Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (The Precinct Group) has been selected to “revitalise” the Canadian city’s entertainment district with a wide-ranging development that will include a modernised arena.

The Precinct Group has been selected by Hamilton City Council and its development plan also includes a newly-renovated convention centre and concert hall, investment in the Art Gallery of Hamilton, new residential housing, and office and retail space development.The Precinct Group will now enter negotiations with the City of Hamilton to create a ‘master agreement’, which is expected to be finalised in late 2020. It is hoped that work on the arena could begin in the autumn of 2021.

The Precinct Group would take on all capital costs for the renewal of Hamilton’s entertainment facilities, as well as operations and maintenance of the 19,000-seat FirstOntario Centre and the FirstOntario Concert Hall for a period of 99 years and of the Hamilton Convention Centre indefinitely.

The Precinct Group has proposed a C$50m (£29.2m/€32.4m/$37.1m) renovation of the FirstOntario Centre, which opened in 1985 and primarily serves as an ice hockey arena. The renovation would include a new building exterior, extensive transformation of the venue’s lower bowl, an expanded concourse level, and a new flexible curtaining system for the upper bowl balcony.

The proposal also includes premium amenities such as a microbrewery, suites and hospitality clubs, as well as street-level hospitality activations. The management of the arena will pursue “global partnerships” to supply major touring artists and live events to the venue.

The city council said that The Precinct Group looks forward to the continued partnership with the arena’s anchor tenant, the Hamilton Bulldogs junior ice hockey team. Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer is also supportive of the move, describing The Precinct Group’s appointment as “an important step in moving Hamilton forward and reaching its economic potential”.

The Precinct Group’s plans also include over C$16m in capital upgrades to the existing Hamilton Convention Centre, FirstOntario Concert Hall and Art Gallery of Hamilton. An estimated C$340.5m in auxiliary mixed-use development, including affordable housing, will form part of any residential developments that stem from the initiative.

The Precinct Group is a consortium with representatives from LiUNA, Fengate Capital, Meridian Credit Union, Paletta Group and Carmen’s Group. The Precinct Group has been selected ahead of a proposal from Vrancor Group.

PJ Mercanti, Precinct Group president and Carmen’s Group chief executive, said: “The transformed arena will be a destination for sports fans, music lovers, and families, creating a first-class guest experience in the urban heart of the Greater Hamilton area. We also look forward to working with the Hamilton Bulldogs to ensure they have a modernised facility to call home for years to come.

“While our Precinct Group is proud to have been recommended in this process, we want to extend our thanks and appreciation to our competitor. Both proponents have demonstrated a significant commitment to the urban core, and we look forward to working with the Vrancor Group in helping urban Hamilton reach its ultimate potential.”

Fred Eisenberger, Mayor of Hamilton, added: “The Precinct Group’s proposed revitalisation plan lays the foundation for a world-class entertainment precinct, right in the heart of downtown Hamilton, that will drive additional tourism and serve as a premier sports, entertainment, and cultural centre for all Hamiltonians.

“On behalf of Council, I would like to thank The Precinct Group, Vrancor, and all other private sector entities that participated in this process.”

A study carried out last year by Ernst and Young found that the elimination of Hamilton’s ongoing subsidisation and capital commitments at its entertainment assets would provide taxpayers with C$155m in savings over the next 30 years.

Image: City of Hamilton