Partners tasked with renovating FirstOntario say they’re hoping to complete $280 million worth of work in time for reopening in the fall of 2025.
Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG) and the Oak View Group (OVG) gave city council an update on the redevelopment, revealing legal agreements are still being finalized, and the current goal is to reopen the arena in about two years.
OVG Canada president Tom Pistore said the final sign-offs on much of the development will happen in the next few weeks including one of the starting points: construction drawings from their architect.
In the meantime, Pistore said the Toronto Rock lacrosse schedule, some Grey Cup festival events and concert-type shows will still go ahead through the first quarter of 2024, since the first phases of the work are not expected to affect arena operations.
“The one piece that I know … is the concourse that was never built out, so starting that renovation doesn’t impact the rest of the building apart from some other marquees and stuff,” Pistore explained. “So we’re anxious to start work, and October 2025 is an opening date that we are bull’s eyeing right now.”
HUPEG’s Lou Frapporti says the overall plan is to have FirstOntario be the centre piece of an updated entertainment district that will have significant economic impact on the business community and be modern enough to attract some of the biggest acts in music.
He went on to say the project also seeks to “pursue community-wide regeneration” centred on “two priorities beyond profit,” the “planet and people.”
It’s expected the group will reveal a community engagement process to align with other forthcoming downtown investments, like the LRT development, and launch a long-term social impact strategy.
“In consultation with the city and other stakeholders, we will explore incorporating a measure of attainable housing in our residential development projects,” said Frapporti.
“We’ll explore the feasibility of social procurement and community benefits agreements in the redevelopment efforts ahead focused on inclusivity and diversity.”
The two groups also promised to ensure the downtown would remain “robust with activity and engagement” by reaching out to event organizers and working with Tourism Hamilton to heighten the city’s visibility.
In 2021, Hamilton’s city council gave formal approval for 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 $300-million range with the addition of OVG allowing for a larger-scale development.
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OVG spearheaded the recent $700 million renovation of Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, home of the NHL’s Kraken and $1 billion development of the Islander’s UBS Arena in New York.
The organization is on pace for 22 arena builds worldwide including 10 in North America with Hamilton the first in Canada.
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.
The deal with the city means taxpayers will no longer subsidize the arena over the next 49 years, equating to some $150 million in savings by turning over operations to the group.
Pistore said once finished the plan is to engage strong bookers submitting Hamilton as an alternative to Scotiabank arena in Toronto due to the latter having a heavy commitment to hockey and basketball.
“Hamilton is a way to get … what the tours will think of is the Toronto market,” Pistore explained. “We think we’re going to impact other venues … that run across Cleveland and Buffalo. We’re going to make our venue here much more attractive.”
HUPEG offered to host Bulldogs if Brantford arena not ready
HUPEG’s PJ Mercanti revealed the group has been in contact with the OHL’s Bulldogs since the team’s decision to move to Brantford. The group says it was continuing the dialogue “in the event things didn’t move swiftly in Brantford” making FirstOntario available for them.
Mercanti suggested the start date of the season was a significant issue contributing to the team’s departure since young students “needed more certainty” on where they would be.
“So we look forward to continued dialogue and engagement with the Bulldogs and have nothing but respect for their organization and Mr. Andlauer specifically,” Mercanti said.
Hamilton’s sports teams were given notice in November 2022 that they would need to find new homes amid a two-year FirstOntario Centre renovation.
However, Mercanti said at the time an arena lease between partners had not been finalized allowing HUPEG to make accommodations to host some events in the fall and through the winter.
Toronto Rock owner Jamie Dawick revealed the “renovation timeline shift” last week saying publically the venue will be hosting his National Lacrosse League team allowing them to play a full schedule in the arena during the 2023-24 season.