at the corner of Bay Street and York Blvd. as presented to the city of Hamilton by Hamilton Urban Precinct Arts and Entertainment Group. Hamilton Urban Precinct Arts and Entertainment Group

“We’re proposing an integrated development,” Carmen’s Group CEO P.J. Mercanti told Global News Radio 900 CHML during the Scott Radley Show on Tuesday.

“This is an opportunity for us to get it right and to set up and to build a new convention centre that’s got a bigger exhibition room, a bigger ballroom that can then host more delegates that can then fill more hotels in Hamilton. So this is part of a much bigger play, a future-proof Hamilton.”

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A third group — an investment consortium led by Pearle Hospitality, which operates a number of luxury hotels, restaurants and a golf course — was scheduled to join the fray on Wednesday but withdrew its delegation.

The initial proposal from Pearle outlined a bid to build a brand-new, luxury five-star hotel, convention centre and, potentially, a new arena.

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

The Pearle delegation was led by Aaron Ciancone, known for operating several high-end restaurants, including the Ancaster Mill, Elora Mill and Spencer’s at the Waterfront in Burlington. Its project director was Aaron Waxman, the frontman for Waxman Industrial Services Corp., which distributes scrap and waste materials through facilities in Burlington, Brantford and Hamilton.

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The general issues committee chair on Wednesday, Coun. John-Paul Danko, told Global News the next step will be an evaluation process.

“Staff will undertake a careful evaluation of all viable options to make sure that what is being proposed can be delivered on the terms promised,” said Danko.

“We understand that Hamilton residents would like to see a positive conclusion to this process and we are working hard to reach that goal as quickly as possible.”

When asked why council opted for an in-camera session and the decision to keep future deliberations private, Danko said it was to “maintain the integrity of the process.”

“This is a very complicated project that involves many moving pieces including the purchase and sale of multiple properties, financing, negotiations with various stakeholders and proprietary details of each proposal” Danko said.

“The best part is that these proposals promise hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment, remove the taxpayer’s annual subsidy of the existing facilities and don’t require a cent of taxpayer capital commitment!”


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