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Design & Development

Major transformation scheme commences for Hamilton Arena

Featured image credit: Oak View Group

The $280m (£221.2m/€258.2m) project designed to transform Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre into a “truly world-class, live entertainment facility” has got underway with the staging of a groundbreaking event.

Set to move forward under the Hamilton Arena banner, the reimagined venue will seek to serve as the centrepiece in revitalising the Canadian city as a premier music, sports and entertainment destination for southwestern Ontario in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area.

Yesterday’s (Thursday’s) event took place after venue development, advisory and investment company Oak View Group (OVG) in November announced a deal with the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG) and the City of Hamilton to transform the arena.

The current FirstOntario Centre opened in 1985 and is used for ice hockey, lacrosse and basketball games, as well as other events. The C$280m renovation aims to transform the facility into a modernised 18,000-seat venue with a focus on providing the ultimate guest experience.

Renovations will include the addition of premium seating, clubs, lounges and suites, enhanced acoustics, next generation touchless and self-serve technologies for food and beverage purchases and upgraded concourses and concession areas.

Additional upgrades to the venue’s back of house include specially designed artist lounges, upgraded production facilities, electrical and lighting upgrades, as well as updates to the arena’s telecommunications infrastructure, wireless network, and video/network/security systems.

With a community-centric approach to the arena design, the venue will boast suites, clubs and lounges designed with the fan in mind. Each premium club will have its own unique offerings designed to fit the diverse tastes of a multicultural audience. The fully redefined suite experience includes completely new Mid-Level and Event Level suites.

“We’ve been a long-standing partner of the City of Hamilton through our management of the arena, generating considerable momentum to where we are today and are now positioned to deliver to the people of Hamilton a truly world-class, live entertainment facility,” said Tim Leiweke, chairman and CEO of Oak View Group.

“Upon completion of this truly transformative investment, the Hamilton Arena will generate substantial economic velocity and serve as a catalyst to the downtown core via the hosting of premier touring acts, family shows, and all types of sporting events.

“We’re investors in this market for the long haul and are thrilled at the prospect of replicating the success of our other owned and operated facilities in Hamilton as this is what we do, we are facility owners and operators every day focused on driving event volume and activity for the city and its people. We have great partners helping us bring this project fully to life and are already looking and planning ahead to the Arena’s re-opening.”

OVG was engaged to work on the redevelopment of Hamilton’s downtown entertainment precinct back in October 2021. The deal marked OVG’s entry into the Canadian marketplace, and in June 2022 the company launched OVG Canada to offer a range of services in the areas of venue development and management, booking and content development, sponsorship brand consulting, and third-party partnership sales.

Hamilton Arena, to be designed by Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects, is part of a larger downtown revitalisation project known as ‘The Commons,’ which includes the newly reimagined arena, renovated convention centre, significant investments in the Art Gallery of Hamilton and concert hall facilities, as well as new residential, office, and retail space development. The Commons project is managed by the HUPEG.

EllisDon, one of Canada’s leading construction services companies, is overseeing the renovation project, while Live Nation joins OVG as a booking partner.

Hamilton Mayor, Andrea Horwath, said: “This investment by international entertainment leader OVG in our city, and downtown core, will put Hamilton firmly on the map as a world-class sports and entertainment destination, spurring job creation, economic revitalisation and attracting new visitors to our great city.”

The project is expected to reach completion in autumn 2025, with a reopening date of November of that year. Leiweke was present in Hamilton yesterday after overseeing the delivery of another major OVG project, Manchester’s Co-op Live.

The 23,500-capacity arena staged its first major events this week after multiple delays and postponements.