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An artist's rendering shows the exterior of the proposed renovated Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont.
An artist's rendering shows the exterior of the proposed renovated Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont.

Refurbishments to Copps an easy sell for Hamiltonians Add to ...

The pictures look nice. The last time I saw pictures of a new sports facility that looked as nice as Jim Balsillie's plans for a renovated Copps Coliseum was when Jeffrey Loria and David Samson unveiled plans for Montreal's new downtown ballpark.

You've been there, right? Oh hell, wait a minute: it was never built. Just like the one Claude Brochu had trotted out - for $50 million more - in 1998 was never built. As for the Montreal Expos, who were supposed to play there? Well, you know …

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Do not read anything into the fact that Balsillie can show you plans for the refurbishment of Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. Anybody who's been paying attention to the BlackBerry boss' pursuit of an NHL team would be shocked if he hadn't done this. My guess is there's a few more plans shoved away in a desk someplace. We get it, Jim. The whole world gets it. You're serious. You want an NHL team.

Yesterday, the co-founder of Research In Motion released plans for a $150-million renovation of the 24-year-old arena. The job would be done by BBB Architects and a subsidiary, Stadium Consultants International, which is working on renovations at Madison Square Garden and has been involved in the construction or refurbishing of several arenas in Canada, including the Air Canada Centre, Rexall Place and the Pengrowth Saddledome.

The Copps refurbishment would include the usual bells and whistles - an atrium, restaurants and lounges. The drawings looked cookie-cutterish, full of the usual intentions, and it's still unclear how the renovation would be funded, although Balsillie has said he will cover the cost of "short-term renovations."

Balsillie is said to be ready to cover $30-million, with the rest coming from government infrastructure money.

I don't know whether yesterday's picture show will make any difference to Judge Redfield T. Baum. On June 9 in Phoenix, he will decide whether the Coyotes, for whom Balsillie is bidding $212.5-million (U.S.), can be relocated. My guess is overriding a league constitution is probably a bigger deal.

What Balsillie has done is contribute to the critical mass of support for putting another team in southern Ontario.

Criticism has been surprisingly mute. Perhaps we're all suffering from bailout fatigue, but the shots have generally been launched into the great void that is the blogosphere.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is onboard. Even the provincial and federal NDP, who have deep roots in Hamilton's urban ridings (one of which is home to provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath), haven't raised a voice against using government money to help build private boxes. They can't. This is as close to motherhood as you can get in Canada.

Balsillie is following the same path taken by Loria this year when trade unions in Miami came out to support his plans for a new ballpark. Hockey and construction jobs? Talk about an easy sell in a downturn in a city that has waited anxiously for somebody to come along and begin reviving its downtown core.

Hamilton city council voted on May 13 to give Balsillie until October to bring a team to the city. In exchange, he agreed to a lease of up to 32 years in the event he's successful.

Balsillie's not taking any chances. The shovels aren't in the ground, but he and his lieutenants are doing all the spade-work with various levels of government and with significant media outlets. The more these things are announced, the more steps that are taken, the harder it is for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to look like anything other than an obstacle to progress. Announcements such as yesterday's reinforce the seriousness of his intentions, particularly to those who aren't totally engaged in the matter.

These announcements and pronouncements, along with a suggestion he might use Ontario in the team's name as opposed to Hamilton, allow Balsillie's forces to deal in advance with whatever negative reaction might bubble to the top, so that he can really hit the ground running if his legal challenge succeeds.

They can find out where the pushback exists municipally, provincially or federally, in the slim chance it does. And I have to think that some of the NHL's less intransigent governors will note once again Balsillie's lightness of foot and ability to drive the agenda on the eve of the Stanley Cup final.

Bettman's taken so many public-relations losses in this process, it's not just the future of hockey in two cities that is in Baum's hands. It's Bettman's legacy, and his usefulness.

 

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