Province steps in to fund Hamilton stadium renovations

After a couple of weeks filled with some notable miscues and ominous funding information, things again broke the Tiger-Cats' way Sunday with the news that the Ontario provincial government would up their contribution to the proposed project to renovate Ivor Wynne Stadium (pictured above) by $22.5 million. Combine that with Hamilton city council's decision earlier in the week to pay 44 per cent of the costs instead of a flat fee of $45 million (potentially increasing their own contribution by $9 million in the process) and the club's apparent willingness to remove earlier requests for transition funding and office relocation, and it's starting to look like enough funding is in place to handle the proposed renovations.

Of course, this isn't completely settled yet. If you add the numbers up, there was already $115 million in funding before the latest round of moves ($45 million from the city, $70 million from the provincial and federal governments through the PanAm Games process). Putting $22.5 million onto that from the province gives a total of $137.5 million, and the lowest number floated in Infrastructure Ontario's estimate was $156.5 million. Even with an extra $9 million tacked on from the city, that still leaves $10 million to make up to hit the low end of the initial estimate.

This plan appears to hinge on that gap being bridged thanks to both reduced requests from the team (including potentially only playing one season away from Ivor Wynne, at McMaster University's Ron Joyce Stadium) and lowered estimates from Infrastructure Ontario. It's very possible that could be enough to get this done without any problems, but it still may not appear as firm as a plan with enough funding to meet the initial estimates would have. Those appearances may wind up mattering, as the ultimate decision on this project will be made by the PanAm Games committee, and they've previously spoken to the necessity of receiving a complete plan by Tuesday. If they decide this isn't detailed enough to satisfy them, they could opt to go ahead with one of the backup 5,000 seat soccer-only stadiums instead, which is more than enough for their limited purposes and doesn't carry the same elements of risk the Ivor Wynne renovation does.

Of course, the risks from the funding side are reduced when you have groups committing to percentages rather than hard numbers, and Hamilton council's decision Thursdy to switch to that plan could prove pivotal here. However, it doesn't appear that the province has followed a similar pattern; their announcement Sunday includes a firm number of $22.5 million as a one-time payment. Thus, it seems that Hamilton is committing to a firm percentage of 44 per cent of the final cost while the other groups involved have strictly capped numbers. That could cause major problems in the case of unforeseen cost overruns, as that might both leave Hamilton on the hook for more and also leave the project with a funding shortage. That's obviously a worst-case scenario, but it's not an unthinkable one, and it's one I would imagine both Hamilton city council and the PanAm group will have at least considered.

Despite the concerns, though, there is a solid chance that this plan will come to pass. It has to be approved by city council tomorrow night, and then it has to be endorsed by the PanAm committee. Either group could conceivably shoot it down, but the extra funding put forward by the province will make that more difficult. Sunday's announcement is far from a guaranteed go-ahead for the Ivor Wynne project, but it might just be enough to get the job done.

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