Photo Credit: Honey Badgers website
On November 2, Oak View Group (OVG), the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG) and the City of Hamilton officially signed a $280 million deal to begin major renovations on the FirstOntario Centre (formerly Copps Coliseum).
The renovations are entirely privately funded. The arena was originally opened in 1985.
A joint press release from all three groups says the venue will transform the city.
HUPEG is a consortium led by Carmen’s Group and Mercanti Family and Friends that includes Alinea Group Holdings Inc., Mercanti Management Downtown Investments, Vaccarello Investments, Golden Horseshoe Enterprises, JJAA Consulting Services, and POWERGROUP Resources.
HUPEG is reportedly also working in collaboration with several leading industry consultants and development partners, including LiUNA, FirstOntario Credit Union, and Meridian Credit Union.
They say the FirstOntario Centre “will be the centrepiece in revitalizing the city’s position as a premier music, sports, and entertainment destination.”
Construction work will begin in spring 2024, with an expected opening in fall 2025.
OVG is the world’s largest developer of sports and live entertainment venues. The project was initially meant to be much smaller in scale before the involvement of OVG was revealed.
The revitalization of the arena will see premium seating, enhanced acoustics, improved sightlines, upgraded concourses, and optimized clubs and suites.
Whereas the FirstOntario Centre was previously mainly used by multiple sports teams, the plan is to elevate the arena as a concert venue.
OVG has partnered with Live Nation Entertainment, a multinational entertainment company that was formed in 2010 when Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged.
OVG says Live Nation is their “booking partner committed to bringing concerts and other live events to Hamilton.”
They say that because of the partnership, the venue “will be even more competitive in attracting top-tier events.”
The Hamilton Spectator has also reported that the arena is set to be renamed when reopened, with a new naming rights deal to be negotiated soon.
The arena project is also part of a larger revitalization project known as “The Commons,” which also includes renovating the Hamilton Convention Centre, investments in the Art Gallery of Hamilton and FirstOntario Concert Hall (formerly Hamilton Place), as well as new residential, office, and retail space.
City of Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath says that OVG’s investment in Hamilton “is a huge vote of confidence in our city.”
OVG Chairman and CEO Tim Leiweke, who was formerly CEO and President of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, says that the group wants to bring hockey back to Hamilton as well.
The city’s Hamilton Bulldogs left for Brantford at the beginning of this season for at least three years and might be staying in the city permanently. The team plays in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
Leiweke says that if they cannot get an OHL team to return to the city, then there could be the possibility for an American Hockey League (AHL) team.
The AHL is the primary developmental league for the National Hockey League (NHL). Hamilton used to have an AHL franchise, which was the affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens.
The AHL team played in Hamilton from 1996 to 2015 before moving to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.
There is also the expectation that basketball will return to the city.
Hamilton had a team called the Honeybadgers, but they decided to move to Brampton permanently since the FirstOntario Centre renovations were deemed too disruptive for them to continue in the city.
The arena renovations will include an entirely new exterior look, complete with a state-of-the-art outdoor video board. The arena will have a year-round sports lounge, e-sports zone, and restaurants at the street level along York Boulevard and Bay Street.
The seating capacity will remain more or less the same at 18,000 people, but the lower bowl will be transformed to have better sightlines and more comfortable seats. The upper bowl will also be renovated, and a retractable curtaining system will be installed to block off the upper bowl when not in use.
An improved jumbotron will be installed, there will be an expanded concourse with a microbrewery, and the lower bowl will be changed to include suites and hospitality clubs.
The Hamilton Independent previously detailed the agreement that HUPEG has with the City of Hamilton in an article, which can be found here.
Based in Hamilton, he reaches hundreds of thousands of people monthly on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. He has been published in The Hamilton Spectator, Stoney Creek News, and Bay Observer. He has also been a segment host with Cable 14 Hamilton. In 2017, he received the Chancellor Full Tuition Scholarship from the University of Ottawa (BA, 2022). He has also received the Governor General’s Academic Medal. He formerly worked in a non-partisan role on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.