Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Balsillie Will Seek Public Funds For Copps Renovation
((HT: The Spec/Macintyre))
Jim Balsillie will seek public funds to renovate Copps Coliseum if he scores an NHL team for Hamilton.
The BlackBerry billionaire would foot the bill for initial upgrades, estimated at about $30 million, to get the arena ready for a team.
But when it comes to a long-term overhaul of the city-owned facility, which could cost upwards of $150 million, Balsillie would ask Hamilton to “work with the two upper tiers of government to seek infrastructure funding,” said his spokesperson Bill Walker.
The request marks the first time Balsillie has publicly stated he’s looking for government financing. It was previously thought he would bankroll the entire renovation to bring the arena up to NHL standards.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he doesn’t think the request is “out of line” and would likely be positively received.
“I do know there is interest from other levels of government to look at this,” he said, noting the government has helped other cities fund pro sports facilities.
No money will come from the city, added Eisenberger.
A spokesperson for Premier Dalton McGuinty noted he has been “enthusiastic in his support of a southern Ontario hockey team.”
“We’ve worked well with the City of Hamilton and would look at any infrastructure request that comes forward,” said Karman Wong, adding the province can’t speculate on the outcome until it sees a proposal.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also spoken in favour of another Canadian NHL team, saying he believes there’s enough support in southern Ontario.
A spokesperson for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister John Baird said the government is currently reviewing Hamilton’s infrastructure requests for this year. If their priorities change, “the city must let us know,” said Chris Day.
City council is expected to consider a lease deal with Balsillie at its Wednesday night meeting. The co-CEO of Research In Motion wants to lock up rights to Copps as he continues to fight the NHL for control of the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes in court.
Eisenberger said the city is seeking firm funding commitments from Balsillie that were lacking in previous agreements.
“We are going to make it sweeter than it was,” he said. “We are asking for more assurances than we had last time.”
Eisenberger declined to identify the dollar figure the city wants on paper. He explained the city’s last agreement with Balsillie in 2007 called for significant investment at Copps but didn’t state a number.
Council had verbal assurances from Balsillie that he would foot the bill for renovations in the range of $100 million to $150 million, said Eisenberger.
While councillors and the community presumed the money would come from Balsillie's pockets, it was never made clear, he added.
“It could have been a collection of resources.”
According to sources, Balsillie was also seeking government funding when he tried to relocate the Nashville Predators to Hamilton in 2007.
Walker declined to address his client’s dialogue with governments, saying he doesn’t comment on “private discussions.”
The amount Balsillie is willing to commit to the larger renovation will depend on his discussions with the city and upper levels of government, Walker said.
Balsillie has not considered what he would do if he didn’t receive government funding to help upgrade Copps, said Walker.
Balsillie needs to get the lease deal and hockey team first, he noted. “That’s probably too far down that assumption path for us to go.”
He added he is not aware of Balsillie looking to build an arena in another community.
“He’s committed to Hamilton,” Walker said, noting the initial renovation is still a significant investment in a facility that will remain city-owned.
“Hamilton has always been, and remains now, Mr. Balsillie’s first choice for a locating a potential seventh NHL franchise in Canada.”
City officials have stated fast upgrades to Copps could make it ready for the season this fall.
In the long term, the facility’s roof could be lifted to add more seating and corporate boxes.