Hamilton votes down $130m junior-hockey arena as “giving money away” to a rich dude

When last we checked in on the Hamilton Bulldogs, the (I’m going to get this right this time, I swear) junior hockey team’s owner was demanding a smaller stadium or else he’d leave town, and the city council was on board with considering building a “right-sized” arena for as much as $130 million to replace the city’s existing one. So I honestly had to blink a couple of times to be sure I was really reading today’s news that the council has voted down the plan as stupid and a waste of public money:

Councillors voted 11 to 3 against participating with Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer in a development at the mountain mall…

A report presented by authors Glen Norton and Ryan McHugh from the economic development and planning department (EDPD) … recommended “no further action be taken” in terms of moving forward with the project, citing cost and location as issues as well as the potential “negative perception” associated with downsizing to a capacity of fewer than 10,000 seats…

[Mayor Fred Eisenberger] defended the city’s current downtown arena and suggested further investment in FirstOntario Centre as a more feasible option.

“But to continue to disparage a facility that is actually probably as good a facility as any that are around other than in size, I think is a little disingenuous,” said Eisenberger…

“It really comes down to the feasibility and whether or not we can afford it and what kind of asset are we going to get at the end of the day?” said [Coun. Brenda] Johnson. “We’re not getting an asset. We’re just giving money away to a private investor who’s going to benefit.”

Okay, so admittedly Andlauer had significantly blue-skied the city by lowballing maintenance and operations costs on a new arena and the price tag of building parking garages, and was trying to stick the public with three-quarters of the costs of his new building — that’s just what sports team owners do! For city analysts to actually notice, and then city officials to read the analysts’ report and vote a plan down as a result, is extremely unusual, and makes me think we’ve somehow passed into an alternate dimension where decisions are made based on common sense and not keeping the local very rich guy happy.

As for what happens now, Andlauer already moved an AHL team out of town two years ago, then moved it again two years later, so clearly he’s willing to pack up the moving vans in order to punctuate his hissy fits. On the other hand, Hamilton is in a virtual tie with Quebec City for the largest city in Canada without an NHL team, so Andlauer might not find greener pastures quite so easily, and if he does, you have to imagine somebody else would interested in locating a team in Hamilton if he leaves. Sure, he or they could always try to demand upgrades to the current arena as part of any deal — and the mayor did leave the door open for that, so Hamilton taxpayers aren’t totally out of the woods yet. But still, it’s nice every once in a while to see some elected officials willing to say publicly when the local sports team owner is wearing no clothes.


12 comments on “Hamilton votes down $130m junior-hockey arena as “giving money away” to a rich dude

  1. Glad to see this municipal response.

    Reminds me of my former Houston mayor Bob Lanier’s response to fat cat Bud Adams, owner of the Houston Oilers, on his tantrums for a new stadium…after Houston had just recently added 10,000 new seats to the Astrodome + other amenities.

    Now, of course, Bud took his toys with him to Tennessee, but I am still happy at our former mayor’s response.

  2. Last I heard Hamilton was having a major scandal with its sewer system dumping sewage untreated into nearby waters. So good on em for having priorities hopefully.

  3. The one word answer to a billionaire owner demanding a new arena/stadium from a city or else he/she will move their franchise (aka extortion) is always:

    “No.”

    A few more words. “Here let me help you pack.”

    Lastly, “we will miss the entertainment value from your team. However, we will get over that in due time. Instead, we will take our families out to the movies a little often, other community events, dinner or support the local minor league team in our city as an alternative.”

    Oh, “Good-bye and good luck to you in your new home.”

    • If the city is the arena/stadium landlord, which it usually is, “we will schedule a walk through just before you leave. If all is good, minus normal wear and tear, we kindly ask for the return of the key to our city at that time.”

      Personal note: To the Hamilton City elected officials, “kudos to you, you done good.”

  4. “We’re just giving money away to a private investor who’s going to benefit” should be embroidered on throw pillows and given to city officials wherever the new arena grift shows up.

  5. RE: the Jr/minor conundrum… this one was especially hard as the former Hamilton Bulldogs were an AHL team while this one is not.

    I think you should get 2 pts for that.

  6. Good on Hamilton for turning this yoyo down. It’s not as if Andlauer wasn’t aware that his Junior team would be playing in a 17,400-seater when he bought the Belleville Bulls and moved them to Hamilton, since he’d already moved his AHL team to Newfoundland because the arena in Hamilton was too big.

    Let Andlauer move this iteration of the Bulldogs out of town (again) now that his power play hasn’t worked (again). I’m sure someone will look at the positive of placing a team in a city with a GMSA population over over 700,000, a long history of hockey in a country that treats the sport the way the Deep South treats the Baptist church and an arena that’s more than capable of hosting minor league or Junior hockey games.

  7. Good.

    Anybody willing to move teams with a long history in one city is a complete clown who shouldn’t ever get a dime from that city.