Hamilton

Vrancor has a $200M plan for Hamilton's downtown entertainment facilities

One of the city's biggest developers says he has a $200-million plan to redevelop Hamilton's downtown entertainment facilities, and build two new office buildings to boot. And unlike a recent proposal to put an arena at Lime Ridge Mall, there's no public money involved.

Another group that includes Carmen's and LiUNA has a $500M plan

Vrancor wants to significantly revamp FirstOntario Centre and add two mid-rise office buildings. (Vrancor)

One of the city's biggest developers says he has a $200-million plan to redevelop Hamilton's aging downtown entertainment facilities, and build two new office buildings to boot.

And unlike a recent proposal to put an arena at Lime Ridge Mall, there's no public money involved.

Darko Vranich, president of Vrancor, said he wants to redevelop FirstOntario Centre, FirstOntario Concert Hall and the Hamilton Convention Centre. That includes revamping the arena and attaching two mid-rise office buildings to it, as well as expanding the Hamilton Convention Centre and renovating FirstOntario Concert Hall.

"We've been working with architects who specialize in arenas and convention centres," said Mario Frankovitch, Vrancor's project advisor. "We've been working on this for months now."

A group called Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG) is making a $500-million pitch to council to revive the facilities too. That includes Carmen's Group, LiUNA, Fengate Capital, Meridian Credit Union, Paletta International and the Joyce family.

This rendering shows what Vrancor has in mind for FirstOntario Centre. (Vrancor)
This rendering shows how Vrancor envisions the exterior of FirstOntario Centre. (Vrancor)

Both groups have submitted term sheets, and councillors are expected to discuss both pitches on Feb. 5. Whichever proposal wins, Frankovich said, what's good for downtown is good for everyone.

"From the perspective of Vrancor, having something happen that is positive in the downtown core is good news," he said. "The visions are slightly different, and that is why we're looking forward to going forward with the vision as imagined by Darko."

The proposals come as council recently nixed a proposal from Cadillac Fairview and the Hamilton Bulldogs hockey team. That team wanted to build a 6,000-seat arena at Lime Ridge mall, which would've required millions in public dollars for a facility that would remain on private property.

Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer pledged $30 million of his own money toward the $126 million project, and said he'd consider moving the team if the city didn't back the Lime Ridge proposal.

Frankovich says Vrancor hopes to give the Bulldogs what they need too.

Two groups have plans for Hamilton's downtown entertainment facilities. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

As for HUPEG, it wants to build a "new or renovated" convention centre, and make extensive upgrades to the arena and FirstOntario Concert Hall, said PJ Mercanti from Carmen's Group in an email to councillors this month. 

HUPEG has signed a letter of intent with IN8 Developments, the new owner of Hamilton City Centre, to create "substantial residential units coupled with the creation of new hospitality and entertainment assets." 

The group, Mercanti said in the email, has also had "positive, progressive discussions with the leadership of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, as we intend to support their expansion efforts."

Jason Farr, Ward 2 councillor, said he won't say which plan he likes better. He's "just thrilled" that there are two serious contenders. 

"I'm happy both are taking it very seriously, and talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in investments with little to no public money involved."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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