Public deserves to know the numbers behind the Lime Ridge arena proposal: councillors
Should Cadillac Fairview and the owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs have to show their hand?
Hamiltonians deserve to know how much they'd have to fork over for a new hockey arena at Lime Ridge Mall, city councillors say. And they don't want to hear about it unless that dollar figure is public.
Councillors said Wednesday that they won't entertain a proposal for a 6,000-seat arena from Cadillac Fairview and the Hamilton Bulldogs OHL team unless everyone knows how much public money is at stake. Team owner Michael Andlauer is due to present at an Oct. 2 general issues committee meeting, and councillors want him to be prepared to disclose that.
Andlauer said he doesn't want the proposal to be public, but Coun. Sam Merulla (Ward 4, east end) says at least part of it has to be.
"If the proposal can't be released, I don't want to waste his time or my time," Merulla said. "I'm not sure why we'd be inviting him if he's not coming forward with what he wants to do."
The proposal, said Coun. Tom Jackson (Ward 6), asks for a "significant amount" of public money, and that needs to be discussed in public.
"What I want to hear is what does he think it's going to cost, how is the land deal going to be done and what's he looking for from the city?" said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson (Ward 12).
Coun. Terry Whitehead (Ward 14) disagreed though, saying councillors are forcing Andlauer to reveal numbers at the "starting point" of negotiations.
"We're sending a message that we don't negotiate in good faith."
What details are public has become a sticking point in the discussion around a new arena.
Andlauer and Cadillac Fairview have discussed their unsolicited proposal with city staff for a few months. This comes as the city discusses a future downtown entertainment precinct that includes FirstOntario Centre, FirstOntario Concert Hall and the Hamilton Convention Centre.
FirstOntario Centre is past its lifespan, although city staff say it's good for at least another five years. Big-ticket acts like Paul McCartney and BTS have packed the 17,400-seat venue, but a recent Ernst and Young report says that's rare. Only 13 or 98 events last year needed the upper bowl seating.
The Bulldogs are the most frequent tenant, the report says, and a new venue would draw larger hockey crowds. The big-ticket entertainment shows, however, generate more money than the Bulldogs do.
The report recommends the city build a new "right-sized" $130-million arena with around 10,000 seats. The convention centre, it says, could relocate to the FirstOntario Centre building.
The whole notion of an overhaul started in 2017, when a group of private businesses volunteered to spend $250,000 on a study into the venues. One of those businesses, Carmen's Group, manages the convention centre, but has expressed interest in managing FirstOntario Centre and concert hall too.
As it stands, councillors are putting off making any decisions until they hear from Andlauer. They invited him to present on Sept. 18, but he's out of the country, he said in an email to them.
The proposal to the city, Andlauer said, was "made in confidence," and he wants it to stay that way.
"I have spoken with the co-authors of the proposal, Cadillac Fairview, and we are in agreement that it would not be appropriate to release this publicly," he said in the email.
"In saying that, I am open to addressing council publicly with what I can discuss and answer any questions I can from council to help move consideration of this proposal forward."