Posted by Editoress on 04/8/10
Just as I was preparing to write a piece on how Hamilton organizers are effectively abandoning a permanent velodrome for the 2015 Pan Am Games in favour of a new stadium for their beloved Tiger Cats CFL team, the Globe and Mail comes out with two articles on how the owner of the Ti Cats is extremely unhappy with the City's stadium plan. How ironic. How sad.
Once again, we have political visions blithely pushing aside sporting needs. Hamilton - and in particular its mayor, Fred Eisenberger - have determined that they want an integrated sports facility (both the stadium and velodrome) to be built in the West Harbour lands, near the downtown core and rejuvenated waterfront.
The Ti Cats want a venue further to the east, where access and parking is easier, and the track community has always recommended a location further to the west - out by McMaster University and the town of Dundas.
The Mayor has been quoted after the presentation of a comprehensive report to Council on the proposed West Harbour site, as saying "We have a site and we're pursuing that site and unless something happens to make it completely untenable, plan B isn't on the horizon. Our vision is about city building and developing investment around it."
Notice that nowhere is there any mention of such things as world-class sporting facilities or a legacy of sporting facilities. In fact, it is pretty clear from the 212 page report, that sports - and particularly the velodrome - are peripheral to the Mayor's vision.
The report discusses the benefits to Hamilton of participating in the Games - of the nine key benefits (in the Executive Summary), exactly two refer to sports and healthy lifestyle initiatives...
It is even worse for cycling - which is an actual Pan Am and Olympic sport, unlike CFL football. The report spends well over 100 pages discussing the stadium (how large, how many private boxes, projected revenues from football, concerts, etc.), and roughly three pages on the velodrome.
While the stadium has an incredible amount of analysis on revenue generation and usage after the Games, the velodrome receives a throw away sentence that talks vaguely about legacy funds to pay for the ongoing operation of the track.
This, of course, assumes that there will be a track for such a legacy to make use of, and the allocated funds certainly do not support this view. The stadium has a budget of approximately $100 million, and the report talks about options which could take it up to as much as $125 million. The velodrome? $11.4 million.
For a covered track this is a ludicrously low amount, and it isn't even clear whether the full amount will be available to build the track - some of it may go towards the velodrome's share of remediating land for the facilities (did I not mention that much of this land will have to be purchased by the City?). Most experts agree that $20 million is a starting point for a covered velodrome that can withstand our climate and have a significant lifespan.
I was involved peripherally in the original "discussions" for the velodrome when the Pan Am bid was being put together. At that time, Own The Podium, the Canadian Cycling Association and the Ontario Cycling Association all made it very clear to the bid group that they (the actual sports bodies) would only support a bid that included a legacy facility, and it was grudgingly written into the bid that way. However, now that they have the Games, everyone involved is distancing themselves from the velodrome.
Since the bid was successful, local politics have crept into many of the projects scattered around the GTA, as local politicians see their chance to grab federal and provincial funding for local projects. This, in and of itself is not a bad thing, since it assists local communities build facilities that will serve their regions. However, the Hamilton cash grab seems to be paying no more than lip service to the idea that the facilities are supposed to provide opportunities for the Canadian sports community. Maybe we should be looking to other, more welcoming communities?
This is particularly egregious when we are coming off a very successful Winter Games, and the federal government has committed itself to supporting long term development of athletes. The velodrome, should it be built as desired, will be the only international-level track in Eastern North America, attracting athletes from all across the continent, and providing a training facility that will enable Canadian athletes to develop to their highest potential. With Canada coming off of its strongest track world championships ever, this is a particularly poor situation in which we find ourselves.
The timing on this situation is becoming critical - sites have to be finalized, plans drawn up and facilities built; and that takes years. A group of councillors have forced the Mayor to agree to a report specifically on the velodrome, but the Mayor has made it clear that he does not consider a sports legacy as a priority, and that any effort to move the track to a more appropriate venue will be vigorously opposed.
It is time for the sports community - both organizations such as OTP, CCA and OCA, and cycling enthusiasts - to put pressure on both the City of Hamilton and the Pan Am Games organizing committee. Three times, by my count (Montreal in 1976, Victoria in 1994 and Winnipeg in 1999), the opportunity to build a world-class cycling velodrome has been lost.
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