Everyone who loves Canadian football has a soft spot for Ivor Wynne Stadium, even visiting teams made to feel extremely unwelcome there.
Tucked into a working class east end Hamilton neighbourhood like an old style English football ground, what was originally known as Civic Stadium was constructed for the British Empire Games of 1930. It is a grotty but remarkably intimate place to watch a sport played on a great big field, the concrete walls of the stands constructed nearly against the sidelines in a way that would never pass muster now. There's almost no separation between players and paying customers, to which several generations of hated Toronto Argonauts can attest.
Today, Ivor Wynne is on its last legs.
There's no appetite or funds for maintaining shrines in the CFL, no Fenways or Wrigleys preserved as reminders of times past, and so the millions of dollars pumped into the stadium every year just to keep it standing are viewed as a case of good money thrown after bad.
Fortunately, with the stadium on the clock, deliverance is at hand in the form of the public money made available for the Pan American Games of 2015. The Golden Horseshoe is playing host, Hamilton has been promised the track and field facility, and from that foundation should emerge a new home for the Tiger-Cats.
There is an unprecedented building boom in the CFL right now - renovations and expansion in Montreal, a retrofit in Vancouver, a brand new stadium about to go up in Winnipeg and a dome in the works in Regina. That's extremely good news for the league, because the added revenues generated by new facilities will make it a whole lot easier for teams to turn a profit.
In Hamilton, where no owner of the Ticats has done that in decades, the construction of the Pan Am stadium means owner Bob Young might at least be able to exit the realm of pure philanthropy.
But - you guessed it - it's not quite so simple.
The 15,000-seat park being built with the $105-million or so allocated for the Pan Ams won't, in itself, be suitable for the CFL. It will have to be expanded to a minimum capacity of 25,000, adapted for football, and provided with amenities such as press and private boxes. The money for that, which could be tens of millions of dollars more, will have to come from the private sector - and probably, in no small part, from Young and the Ticats.
In order to justify that investment, they'd need to be able to make a business case, including benefiting from things like naming rights and spinoff real estate development. Not so quietly, the Ticats have been making it clear they think that would be easier to accomplish in a location other than the one the city has chosen in the West Harbour neighbourhood.
From the city's point of view, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revive what is essentially a dead industrial area, and to help connect the very successful waterfront redevelopment with Hamilton's struggling downtown core. The Ticats might be part of the local history and fabric but this isn't Saskatchewan - the franchise has nearly died of neglect several times in the past. In any case, the Ticats only use the stadium 11 times a year, including preseason games. Politically, by necessity, it's about more than football, and so barring something that might make the site impossible (sky-high remediation costs, for instance), the city intends to stick to its guns, and resist moving the project to a location that might be more to the Ticats' liking - presumably a visible and easily accessible spot outside of downtown next to one of the area's major highways.
Right now, it's a bit of a standoff, and any threats from the football team have been purely of the implied variety, passing references to all that Young has done for the city (including renovating a downtown building and locating several of his businesses there), and to the money that he has lost since pulling the Ticats out of bankruptcy.
The team's got a point. The city's got a point.
This is going to get tense, it could get ugly, and in the end, that gift horse might well get looked in the mouth.Report Typo/Error