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Hamilton strikes deal with private consortium to revamp downtown core

Dena Fehir
Hamilton strikes deal with private consortium to revamp downtown core

With unanimous support, Hamilton City Council has entered into a master agreement with the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group to invest millions of dollars into the downtown core.

The 49-year accord will see what is known as “The Precinct Group,” take over responsibility for the operations and maintenance of the FirstOntario Centre, the FirstOntario Concert Hall and the Hamilton Convention Centre with no monetary contribution from the city.

The deal’s objective, which is to revitalize the heart of the city, was sealed on Hamilton’s 175th birthday and also aims to save municipal taxpayers an estimated $155 million over 30 years.

The Precinct Group’s proposed minimum $50 million renovation of the FirstOntario Centre includes a new exterior facade and video board, a transformation of the lower bowl, an expanded concourse level and a new flexible curtaining system for the upper bowl balcony.

The renovation will also include a sports lounge, an e-gaming zone and additional food and beverage offerings in collaboration with local hospitality partners.

“The approval of this agreement will begin the revitalization plan for a world-class entertainment precinct, right in the heart of downtown Hamilton. I would like to thank both the Precinct Group and city staff who ensured this agreement will not only drive additional tourism but will see significant residential and commercial development in our community. This development will bring economic stimulus, additional development opportunities and ultimately reduce cost for our taxpayers,” said Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger in a statement.

The Precinct Group will work with internationally renowned arena architect BBB Architects and lead local architect DPAI in bringing their vision to reality and has indicated extensive plans for the entertainment precinct, including:

  • Amenities like a microbrewery, viewing cocktail lounges and enhanced hospitality suites.
  • Refreshed performer rooms, coupled with improved technological investments.
  • A long-term ambition of transforming the area into a “Distillery District-inspired” area, with enhanced pedestrian capabilities.

Work on the FirstOntario Centre is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2022 and will take place over two years and be completed in two phases. The Precinct Group plans to work with current tenants and operators to minimize any operational impacts of the renovations.

“The transformation of our iconic downtown coliseum as a centrepiece of a new entertainment precinct highlights the excitement of Hamilton’s urban renaissance,” said Jasper Kujavsky, Precinct Group partner and director for the arena renovation project. “Further, our project hopes this deal, coming as we anticipate emerging from the reality of the pandemic, gives Hamiltonians and visitors to our city great confidence in our future.”

In addition to the arena transformation, the Precinct Group also plans to invest over $12.5 million in capital upgrades, expansion and esthetic enhancements to the existing Hamilton Convention Centre and Concert Hall and another one-time $2 million contribution to the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

Construction at the Hamilton Convention Centre and the FirstOntario Concert Hall will take place after the completion of the FirstOntario Centre renovations.

Further to the Precinct Group’s arrangement with the city and working in collaboration with development partners including, LIUNA, Meredian Credit Union and Paletta Group, there is also plans for over $500 million in auxiliary mixed-use development, including five per cent affordable housing in one of the residential developments.

The York Boulevard Parkade, the surface parking lot at 14 Vine St. and 191 York Blvd. are city-owned properties that will be discharged to the Precinct Group for the purpose of redevelopment.

“Over $50 million dollars to modernize and refresh our downtown arena is sure to bring more fans to professional sports games and undoubtedly lead to an increase and greater variety in shows and events. This deal also sees much greater and higher uses coming to three under-utilized city-owned properties in close proximity,” said Ward 2 Councilor Jason Farr.

“Several years ago, council approved my motion to deem the surface asphalt parking lots we own in the core surplus. Our zoning is now in place with the Downtown Secondary Plan and mixed-use development will now happen that will support our entertainment venues, fans and the burgeoning live-work vitality of our core.”

The Precinct Group is to take over the operations and maintenance of all three entertainment venues on April 1, 2022 with the city retaining ownership of the lands and facilities.

“Being Hamilton-born and raised, my family and I have many treasured memories in our city’s beloved arena, concert hall and convention centre. We are looking forward to a continued partnership with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Hamilton Honey-Badgers and Toronto Rock as the arena’s anchor tenants. The signing of this master agreement is the ‘end of the beginning.’ So now the real work begins as we embark on our ambitious and visionary plans,” said PJ Mercanti, Precinct Group president and CEO.

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