The City of Hamilton and the Tiger-Cats have dug in their heels over the location of a new stadium, with city council affirming its support for a site on the waterfront and the team's owner taking to the airwaves Wednesday to say he wouldn't negotiate unless the city put the stadium somewhere else.
Commenting for the first time since council voted 12 to 3 Tuesday night to build the stadium in the West Harbour area of the city, Ticats owner Bob Young, who favoured a suburban site in the city's southeast, told Toronto radio station The Fan 590 that the city's decision may spell the end of the team's days in Hamilton.
"We think it's a massive mistake and may end the Ticats in Hamilton," Young said. "We can't continue to lose millions of dollars a year."
Young dispelled any rumours the team had an offer to relocate to Quebec City, but said he hoped someone would come forward with the money to find a home.
The comments are the latest indication by Young, a wealthy high-tech entrepreneur, that he will not accept any plan to put a stadium on a former industrial site about a kilometre from the city's downtown.
On Monday, he announced he was withdrawing from the process to build the facility, which is being built for the 2015 Pan-Am Games. He had offered $15-million toward building the facility.
The stakes are high in the battle between the city and its marquee sports franchise. Some question the point of building a new stadium without the Ticats, the team pumps money into the local economy and Hamilton's identity is tied up with the team. The CFL's hall of fame is in Hamilton, and last year the city was spurned in its attempt to bring in an NHL team.
"It would be devastating," Councillor Scott Duvall said. "I am a Ticats fan, I have season tickets. If we didn't have an anchor tenant for a 15,000-seat stadium, why would we want to [build]that?"
Duvall, who voted for the West Harbour location, said it would have been too expensive to build the necessary infrastructure around Young's preferred site.
Richard Koroscil, chairman of the local chamber of commerce, estimated that the team and Young's businesses employ about 200 people in the city, not to mention the revenue the Ticats generate for local businesses.
"The Ticats are a customer of the city," Koroscil said. "Unless you want to chase a customer away, why wouldn't you do everything you can to keep the Ticats here?"
Michelle Febers, who owns the bar Bottoms Up near the site the team prefers for a stadium, said the city needs the Ticats.
"It would be a devastating blow that we can't handle," she said. "It's the only sports team that we have, it puts us on the map. It's the one thing that draws people to this city."
She said rather than attempting to attract an NHL franchise, the city's best bet was to keep the team it already has.
She said she didn't blame Young for wanting to move, saying the rundown north end of the city around the West Harbour was not the sort of place people would want to go.
"If someone asked me to move my business to a deserted island, would I do it? No, I wouldn't," Febers said.
Despite Young's comments, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he hoped the city could negotiate with him, but that it could also build the stadium without the team.
"There's got to be a willingness to look at the gift here that's being made available to the Ticats at no cost to them," he said. He said 90 per cent of the new stadium's business would come from high school sports and other events, and that the plan would be economically viable even if Young walks.
Young favours the suburban site because it is closer to inter-city highways and he argues it would attract more people than a downtown site. On Wednesday, he said the team couldn't make money without such a facility.
He said he would speak with the city, but only if it agreed to build the stadium elsewhere.
"If the city backed off this desire to put a stadium in the West Harbour and instead worked with the best developers in the country to come up with some sort of win-win - do something in the West Harbour that makes sense for a residential neighbourhood that's a long way from highway access and work with us to find some location in Hamilton that you can build a viable stadium on - we'd be thrilled to engage in those discussions," Young said.