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Change to Hamilton’s FirstOntario modernization plan will likely mean new construction start date

A rendering of a newly renovated First Ontario Centre. A 49-year agreement between the city of Hamilton and the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group L.P. was approved by the city on June 9, 2021. Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group L.P.

The project director of a FirstOntario Centre rehabilitation project, originally slated to start construction in the fall of 2022, said the start date will likely change due to alterations that would make a more elaborate venue.

Jasper Kujavsky, Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG) partner and director of the arena project, says a potential new timeline for the start of development will be next June or July with the hope of reopening by the fall of 2024.

“So it was a scheduling issue and a staging issue that was largely affected by the scope of the project which is now becoming much more public,” Kujavsky told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

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“It’s significantly larger than what was originally agreed to in the deal we signed with the city.”

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In 2021, Hamilton’s city council gave formal approval for private group HUPEG to go ahead with a redevelopment of downtown Hamilton entertainment venues after coming to a multi-year, multi-million dollar agreement with the city.

The partnership was initially expected to spend more than $500 million on a mixed-use development, including an affordable housing project and a $50-million restoration of FirstOntario Centre.

However, the FirstOntario portion is now expected to be somewhere in the $100-million to $200-million range with the addition of sports magnate Tim Leiweke and his Oak View Group allowing for a larger-scale development.

New additions include a completely reimagined facade with a massive concourse on the ground floor stretching around the arena instead of the stairs now seen when entering the building.

Initially, the group planned on “staging” the project, allowing for some work in the summer with a pause in the fall to allow its clients, like the Hamilton Bulldogs and Toronto Rock, to finish their seasons.

However, it’s now more likely the teams will have to find a new home for the 2023-24 season.

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“If you go back to the renovation of Madison Square Garden between 2010 and 2012, it was a huge project that was staged over three consecutive summers,” Kujavsky explained.

“So there was talk about potentially being able to do … some work in the summer of ’22 and reopening for the sports season.”

The plan still needs sign-off from city politicians, which HUPEG hopes to address in early 2023.

Global News reached out to the Bulldogs and owner Michael Andlauer for the franchise’s thoughts on possible date changes for the project.

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A spokesperson said in an email that the team was aware of the matter but would not be commenting at this time.

Kujavsky went on to say that a hard start date will also be dependent on the success of FirstOntario’s tenants, particularly if any go on a long playoff run, as the Bulldogs did in the 2021-2022 season.

“So at a minimum, we’re into more than a year,” Kujavsky said.

“We’ll get it done as quickly as possible, but you can’t rush it. You don’t want to make mistakes.”

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