Escalators and elevators at FirstOntario Centre falling apart, need millions in repairs

The elevators and escalators at Hamilton's main arena are in such bad shape that the city needs to spend $4.3 million next year to fix them, a new report says. And it's making Hamilton look bad.

At least one escalator has been out of order for more than 2 years. Now taxpayers will have to step up

As many as four escalators at FirstOntario Centre are unreliable, and three are out of service indefinitely. A new report from city staff says replacing the necessary elevators and escalators will cost $4.3 million next year. (City of Hamilton)

The elevators and escalators at Hamilton's main arena are in such bad shape that the city needs to spend $4.3 million next year to fix them, a new report says.

City councillors debated Friday what to do about the escalators and elevators at FirstOntario Centre. They pushed the issue to future capital budget deliberations.

The arena has seven escalators, all installed in 1983, and four of them are unreliable and need to be replaced, city staff say. The other three are out of service "indefinitely," one for more than two years. Those should be replaced with stairs, the report says.

The sole passenger elevator used during shows there — and the only way for people using wheelchairs to get to the upper levels — is also at the end of its life. The arena needs a new elevator that holds 20 to 28 people, the report says.

All of this is the result of the city not spending enough to maintain the building year after year, says the report, which councillors are debating as part of their 2018 capital budget deliberations. And it makes the city look bad.

One escalator near the York Boulevard entrance has been broken for more than two years. (City of Hamilton)

"When escalators are non-functioning, which is a frequent occurrence, 'out of order' signs are displayed," the report says. "This leads to frustration among patrons." It also "highlights and contributes to a negative perception among patrons and tenants."

Staff recommend $3.05 million of that cost come from property taxes next year.

FirstOntario Concert Hall — formerly Hamilton Place — and the Hamilton Convention Centre need attention too. The latter needs $2 million in repairs, city staff say, mainly to replace overhead brick on the outside of the building. It's bad enough, the report says, that it recommends the centre manager, Carmen's Group, keep people away from problem areas.

'We should not be in the entertainment business'

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor, wants to look at giving all three buildings to a developer willing to build a sports and entertainment district. That district would also include condos and retail. He'll bring that forward Dec. 9.

"We should not be in the entertainment business," he said. "That was a mistake in the past, and we've paid through our noses."

Meanwhile, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, the city should do these shorter-term repairs.

"We're multiple years away from any kind of major decision about what we do with these facilities," he said.

 "In the meantime, the very minimum is going to be safe. I'm prepared to support anything that is required to ensure the safety and functionality of buildings as they exist today."

Investing in these properties was a tougher sell in April, when a report suggested the city chip in millions to build a new arena.

Report in the spring recommended a whole new building

Local lawyer Jasper Kujavsky used city money and private sector contributions to co-ordinate a $240,000 report on April 5 that showed two major options to fix the former Copps Coliseum.

One option involves renovating the lower bowl as an 8,000-seat premium facility with private boxes. That would clock in somewhere below $100 million. The other is fully revamping the 17,000-seat building to NHL standards, which will cost nearly $300 million.

Most councillors bristled at both of those.

​"My community is certainly not on for the discussion," Judi Partridge, councillor for Ward 15 in Flamborough, said then.

Merulla agreed with her then. "This 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."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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