Hamilton councillors vote to move forward with ambitious downtown development


Published July 17, 2020 at 3:57 pm

After months of weighing the proposals, Hamilton City council voted Friday (July 17) to move forward with the bid presented by the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (aka The Precinct Grou

After months of weighing the proposals, Hamilton City council voted Friday (July 17) to move forward with the bid presented by the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (aka The Precinct Group) for the transformation of Downtown Hamilton.

The Precinct Group is a private-sector consortium including LiUNA, Fengate Capital, Meridian Credit Union, Paletta Group, and Carmen’s Group.

The Precinct Group’s plan includes a modernized arena, a newly renovated convention centre and concert hall, significant investment in the Art Gallery of Hamilton, as well as new residential, affordable housing, office and retail space development.

Early estimates put the cost of this project at more than $400 million — all of which the Precinct Group will cover.

In addition to taking on all capital costs for the renewal of the City’s entertainment facilities, the Precinct Group would take over responsibility for the operations and maintenance of the FirstOntario Centre and the FirstOntario Concert Hall for a period of 99 years and of the Hamilton Convention Centre indefinitely.

“We’re finally out of the entertainment business,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla, who was a member of the council who initially sought to dismantle the now-defunct HECFI board. “We’ve done it and we’re saving taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Taxpayers have been on the hook for decades for the capital and maintenance costs of these ageing facilities.

The Precinct Group’s proposed $50M renovation of FirstOntario Centre includes a new building exterior, comprehensive transformation of the lower bowl, expanded concourse level, and a new curtaining system for the upper bowl balcony for smaller events.

“”The transformed arena will be a destination for sports fans, music lovers, and families, creating a first-class guest experience in the urban heart of the Greater Hamilton area,” said P.J. Mercanti, Precinct Group President and Carmen’s Group CEO.

“We also look forward to working with the Hamilton Bulldogs to ensure they have a modernized facility to call home for years to come.”

In addition to the arena transformation, the Precinct Group’s plan includes over $16M in capital upgrades to the existing Hamilton Convention Centre, FirstOntario Concert Hall, and Art Gallery of Hamilton.

As well, an estimated $340.5M in auxiliary mixed-use development, including affordable housing, will be part of any residential developments that stem from this initiative.

When presenting his group’s vision for the downtown core to Hamilton’s General Issues Committee in February, Mercanti referred to their plans as a “love letter to Hamilton.”

The Precinct Group beat out a proposal put forth by Vrancor Group. That proposal featured a massive renovation to FirstOntario Centre and a renovated and expanded Convention Centre.

This $200-million proposal also envisioned the construction of a luxury hotel as well.

Councillors praised the efforts of all the proponents who submitted proposals.

Several noted how just engaging in the expensive and arduous process speaks to their commitment to Hamilton.

“This has certainly been quite the journey,” Mayor Fred Eisenberger said. “This will be a monumental change for our downtown facilities and it comes at no cost to our residents.”

More details on the project and its costs will be made available once the final details of the agreement between the city and The Precinct Group have been finalized.

In the meantime, Eisenberger said that construction is pegged to get underway by the fall of 2021.

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