A who's who of Hamilton's music scene has banded together to let council and the rest of the city know they don't want to see a casino in the downtown core.
Max Kerman of the Arkells, George Pettit from Alexisonfire and local venues like The Casbah and This Ain't Hollywood are among the 79 different musicians, club owners and promoters who signed a statement released Thursday.
"The recent proposal by the Hard Rock Group and Carmens Group Inc. for a downtown casino suggests that a live music venue will be a large component of their facility," the statement reads. "As musicians, promoters and music venue owners we have a very real concern that a large entertainment complex, run, in part, by a large American-owned corporation, could potentially harm local, independent music venues and promoters." (Read the statement in full here.)
Kerman, the Arkells' frontman, lives in downtown Hamilton and says he's proud of the way the city has grown and improved, especially in the past five years or so.
'Addressing the concerns for the economic health and wellness of the downtown is not a simple matter, but I don't believe a casino is the solution.'—Max Kerman, The Arkells
"Real progress is being made every day by people who care about the evolution of Hamilton," Kerman said. "A downtown casino is something I would not be proud of."
According to the newly formed consortium RockHammer Inc., in addition to a gaming facility the development would include a Hard Rock Café-branded luxury hotel, a live music venue, multiple bars and restaurants and a museum celebrating Canadian music.
"This entertainment destination has been conceived by Hamiltonians, to be operated by Hamiltonians, financed by Hamiltonians, and finally to be enjoyed by Hamiltonians," P.J. Mercanti, co-owner of Carmen's Group, told a by-invitation-only crowd at Sizzle nightclub in Hess Village on Monday.
But Kerman says a downtown casino wouldn't represent the city's existing cultural offerings, and would "overshadow and potentially harm the progress that has already been made."
"Addressing the concerns for the economic health and wellness of the downtown is not a simple matter, but I don't believe a casino is the solution," he added.
Mercanti has said that his proposed casino project would include a live music lounge that would feature local musicians five nights a week.
During a CBC Hamilton live chat Thursday, Mercanti said he thinks the city has a vibrant music scene, and the Hard Rock brand can be used as a venue to showcase that.
"If this facility comes to fruition, a lot of Hamilton musicians will be behind this," he said.
"Two of my great friends — Brian Melo, a Canadian Idol winner, and Tomi Swick, a Juno winner — think this is fantastic. They have a lot of friends in the music community and I'm sure they will rally their colleagues."
But Alexisonfire's Pettit says that Mercanti's statement regarding five nights a week of local music isn't to be taken seriously.
"It was a failed pander to the arts community," Pettit said. "Any number of concert promoters in the city will tell you that having local bands five nights a week isn't fantastically lucrative."
Pettit went so far as to say that Mercanti's idea is "preposterous, nonsensical and ridiculous," considering the "biggest and best" cultural contributors in the city have come out in opposition to the idea of a downtown casino.
"What locals does he plan to get exactly?" Pettit asked. "Certainly not the ones that draw crowds."
Young Rival frontman Aron D'Alesio agrees. "I think having rock and roll five nights a week is a little ridiculous considering there are all these places in the city that do a better job of it already."
This Ain't Hollywood promoter Lou Molinaro says RockHammer has "a lot to learn" about the city's music scene.
"I have never seen any of these guys come to my bar to check out local bands or even enquire about acts," Molinaro said. "The Hamilton music community is an education on its own, and you really can't pull the wool over people's eyes by reading the Coles Notes version."
Molinaro says if well-seasoned vets like himself, John Elder, Brodie Schwendiman, or Ken Inouye can't fill their clubs on Monday or Tuesday nights with local live music, "then no one else can."
"We are very serious and studious about our music community. If we have not been able to pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat, then Rockhammer won't either."
Hamilton has been debating a possible casino since last year. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commissions' lease to operate 801 slot machines at Flamboro Downs expires March 31.