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Decision Time for Hamilton Arena: Renovate or Build?

Hamilton BulldogsOpening in 1985 to attract NHL hockey, Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre is in need of urgent repairs just to remain open — leading many, including FirstOntario Centre (OHL) owner Michael Andlauer, to question whether a new arena wouldn’t be a better investment.

Opening as Copps ColiseumFirstOntario Centre has been deteriorated for several years, as the city and Andlauer have been debating whether to put serious money into basic maintenance or plan a new venue, either in downtown Hamilton or elsewhere. The need to decide on a game plan has been an issue for years now, as Andlauer has offered to split the cost of a new arena more suitable for an OHL team than something designed to attract the NHL. The cost of a new arena has been estimated at $60 million, with the city potentially responsible for half; the cost of repairs is $34.3 million over five years.

There are a few options on the table. One is to go ahead with the repairs as part of a larger plan that addresses issues at the nearby convention center, while another is to move ahead with a new arena at the downtown convention center site. In addition, there’s been talks about a new arena at the CF Lime Ridge mall, and there’s also another proposal for a third party to take over management of the arena and convention center. The last time we wrote about this in February officials weren’t close to any final decisions; it sounds like little has changed, except for Andlauer exploring the mall arena location. From the Hamilton Spectator:

Andlauer said last year he’d like to build a new, smaller OHL-sized arena and offered to split the estimated $60-million-plus bill with the city. So far, the response from councillors has been lukewarm — particularly with the city hoping to explore a future makeover for all of its downtown entertainment venues.

Andlauer confirmed this week he was involved in “high-level” talks with the city and Lime Ridge owner Cadillac Fairview before the October election about the idea of Lime Ridge as a future arena site. He said the Mountain site is “just one option that makes sense,” adding he is willing to discuss other possibilities — but hopefully “sooner rather than later.”

Mayor Fred Eisenberger acknowledged city officials sat in on “what-if” talks about the idea of a “bigger development play” at Lime Ridge that could include an arena. But he emphasized the city has not received a formal proposal from the mall or Bulldogs. “The way we left it was: go and devise a plan and then bring it to us. We haven’t heard anything since,” he said.

RELATED STORIES: Hamilton Bulldogs Owner: City Needs to Accelerate Arena TimelineHamilton Considering FirstOntario Centre RepairsHamilton Bulldogs Owner Pitches New Hamilton Arena

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