By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton is looking for a potential savior on a white horse to provide the city with an extra $23 million and keep the velodrome facility in Hamilton for the 2015 Pan Am Games.
Politicians were left after their Aug. 29 government issues committee unsettled at the prospect of coughing up an additional $5 million on top of its already $5 million contribution for a velodrome project tentatively located at Mohawk College that is projected to now cost nearly $64 million.
Councillors last year made an election pledged to keep the city’s contribution to the Pan Am Games at $60 million, including $5 million for the velodrome.
“At the eleventh hour, I’m completed shocked by the numbers I’m looking at,” said Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead.
The velodrome facility was originally projected to be $11.5 million for a temporary structure, was based on an estimate made by a construction company that is now out of business, said Ian Troop, chief executive officer for Toronto 2015. The velodrome is now projected to be a permanent facility at a cost of nearly $50 million. It would be the first velodrome east of Los Angeles.
Mohawk College is planning to construct athletic facilities as part of the velodrome facility at a cost of about $15 million, on the six acres of property.
College president Rob MacIssaac told politicians building a velodrome at Mohawk is an “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that shouldn’t be missed.
The city had originally committed $5 million for the facility. But with the surprise introduction of Mohawk College into the discussion earlier this year, which took councillors off guard, and the decision to make the facility permanent, politicians have seen the bill for a velodrome soar past it original price tag.
City Manager Chris Murray said the $11.5 cost didn’t include such “soft costs” as design, pre-construction and engineering.
The city is on the hook for $1.5 million to prepare the site, and another $3 million for the site relocation. Construction costs are estimated to be about $20 million. Toronto 2015 is contributing $25 million, an increase from its original contribution, while the Mohawk Students Association is providing $17 million for the entire project, including $2 million for the velodrome. But there is an unknown cost to acquire needed property in the Mohawk area owned by the Ontario Realty Corporation, to build the project, which is expected to hike the cost even higher, say city officials.
“We have a funding gap,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brenda Johnson. “We don’t have the dollars to fill that gap.”
General Manager of Corporate Finance Robert Rossini, acknowledging the difficult financial challenges, suggested the city needs to kick in an additional $5 million. He recommended that Hamilton receive half a million dollars annually from the $70 million legacy fund Toronto 2015 is creating for the games as a condition to the city providing further cash for the facility.
“I’m not going to sugar coat it,” said Rossini. “It is what it is.”
The city has to decide on its funding commitment by Sept. 15, a deadline established by the Toronto 2015 organizing committee. But even within the two-and-a-half week window, Rossini said not all the funding will be in place.
“There is still some level of risk council would assume,” he said.
Troop cautioned that if Hamilton refuses to increase its financial commitment to build a permanent facility, Pan Am organizers could pull the event.
“There is a question where cycling will take place,” he said.
Mayor Bob Bratina, though, felt councillors shouldn’t be in a hurry to make a hasty decision.
“We have plenty of time to absorb the material and see what staff and my office can come up with,” he said.
Politicians were equally puzzled over how the entire velodrome process has developed, which has left council in the dark.
The last time politicians had an update on the issue was August, 2010. Since then, a committee of stakeholders, including a few politicians, identified a number of locations for the facility, but eventually decided on negotiating with Mohawk for a permanent site. Councillors pointed out the West Harbour site is still officially council’s preferred location for a velodrome.
“I’m incredibly disappointed there was no briefing,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark. “We’ve done it to ourselves again.”
Murray acknowledged that “some notification” to council would have been reasonable.