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Hamilton will spend millions to fix downtown arena, convention centre

Posted: December 5, 2017


Dave Pattison of Sunset Neon shines up the newly installed letters on the north side of the FirstOntario Centre, March 27, 2014. – Cathie Coward,The Hamilton Spectator

The city will make badly needed repairs to its downtown arena and convention centre while exploring the potential for wholesale private redevelopment of the precinct.

Councillors voted Friday to spend $4.3 million replacing broken escalators and small inaccessible elevators at the FirstOntario Centre next year. Another $2 million will go to prevent falling brick hazards outside the Hamilton Convention Centre.

But budget committee members also approved a motion from Coun. Sam Merulla that asks staff to report on possible redevelopment or sale scenarios for all three city-owned core entertainment facilities, including the arena, convention centre and concert hall.

“If we’re successful, this could create an entire residential, commercial and entertainment precinct,” he said.

A privately funded consulting report pitching a $68-million renovation or complete $250-million rebuild of the former Copps Coliseum was received coolly by councillors and set aside earlier this year.

The problem with that pitch, Merulla argued, was the city was asked “for money it doesn’t have.” His motion asked staff to investigate legally feasible methods of redeveloping the aging block “with the land as the city’s contribution.”

Mayor Fred Eisenberger applauded the idea of a long-term look at the “entire precinct.”

He suggested the possibility of an eventual request for proposal that would “appeal to development interests looking for a big play.”

But he also stressed the importance of making immediate investments in the buildings to keep them “safe and functional.” Normally, the city has only spent about $800,000 in capital repairs each year for all three core entertainment buildings combined.

Including the new entertainment facilities cash, councillors voted to approve a $236-million capital budget for 2018. The spending equates to a $30 hike on the average homeowner’s tax bill. The final tax hike won’t be determined until the operating budget is set in the new year.