By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton politicians are tired of playing the straight man.
After being courted for a possible NHL franchise over the years, and other possible extravagant ideas that would make the city a global destination, but either falling through or evaporating, councillors weren’t laughing at the possibility of the city being the preferred location for a Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame.
“I’m not interested in a bidding war,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark. “We don’t go for that.”
Tim Progosh, chief executive officer of Comedy Holdings, a Toronto actor who founded the Just for Laughs Comedy Revue in 1982, has proposed establishing a Comedy Hall of Fame in the city within five years.
Progosh said he is proposing to first relocate the 14th annual Canadian Comedy Awards, scheduled inOttawa from Oct. 3 to 6, to Hamilton in 2014. Progosh’s idea is to announce at this year’s event the festival would be held at Copps Coliseum next year. He said the comedy event will begin with an opening ceremony at the newly opened Tim Hortons’ Field, and then hold an induction ceremony of Ivan Reitman, Dave Thomas, Eugene Levy, and Martin Short into the hall of fame.
“We will work with the city to create the world’s greatest hall of fame,” said Progosh, who has been planning for the facility over the last 35 years.
He said the organization, including a private company that has put up $4 million to build a hall of fame, is expected to receive about $525,000 to kick off the campaign. He is asking Hamilton officials to kick in about $200,000 to ensure the provincial and federal funding they expect to receive.
The economic impact to the city is about $2.1 million. The festival will mean about $100,000 to Hamilton, he said.
“This is Hamilton’s opportunity to be Cleveland,” said Scott Greenwood, chief creative officer for Comedy Holdings, referring to that city’s creation of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Progosh acknowledged under questioning from councillors at their Sept. 5 general issues committee, he has already presented similar ideas toOttawa, which didn’t agree to the idea year, andNiagara Falls. He will be making an offer to Markham soon. A potential deal with Woodbine owners also fell through. Progosh told Ottawa officials it would cost $8 million to build a 25,000-square-foot hall of fame facility.
Progosh said he “didn’t like (the Niagara Falls’) offer.”
He called Hamilton a “unique” place, with a great history of producing comedians.
Yet most politicians remained stoic after listening to the entertaining offer.
Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson said museums don’t make money. He pointed to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, which the city is involved in, continues to have financial problems.
“I need a lot more information,” he said. “I don’t want the public to say this is a joke.”
Clarkagreed, saying he couldn’t see how the organizers will meet their financial projections through its attendance. Progosh says about 20,000 people attend the Comedy Festival each year.
“We have your dream in front of us,” he said.
Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead said he can understand his colleagues’ reluctance to accept the idea.
“We’ve had some people trying to sell us some snake oil in the past,” said Whitehead, adding he is keeping an open mind.
But Mayor Bob Bratina remained upbeat about the possibilities of the hosting the comedy festival and being home to a hall of fame.
“I have not seen any showstoppers that can bring it to an end,” said Bratina. “We should seriously look at this project.”
City Manager Chris Murray also saw the idea as an opportunity.
“This is worth our time,” he said.
Councillors referred the idea to Murray for a later report to politicians.