Should Hamilton spend millions to fix up FirstOntario Place?

FirstOntario Place needs millions in repairs, and an upcoming report will give some options. But one councillor says this all belongs in "that drawer at the bottom of the stove."

The city is cash strapped, Merulla says, and this issue belongs in 'that drawer at the bottom of the stove'

Paul McCartney played FirstOntario Centre last year and liked it just fine, but it does need some work. A report coming to Hamilton city council will present two options to fix its outstanding issues. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

FirstOntario Centre is in disrepair. There's an old roof and the infamous long-broken escalator. But at least two city councillors say they're in no hurry to do anything about it.

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.- Sam Merulla

Local lawyer Jasper Kujavsky will present a $240,000 report on April 5 — the city contributed $50,000 — showing 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.

But some councillors say the city has enough other expenses.

"This issue shouldn't even be on the back burner," said Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor. "You know that drawer at the bottom of the stove that nobody uses? That's where it belongs."

Without even seeing the report, Merulla said, he's ready to "kill this thing sooner rather than later."

FirstOntario Centre was built in 1985. (Tucker Wilson/CBC)

"I'm not sure why we're wasting time… talking about it."

It's beyond wrong, and I'll leave it at that.- Judi Partridge

It wasn't council's decision to talk about it in the first place. Kujavsky approached city manager Chris Murray to contribute to the study. Private businesses, including developers, contributed nearly $200,000. 

Judi Partridge, Ward 15 councillor, says none of her Flamborough residents want to even hear about it.

"My community is certainly not on for the discussion," she said at a committee meeting Wednesday.

She's also upset council didn't get to vote on the expense, and why she's in the dark when others aren't. "It's beyond wrong, and I'll leave it at that."

Escalators broken for more than two years

Regardless, FirstOntario Centre does need work. The Canadian Hockey League rejected Hamilton's recent Memorial Cup bid this year partly because of problems with the arena.

They loved our building. I was thrilled about that.- Scott Warren, Core Entertainment, of Paul McCartney's crew

Rome D'Angelo, the city's director of facilities management and capital programs, said it's in "fair condition." It would cost about $5 million to repairing all the outstanding issues.

Sections of the roof need replacing (cost: about $2.5 million). The city only has $1 million per year for FirstOntario Centre, Hamilton Place and the convention centre, so it's prioritizing.

Then there's that escalator off the main York Boulevard entrance. It's been broken for more than two years.

"I was somewhat embarrassed about that when I heard about it," Coun. Tom Jackson said last month.

Scott Warren, general manager of Core Entertainment, says naturally, his company has a wish list. He'd like a larger elevator, and of course, to see the escalator fixed. He'd also like club seats, and better wifi.

'It's got good bones'

But Paul McCartney played the venue last year with no problems, he said.

"I was a little nervous because they play a lot of new arenas with modern amenities." But "they loved our building. I was thrilled about that."

"I would certainly welcome any sort of renovation to the existing structure, but in general, it's got good bones."

Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects prepared what Jackson refers to as "the mysterious report." 

"I'm being noncommittal at this time," Jackson said, "in light of all the competing pressures we have."

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC


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