Hamilton

City won't pay to upgrade FirstOntario Centre but will consider anyone who will

The city of Hamilton will not pursue infrastructure upgrades to First Ontario Center without any investment offers.

A motion carried late Wednesday afternoon left the door open to outside investors

This re-imagination of the exterior of First Ontario Centre that is part of a consultants report on how to upgrade the aging arena. (BBB Architects)

FirstOntario Centre might, some day, get the upgrades it needs, but if it does, the city of Hamilton won't be paying for it. 

Councillors decided Wednesday they won't fund upgrades to FirstOntario Center, but if someone else wants to foot the bill, the door is wide open. 

According to the results of a consultant's study, it would take $252 million to make the arena ready for an NHL team. $68 million would be good enough for a partial upgrade. 

The NHL-ready option would have meant a "complete transformation" of the 32-year-old, 17,000-seat building. 

The partial upgrade would add modern boxes and concessions to the lower bowl. 

After reviewing the study, city staff recommended against spending the money on upgrades. On Wednesday, councillors passed a motion directing staff to "manage the lifecycle" of FirstOntario Center with funds in the existing capital budget. In addition, staff will be keeping open communication with community stakeholders and industry experts to ensure its stewardship of the stadium is where it ought to be. Lastly, city staff will be "conduct appropriate due diligence" when it comes to any incoming offer of private investment.

City finance staff wrote in a report that "Based on the cost of the proposed renovations and the uncertainty of whether Hamilton could attract a tenant that could fully utilize a modern 18,000 seat arena, staff recommends that the city does not move forward with either renovation option at this point in time," 

The city already sets aside $800,000 a year for upgrades to the arena, the convention centre and the concert hall — "prioritizing capital needs that relate to health and safety and legislative compliance."

Before even seeing the report, Coun. Sam Merulla said earlier this month the issue "shouldn't even be on the back burner." 

"You know that drawer at the bottom of the stove that nobody uses? That's where it belongs."

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