Partners tasked with renovating FirstOntario say they hope to complete $280 million worth of work in time for reopening in fall 2025.
Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG) and Oak View Group (OVG) informed city council of the redevelopment, revealing that legal agreements are still being finalized and the current goal is to reopen the arena in approximately two years .
OVG Canada President Tom Pistore said final approvals for much of the development will happen in the coming weeks, including one of the starting points: their architect’s construction drawings.
Meanwhile, Pistore said the Toronto Rock lacrosse tournament schedule, some Gray Cup festival events and concert-style shows will continue until the first quarter of 2024, since the first phases of work are not expected affect arena operations.
“The only room I know about… is the lobby which was never built, so the start of this renovation has no impact on the rest of the building, except for a few other capitals and such “, explained Pistore. “So we’re looking forward to getting work started, and October 2025 is an opening date we’re currently targeting.”
HUPEG’s Lou Frapporti says the overall plan is to make FirstOntario the centerpiece of a modernized entertainment district that will have a significant economic impact on the business community and be modern enough to attract some of music’s biggest artists .
He added that the project also seeks to “pursue community-wide regeneration” focused on “two priorities beyond profit”, “the planet and people”.
The group is expected to reveal a community engagement process to align with other upcoming investments in the downtown core, such as LRT development, and launch a long-term social impact strategy .
“In consultation with the city and other stakeholders, we will explore incorporating a measure of accessible housing into our residential development projects,” Frapporti said.
“We will explore the feasibility of social procurement and community benefits agreements as part of upcoming redevelopment efforts focused on inclusiveness and diversity.”
Both groups also promised to ensure the city center remains “vibrant in activity and engagement” by reaching out to event organizers and working with Tourism Hamilton to increase the city’s visibility.
In 2021, Hamilton City Council gave formal approval to HUPEG to continue the redevelopment of downtown Hamilton entertainment venues after reaching a multi-year, multi-million dollar agreement with the city.
The partnership was initially expected to spend more than $500 million on a mixed-use development, including an affordable housing project and a $50 million restoration of the FirstOntario Centre.
However, FirstOntario’s share is now expected to be around $300 million, with the addition of OVG allowing for larger-scale development.
OVG led the recent $700 million renovation of Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, home of the NHL Kraken, and the billion-dollar development of the Islanders’ UBS Arena in New York.
In fashion now
The organization is in the process of building 22 arenas around the world, including 10 in North America, with Hamilton being the first in Canada.
The new additions include a completely redesigned facade with a huge ground floor lobby extending around the arena instead of the stairs currently seen upon entering the building.
The deal with the city means taxpayers will no longer subsidize the arena for the next 49 years, equating to about $150 million in savings by handing over operations to the group.
Pistore said once complete, the plan is to engage strong bookers in offering Hamilton as an alternative to the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, as the latter has a strong commitment to hockey and basketball.
“Hamilton is a way to get into…what the tours will be thinking about is the Toronto market,” Pistore explained. “We think we’re going to have an impact on other sites … that go through Cleveland and Buffalo. We are going to make our site here much more attractive.
HUPEG has offered to host the Bulldogs if the Brantford arena is not ready
HUPEG’s PJ Mercanti revealed the group has been in contact with the OHL Bulldogs since the team’s decision to move to Brantford. The group says it would continue the dialogue “in the event things do not move quickly in Brantford,” by making FirstOntario available to them.
Mercanti suggested the start date of the season was a significant issue contributing to the team’s departure because the younger students “needed more certainty” about where they would be.
“We therefore look forward to continued dialogue and engagement with the Bulldogs and have nothing but respect for their organization and Mr. Andlauer in particular,” Mercanti said.
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