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Groups Pitching FirstOntario Centre Renovation

FirstOntario Centre Exterior

Two development groups are proposing projects that include a FirstOntario Centre renovation, bringing about ideas to address the aging Hamilton, ON venue’s future.

Vrancor Group and a separate contingent of investors led by the Carmen’s Group has included FirstOntario Centre in their pitches for downtown facility projects. In both cases, the arena’s aging condition would be addressed with significant updates to its amenities, while the plans would call for making the venue adaptable to host both large shows and smaller events that would utilize only the lower bowl.

Each group would make the renovations part of a larger downtown facilities project, though the overall scopes of those proposals differ from one another. Whereas Vrancor Group’s C$200 million renovation plan proposes an expansion of the nearby Hamilton Convention Centre, the consortium led by the Carmen’s (operating as Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group) calls for a new convention center and redevelopment of the existing convention facility site as part of a C$500 million project.

Neither proposal is assured of moving forward at this point, and more details should emerge when they go before a city committee on February 5. Still, with Hamilton recently passing on a pitch to build a new arena at Lime Ridge Mall from a group that included Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) owner Michael Landauer, the proposals should prompt plenty of conversation about FirstOntario Centre’s future. More from Global News:

Darko Vranich, the President and CEO of Vrancor, says their proposal would “fully reinvent FirstOntario Centre into a state of the art and technologically modern facility.”

He adds that they would “expand and modernize the Hamilton Convention Centre by doubling its event hosting capacity” while “aesthetically refreshing the FirstOntario Concert Hall.”

In regards to the arena, Vrancor Group Project Advisor Mario Frankovich says “you will not recognize the lower bowl” when they are finished, adding that they’ve come up with some “tremendous innovations for how to take the upper bowl out of the picture” when the Ontario Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs are in action….

A main difference between the proposals is that Urban Precinct envisions a new convention centre at the site of the Hamilton City Centre, while turning the existing site into a hotel, residential and commercial complex.

Hamilton officials opted this month to not participate in the proposal from Andlauer and Cadillac Fairview that called for a new 6,000-seat arena and three-story parking garage as part of a C$126 million project, with location and cost cited among the concerns the city had with the plan. Andlauer, who pledged C$30 million toward its initial cost, indicated last week he was disappointed with the decision, and will be exploring his options for the future of the Bulldogs. More from Global News:

“Because of this report, because of the press, I have had interests,” Andlauer told Global News. “But at the end of the day, I have to look at all my alternatives. I’ll do what’s in the best interests for fans. And we’ll go from there.”

Andlauer didn’t specify a particular option for the Bulldogs beyond Hamilton, but did say he has interest “from outside” the city “not too far away.”

“I would love to work something out. I thought this was a solution that could have been worked out.”

First opening as Copps Coliseum in 1985, the 17,383-seat FirstOntario Centre was built with NHL ambitions in mind. Its aging condition has prompted conversations about potentially renovating or replacing the venue, but Hamilton officials have yet to move forward with any plans for a new or upgraded arena.

Image courtesy Hamilton Bulldogs.

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