The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will play their first two home games at McMaster University amid news that the new Tim Horton's Field stadium won't be ready for the July 26 and 31 home games.
And the uncertainty over the stadium's completion extends even beyond July 31.
The team says it is optimistic about the next home game scheduled for Aug. 16, but said the builder is only offering assurances the stadium will be ready "no later than Labour Day."
"In the coming weeks, we will have greater certainty regarding our Aug. 16 game,” said Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell.
In the meantime, the Ticats will be renting McMaster's 6,000-seat stadium. No additional seating will be installed for the games, and there will be no liquor sales in the seats, only in the licensed end zone, said McMaster spokesperson Gord Arbeau.
City officials made the announcement that the $140-million stadium wouldn't be ready in a media release Monday afternoon following a meeting with the city, the Tiger-Cats, IO and Ontario Sports Solutions.
The 22,500-seat facility "will not be safe and ready for occupancy by then," it said. "We will review the construction status again at the end of July and provide a further update at that time."
'In the coming weeks, we will have greater certainty regarding our Aug. 16 game.' - Scott Mitchell, Tiger-Cats CEO
Construction on the new stadium, which replaces the former Ivor Wynne stadium and will host soccer games for the 2015 Pan Am Games, was at least two weeks behind for most of the winter.
By March, Infrastructure Ontario (IO) warned in a letter to the city that the stadium was six weeks behind schedule. By late June, the agency said the stadium wouldn't be "substantially completed" until October.
IO attributed the delay to harsh winter weather and the bankruptcy of a subcontractor. It initially aimed to apply to the city for an occupancy permit on July 16.
“While we are disappointed our fans will have to wait to visit our incredible new stadium, we know the world-class experience provided at Tim Hortons Field will exceed everyone’s expectations when it is complete,” Mitchell said.
The first two Tiger-Cats home games will be at the Ron Joyce Stadium at McMaster. Arbeau said the stadium will be rented "as-is" with no additional seating. The university only has a license to sell beer and mixed drinks in the end zone.
The Ticats approached the university roughly a week ago, Arbeau said. The decision to host the Ticats was made after the "positive" experience of hosting a pre-season game earlier this year.
"We'd be happy to play a role so that these games would still be played in Hamilton," he said.
'Ontario taxpayers are not responsible for additional costs related to the completion of the project.' - John McKendrick, Infrastructure Ontario
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Fans who have purchased tickets to the first two home games will be issued a credit or refund for the full value of each game.
Ontario taxpayers are “not responsible for additional costs related to the completion of the project,” IO said in a Monday afternoon media release. Instead, Ontario Sports Solutions pays.
Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell wouldn't say what money the team would receive as a result of the delayed construction.
"That's not something I want to get into right now."
During lease negotiations with the city, it was revealed that the Ticats estimated losses in the range of $1 million per game and that ultimately the contractor assumed responsibility for provable damages or costs.
When asked about the $1 million figure, Mitchell was more vague and implied the matter could end up in the courts.
"It's a legal issue I'm not ready to comment on."
The agency is “disappointed that construction of the stadium will not be completed for the start of the football season,” IO said in the release.
“We are determined to make sure that the stadium is completed by Ontario Sports Solutions and that the public interest is protected.”
The stadium is more than 85-per cent complete, IO said.
In the July 26 game, the Tiger-Cats will face off against the Ottawa Redblacks. The July 31 game is against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The missed opportunity will not only be felt in Hamilton, but by the entire league.
ESPN's main network was scheduled to carry the July 31 game at the Ticats new stadium, hosting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It was scheduled to be the first CFL game played on the main ESPN network under the five-year deal minted between the sports giant the CFL at the end of June.
The subsequent home game is Aug. 16, which gives crews five weeks to have the stadium ready.
Hamilton's mayor, Bob Bratina, remained optimistic.
"Anyone who has driven by the work site knows the tremendous effort that is going into the construction of Tim Horton's Field," he said.
"Although we have fallen short of some early games of the 2014 football schedule, the eventual opening of this wonderful and historic facility will be well worth the wait.”
Statement from John McKendrick, executive vice-president of major projects at Infrastructure Ontario:
The Hamilton Stadium will be completed in 2014 well in advance of the 2015 Pan / ParaPan American Games. The stadium will be a world-class facility for the Games and a legacy that will benefit Hamilton over the long-term.
Ontario taxpayers are not responsible for additional costs related to the completion of the project. The private company, Ontario Sports Solutions, is responsible for building the stadium and is accountable for delivering the project.
Like many citizens and football fans, we are disappointed that construction of the stadium will not be completed for the start of the football season. We are determined to make sure that the stadium is completed by Ontario Sports Solutions and that the public interest is protected.
The stadium project is over 85-per cent complete, and Infrastructure Ontario will continue to work with all partners to ensure the project gets done.
Statement from the city:
Following a meeting today with all involved parties, the City of Hamilton has confirmed that the Tiger Cat home games scheduled for July 26th and July 31st will not take place at the new Pan Am Stadium (Tim Hortons Field) as the facility will not be safe and ready for occupancy by then. We will review the construction status again at the end of July and provide a further update at that time.
The City continues to work closely with Infrastructure Ontario, the contractors and our Ti-Cat partners to achieve the earliest possible delivery of the stadium to accommodate future football games.