Making Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre 'NHL-ready' would cost $250M

A new report pegs the cost of renovating FirstOntario Centre to an 'NHL-ready' level at $252 million.

City staff recommend against large-scale renovation to the city's signature events venue

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)
A new study pegs the cost of renovating the FirstOntario Centre to an "NHL-ready" point at $252 million, but city staff say there are other much more urgent budget issues to deal with instead. 

The renovation one of two options outlined in a new study of the city's signature hockey and events venue, scheduled to be presented to city councillors next Wednesday.

That NHL-ready option consists of a "complete transformation" of the 32-year-old, 17,000-seat building complex. 

The other option costs $68 million and would be a "partial upgrade" and add modern boxes and concessions to the lower bowl. 

City staff say they don't recommend pursuing either option.

"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," a report from city finance staff states.

That recommendation is likely to go over well with some councillors.

A private study estimated the cost of two options for renovating The FirstOntario Centre at $68 million and $252 million. (Tucker Wilson/CBC)

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."

Currently the city 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." It also has set aside another $100,000 for the concert hall for the next four years.

Rejecting either or both of these renovation options doesn't change that, the report states. 

The Canadian Hockey League rejected Hamilton's recent Memorial Cup bid this year partly because of problems with the arena.

Copps Coliseum first opened in 1985, and was named after Hamilton mayor, Victor Copps. It was renamed in 2014 to FirstOntario Centre. (Adam Carter/CBC)