The Hamilton Tiger-Cats may not know until Sunday if they’ll be hosting the rival Toronto Argonauts at Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day.
Work continued at the new stadium Thursday as officials tested fire alarms and sprinkler systems while the Ticats practised there for the second straight day. However the City of Hamilton still hasn’t signed off on the $145-million facility with the Ticats and Argos scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. ET on Monday afternoon.
But Ticats chief executive officer Scott Mitchell remains undeterred, saying he’s very optimistic the contest will go ahead as scheduled and expects the occupancy permit to be issued sometime between Friday and Sunday.
“There’s two big hurdles to overcome,” he said. “One is making sure the game and all the things related to the stadium are functioning for operational purposes . . . and I am thrilled we were able to announce today it’s all systems go.
“The next hurdle now is moving into occupancy, permits and we’re getting substantially positive news on the plan and issues that need to be overcome. There’s going to need to be some work to be done in the next couple of days and into Saturday and Sunday but from what we’re understanding there’s a great plan in place and things are looking very positive for Monday.”
Ed VanderWindt, the director of building services for the City of Hamilton, said Thursday he expects it will be Sunday afternoon before a partial occupancy permit can be issued. That’s the deadline for all the handrails and guards in the building to be installed and they must be inspected before the final paperwork can be completed, There’s also the matter of gathering letters from all the engineers and architects involved in the stadium’s design to ensure all work has been done to their specifications and provincial building codes.
The 24,500-seat stadium — the site for the 2015 Pan Am Games soccer competition — was scheduled for completion June 30. However construction delays forced the Ticats to play their first three home games at McMaster University.
If Monday’s game goes as scheduled, Mitchell said the seating capacity will be around 18,000.
The Ticats have two contingency plans in place if the game can’t be played Monday. It would instead be staged Tuesday night, either at Tim Hortons Field or Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Rogers Centre officials have said they needed to know by Thursday if the game was being played there. But Mitchell felt with the Toronto Blue Jays opening a three-game series there with New York Yankees on Friday night, that notification could be delivered early Friday and still provide the facility with sufficient notice.
“Rogers Centre has been great,” Mitchell said. “We plan on keeping them informed and clearly want to be fair and respectful to them as well.”
However Mitchell said as crews continue working at Tim Hortons Field, the need for backup plans is diminishing.
“It’s less and less likely to occur,” he said. “We’re focused on one thing and that’s the game being played Monday and we feel great about the plan that’s in place.
“I am very optimistic.”
Mitchell said one issue that remains is completion of the stadium washrooms. Some partitions must still be installed but Mitchell added there’s no threat of a shortage come Monday.
“The good news is this facility actually has double the washrooms needed to meet code,” he said. “Even if 10 per cent of the partitions aren’t in, it would still see us having well over the code of washrooms needed.
“That’s an example of where clearly a plan is in place.”
While the stadium uncertainty has certainly been annoying for Ticats fans, Mitchell said many will be surprised once they enter the facility.
“Once you get into the gate, once you get into the bowl, it’s a spectacular facility,” he said. “We’re going to continue to improve upon that, we’re going to continue to work with all the parties involved.
“But we’re just going to be thrilled with it if we get in there Monday. I think it’s going to be an outstanding atmosphere.”
The iconic contest has traditionally been the most important game of the year for Hamilton football fans, a must-win contest against their franchise’s most hated rival. And the Ticats have often delivered, compiling a 29-15-1 Labour Day record against Toronto.
The two sides didn’t meet on Labour Day last year due to scheduling conflicts at both Rogers Centre and the University of Guelph — Hamilton’s temporary home in while Tim Hortons Field was being built. And Mitchell said its important Ticats fans have the opportunity Monday to create more memories in their new home.
“That’s why we’re all working so hard because this is the Labour Day Classic,” he said. “I think it will be a spectacular game for Ticats fans, for our players, our league and I think it’s vital for us to be in there for Labour Day.”