Saturday, August 14, 2010

West Harbour, or no stadium

My friend Samantha asked, so here's my answer. The West Harbour is the best location for the proposed Pan-Am Stadium (if there's even one to be built at this point).

You asked why the location matters, because jobs will be created no matter where its put. Many of the nay-sayers would disagree with you, arguing that the stadium will have little economic impact. My take is that the stadium, combined with a few other things will create synergies that will greatly assist in reviving the downtown core. Chief among these is the arrival of LRT (light rail transit). Ten dates a year, plus whatever else will go on in the stadium may be enough for a few businesses to consider setting up shop in the downtown, (restaurants, hotels), and may serve to increase property values in the adjacent areas.

The City, Waterfront Trust, etc. are already doing an excellent job in managing and reviving the north end, particularly in the areas around Bayfront Park, Pier 4, Pier 8, etc. However, there is still the daunting task of the brownfields of abandoned industry, chiefly the Rheem property. The large amounts of cash that are coming in from all levels of government are just what the doctor ordered in getting these areas cleaned up. They are not only a hideous eyseore, but present a real environmental danger if not addressed.

Furthermore, the stadium will be adjacent to existing rail infrastructure. One of the great successes of Toronto's professional sports facilities, is their proximity to commuter rail. Anyone who actuallly drives to and Argos, Blue Jays, Leafs or Toronto FC game is an idiot, because of the ease, efficiency and cheapness of a GO train ticket - the same service that can be provided to the new stadium location. There's no signficant rail infrastructure anywhere near the East Mountain site.

Bob Young lauds the east mountain stadium location because of the convenience of the "driveway to driveway" experience. We talk about stadiums and the first question we ask is "How easy will it to be to get to by car"? This needs to become outdated thinking, as the now-seemingly visionary people though (likely by accident) when they decided to put both the Rogers Centre (né Skydome) and the ACC right downtown Toronto. Rather, we should be turning this question on its ear and ask, with the stadium where it is, what's the best way to get there? I would love to see the statistics as to the number of people taking public transit to pro sporting events in Toronto. I think we could match it here in Hamilton.

Bob Young argues that a stadium downtown will doom his business operation to failure in perpetuity, as if the first question people ask when considering whether to attend a game is "how easy is it to get to by car?". If there is a demand for the on-field product, then people will go, no matter which way is more convenient to get there. Its not "build it, and they will come", but "put a decent product on the field, and they will come". Not to put too fine a point on it, but Mr. Young has certainly had his challenges in that department since taking over the team.

As needed as the west harbour site is for the purposes of core revival, it pales in comparison to the disaster of building it at the east mountain. I respect Mr. Young's position in wanting the best location for his business but, in addition to subscribing to what I hope is becoming an outmoded car-centric paradigm, that location would be a further and egregious foray into suburban sprawl. Many have argued that there is plenty of space in the Ontario Realty Corporation (ORC) lands proposed in the Fenn "compromise". Granted, but just because their is empty green space, that is no reason to automatically develop it! We cannot continue to expand outwards while we let the core rot; it is simply bad urban planning. Servicing the stadium (sewers, hydro ) will be expensive enough. In addition, although not qualified to say, I am worried about the proximity of protected environmental lands, chiefly the Eramosa Karst. Karst, as you might be aware, is land that is eroded away underneath the surface by underground waters, resulting in caves etc. Is the proposed land for the east mountain site even stable enough? Perhaps it is, but when I'm on a nature hike with my family exploring the caves, the last thing I want is Stadium noise from the Labour Day classic!

This is not about building a stadium for the Tiger-Cats, its about the Pan-Am Games and the legacy it was supposed to leave. Locally, we have already been deprived of any track and field legacy, thanks in large part to this debate. The feds. and province are to kick in $54 million each, with the city adding $60 million from the Future Fund. The Tiger-Cat contribution? He proposed $15 million and that was from his east mountain pitch (with, admittedly, other not-necessarily out of pocket costs down the road). In this proportion, Bob Young has no right to be calling the shots on location.

As for the Grey Cup, no 25,000 seat stadium can host the game without temporary seating. I don't think either location has a greater advantage over the other in terms of hosting one of these; temporary seats are always brought in for games not played at either Olympic Stadium, Rogers Centre, Commonwealth Stadium or BC Place. Any time its on the prairies, you see temporary seating. Not really an issue.

At the end of the day, I fear we may lose the stadium altogether for two reasons. First, if the Tiger-Cats don't come back to the table, there is no anchor tenant and the city doesn't meet a key funding requirement from both the Pan-Am Games and the two levels of government. Secondly, and perhaps more immediately, the Pan-Am Host Committee may come to its senses and realize they are building one stadium too many. Once they made the unholy decision to move track out of Hamilton and to Toronto, they effectively committed themselves to building, at the very least, a 15,000 seat stadium for track and field there (a facility which, if my guess is correct, will soon be taken over by the Toronto Argonauts, track moved out, and you got us nowhere, Athletics Canada! But I digress). Why, with BMO field and the proposed new facility in Burlington, would they even need a third soccer venue? Were they merely placating local sensitivities by swapping track for soccer, without first thinking about the fiscal consequences? The way these oily people in suits operate, I would NOT be surprised to see an abrupt announcement in the coming months, nay weeks, that no stadium will be built in Hamilton, with the whole Ti-Cat situation cited as their flimsy excuse.

I just hope the velodrome doesn't follow.

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