OVG-helmed FirstOntario Centre transformation


Renovation of FirstOntario Center started Image: Oak View Group

A potentially transformative project in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) reached a milestone on May 16th as the developers and the City officials held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the Hamilton arena project.

‘Daily Commercial News’ stated that the Oak View Group (OVG), the largest developer of sports and live entertainment venues in the world, is spearheading a $280-million renovation of the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, Canada, along with Live Nation Canada and the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG).

The Oak View Group (OVG), LLC is an American professional sports and commercial real estate company based in Denver. It manages several sports venues, including the 18,300-capacity Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Washington, which was constructed under the company’s supervision.

The FirstOntario Centre is a sports and entertainment arena at the corner of Bay Street North and York Boulevard in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Opened in 1985, it has a capacity to hold up to 19,000 spectators.

Vancouver (Canada)-based the Live Nation Canada, a subsidiary of Live Nation Entertainment, is Canada’s leading live entertainment and ticketing provider.

Beverly Hills (US)-based the Live Nation Entertainment, Inc. is an American multinational entertainment company that was founded in 2010 following the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster. It promotes, operates and manages ticket sales for live entertainment internationally.

World-class City

‘Daily Commercial News’ further stated that the stadium mogul Tim Leiweke, head honcho of OVG, said with the renovation of the arena into a major entertainment destination, Hamilton would be joining the other Cities where the OVG has built successful arenas, including Manchester (UK), Coachella Valley (California), Seattle (Washington), Boston (Massachusetts), New York, and Baltimore (Maryland) – “world-class Cities, and now the City of Hamilton gets to join our family”.

The kickoff of the stadium project will be followed by renovations to the nearby convention center, the Art Gallery of Hamilton and the Hamilton Concert Hall.

HUPEG, which has the Carmens Group, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) and Fengate among its members, is leading an area redevelopment initiative for what is called The Commons, with plans for three residential sites, a hotel, restaurants, and other new meeting and event spaces.

Hospitality can mean many things: A delicious meal with close friends, a warm smile, or a comfortable room after a long day. Great hospitality means creating extraordinary memories and extraordinary memories are created by those who are passionate about enriching the lives of others. At Hamilton (Canada)-based Carmens Group, they understand that hospitality is the expression of a love of people. This concept is at the very core of what they do.

Washington, D.C. (US)-based the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), often shortened to just the Laborers’ Union, is an American and Canadian labor union formed in 1903. As of 2017, they had about 500,000 members, about 80,000 of whom are in Canada.

Toronto (Canada)-based Fengate is a leading investment firm specializing in real assets, with a focus on infrastructure, private equity and real estate. With offices in Ontario (Canada) and Texas (US) and team members across North America, Fengate leverages 50 years of entrepreneurial experience to deliver excellent investment results on behalf of its clients.

The arena renovation will include a new façade, premium seating, enhanced acoustics, improved sightlines, upgraded concourses, new clubs and suites, and artiste lounges. Completion of the 18,000-seat facility is expected in the Fall of 2025. The Construction Manager is EllisDon and the designer is Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects.

EllisDon is an employee-owned construction services company that was founded and incorporated in 1951 in London (UK), Ontario, Canada, by brothers Don and David Ellis Smith. The company is headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

Toronto (Canada)-based Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects is a full service architectural firm specializing in master planning, architectural design, interior design, and project management. With offices in Toronto and New York (US), the firm continues to make its mark on an international scale with designs that delight and inspire. The BBB also has an international portfolio that includes sports and entertainment venues as well as hospitality, resorts, retail, and commercial projects. The firm’s focus is on a collaborative design process that successfully defines the clients’ needs and aspirations, and enhances business plans and augments revenue generating capabilities and opportunities.

Leiweke said the additional equity partners would be announced in the coming months.

Addressing the Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath, Leiweke added, “We have partners in this vision and partners in this project. Each and every one of them did it because of their belief in your City, Mayor, because of their belief in this vision. And what will now happen is, we spur on additional dreams, additional imagination and additional commitments towards reforming and creating a center City that is the buzz of Canada.”

Leiweke also had news to offer on financing for the project – “We will soon announce the building has been completely financed by one of the largest banks in the world. For the first time ever this institution came in and took the whole thing. So for all of those that say, ‘well, wait a minute, do they have the money? Are they really going to do it? Can they complete it? Will it go bankrupt halfway through?’ One hundred per cent of the roughly $300 million that will be spent on renovation is in the bank and ready to go.”

The HUPEG Chief Executive Officer (CEO) PJ Mercanti said HUDEG is still a few months away from announcing the investors – “HUPEG is also taking a lead in ensuring that the broader entertainment district is a focus area for the City and we will be very intentional about the other developments around this arena.”

Long time coming

As for the groundbreaking, Mercanti said, “I am very excited. This is a significant weight lifted. This is the next page in the chapter of the City of Hamilton. This has been a long time coming. It’s been worth the wait.”

The partners have agreed to finance the running of the arena for a period of 49 years, which Mayor Horwath said saves the City $155 million in operating funds.

Mayor Horwath noted the City has launched a new housing secretariat with the intention of developing more affordable housing and said the groundbreaking would help kickstart more development in the neighbourhood including housing – “The fact that the OVG announced today (May 16th) that they have a single finance partner and the money’s literally in the bank, that is exciting, because that really creates something in terms of the go-forward.”

Whether the high interest rates might continue to cause hesitation among the housing developers, Mayor Howarth said, “All of us would agree that the economy is something that we can’t peg right now. It’s very volatile. It’s fluctuating and we don’t know where it’s going to land. So notwithstanding those economic factors, we know this facility is going to move forward, but we also know that this kind of investment brings investment from others as well.”

‘Great building’

‘CHCH’ quoted Tom Pistore, President of Oak View Group Canada, as stating, “It’s going to be a great building that Hamilton and the entire region finally deserves after all these years.”

The goal is to open by November 2025, and the venue plans to host over 125 events per year, not including sports.

‘CHCH’ stated that Pistore informed that alongside being home to certain sport ventures like Toronto’s National Lacrosse League team, Toronto Rock, the arena will work alongside its partners at Live Nation Canada to keep a steady stream of music flowing through Hamilton.

Philadelphia (US)-based the National Lacrosse League (NLL) is a men’s professional box lacrosse league in North America. The league is headquartered in Philadelphia (US). The NLL currently has 15 teams: Nine in the United States and six in Canada.

The Toronto Rock is a Canadian professional men’s box lacrosse franchise based in Hamilton, Ontario. They are members of the Eastern Conference of the National Lacrosse League (NLL). The team was the first Canadian franchise in the NLL. The Rock plays their home games at the FirstOntario Centre.

Added Pistore, “This venue will be made for music. Being the home for music in a region that’s growing and growing with only one other venue of this size within the area – it’s going to be a great home for a lot of acts to stop and play a great City.”

Ryan Zrenda, Vice-President, Global Venue Development at Oak View Group (OVG), said that the work on the stadium will be more of a transformation than a renovation – “It’s going to be a completely new building. You’re not going to recognize it when you walk in for the first time. It’s going to be a world-class arena, it’ll compare to every new arena coming out right now.”

He added that he’s confident there will be no delays and that the project will meet its expected opening date – “It’s a great building. A lot of its exposed. We’ve done a lot of investigations. We’re very confident in finalizing our design and proceeding with construction.”

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