Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who cares about a new stadium anyway?

You know that when a city or region gets a major sporting event there will always be a way to screw things up.    So it is with Toronto and the Pan-Am Games coming in 2015.    Hamilton is supposed to host track and field, swimming and cycling.    The track field is also supposed to be converted into a football stadium which would be the new home of the Ti-Cats to replace the decrepit Ivor Wynne.    Hence the ongoing war of words between the team's current owner Bob Young and the city managers.    Young claims the west end site currently being proposed -- a former air conditioning factory, next to a rail marshaling yard and near a major city park -- doesn't have nearly enough parking and even if public transit could be figured into the mix he'd still lose about $9 million a year.

Oh to have so much money that one could complain about losing so little an amount.

But here's the hilarious part.   Of the alternate sites -- a few on the Escarpment, one near Confederation Park (where the campground is being decommissioned), these are also dissatisfactory to Young.    So what did he suggest?    The "Hamilton part" of Aldershot.

For those of you not familiar with Southern Ontario, Aldershot is the western part of Burlington, with the sole exception of a cemetery (Woodlawn) that is, since the closing of an arterial road last year that was turned into a pedestrian walkway, an exclave of Hamilton.    The rest is pretty much filled in with a lot of the brown fields being turned into residential space, along with clearly designated greenbelt space and other cemeteries (Jewish and Catholic, mostly).

True, many homes in Aldershot have Hamilton phone numbers (I know this from my time working at the pizza call centre) but this goes back to the days when Burlington was a bedroom community of Hamilton and not Toronto as it is nowadays.

Time is running out.   Already, the velodrome (cycling track) may be relocated to a sports park in Dundas and that raises its own problems as part of the park is on a closed landfill.   If we don't get our act together, the organizing committee in Toronto may just decide Hamilton isn't worth it -- in which case all we'd be left with is bocci (and yes, there are bocci courts ready to go).

I am all too familiar with the white elephant syndrome.

But if we're looking for legacy facilities, we need  to make a decision soon -- figure out what will become of the sports stadiums long after the games.    It's been years since we've had an outdoor stadium concert -- why aren't we taking that into consideration?    (Concerts have been banned at Ivor Wynne for more than three decades -- most of us remember the 1975 fiasco when Pink Floyd used up their remaining fireworks for the North American tour and wound up completely destroying the scoreboard and smashing the windows of houses blocks away, the 1979 Rush concert wasn't so much better.   There was a lot of hope when Faith Hill and Tim McGraw wanted to do a show there but they backed off once they heard about the Floyd incident.)

Or demanding the province fast-track the LRT lines which would resolve a lot of the issues Young has brought up?

Oh, there's one other thing to consider -- many of the major sports showcased at the Pan-Am Games also have their world championships in odd numbered years and also act as qualifiers for the Summer Olympics the following year -- in this case the 2016 extravaganza in Rio de Janiero.   Most of the A-list stars pass on the Pan-Ams to prepare for their worlds which means we'll be getting mostly the B-teams -- the university athletes not good enough to be world class.   That's also something to keep in mind.

And in the long run, will people remember there even were the Pan-Ams here?   Can you remember which city hosted in 1987?   Quickly -- it was Indianapolis.    What was the main event at the 1999 games in Winnipeg?   A reunion of The Guess Who.    Sure, it'd be nice to see Gordon Lightfoot perform "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" one last time -- when he's 77 (and hopefully still alive -- remember the death hoax back in February?).    But most of us will see it on TV anyway.

If Hamilton loses its chance, it will be because the people that matter were too stupid to work something out.    But let's not forget it wasn't until 2006 that taxpayers in Montréal finally paid off the Big Owe.   Sydney and Beijing have barely used facilities left over.    And the worst case -- Greece is paying a huge price right now for a whole bunch of fiascoes -- the 2004 Athens Olympics being just one of them.    In the end, because the Government of Ontario is contractually bound to cover any losses, we'll lose no matter what.

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