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City Council taking next steps to build new sports and entertainment complex

City of BrantfordCity Council taking next steps to build new sports and entertainment complex

Brantford Council unanimously voted to formally consider the new Sports and Entertainment Centre a priority project for the City of Brantford during its Special City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 23, 2024.  

When the city first signed the three-year contract with the Brantford Bulldogs, part of the agreement was to explore building a new facility large enough to support an Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team.

As part of Tuesday’s vote, council approved the spending of $735,000 (funded from the city’s Capital Funding Envelope Reserve) to initiate business partnerships and negotiations, as well as to undertake site due diligence for the proposed location.

To kick off the meeting council heard from three registered delegations including Matt Allman, a real estate agent with The Crew Real Estate, David Prang, CEO of Chamber of Commerce Brantford-Brant, and Bill Harding, Board Chair of the Brantford Sports Council, as they all expressed their overwhelming support.

Maria Visocchi, Director of Communications and Community Engagement for the City of Brantford, then provided a summary of the findings from the first outreach engagement campaign regarding the proposed sports entertainment centre.

The survey, conducted through Let’s Talk Brantford, was held from December 1, 2023 to January 5, 2024 and was completed by 575 participants.

“We asked what the impact on Brantford’s local economy would be, and 80.7 per cent of participants said it would be positive, 8.1 per cent said it would be negative, 3.3 said there would be no impact and 7.9 per cent of participants said that they were unsure,” said Visocchi. “Based on those numbers, there was overwhelmingly positive sentiments, suggesting endorsement from those that participated in the survey.”

A rendered drawing shows the proposed interior of a new potential Sports and Entertainment Centre. Photo courtesy City of Brantford and KKR Advisors.

She also noted that when over 100 people attended a public meeting on December 18, 2023, there were mixed sentiments.

“Some people fully supported the initiative and gave us comments not unlike some of the comments we heard from the delegations tonight,” she said. “But there were others present that questioned how the city would pay for the project, as well as if it fell within what the city’s priorities should be.”

Ron Bidulka, Managing Director of KKR Advisors Ltd., who the City hired to investigate the project proposal, then spoke about various financing and partnership options to help fund the centre’s expected cost (between $115 million and $140 million).

Bidulka’s report looked at how similar projects in Ontario and throughout Canada have been financed.

He noted that the majority of community sports facilities in Ontario are publicly financed, with 22 of 31 facilities built exclusively with municipal funding. He also stated that while federal and provincial money was provided through the Canada Community Benefit program (Gas Tax) in just seven instances, the federal government does not provide funding for sports facilities with professional hockey teams as lead tenants.

Bidulka said that when it comes to the new sports and entertainment centre, there are several approaches to funding.

“What we’ve done is come up with a financing plan, a financing strategy, which is based on a number of factors. First, it’s going out to the marketplace to solicit business partnerships,” he said. “That means going out and securing a long-term commitment from the Bulldogs or another sports team. “

He also noted that this means going out and soliciting investment and or development partnership proposals “from individuals and entities wanting to financially participate with the city in the development of the arena.”

He said this could also include going out and seeking an entity to prepay the naming rights.

“Bell prepaid $20 million that went into the financing of Place Bell in Laval,” he said. “And Quebecor invested 30 odd million dollars into the Videotron Centre in Quebec City. There are lots of examples, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in Ontario, guaranteed $10 million pre-paid up front naming rights for BMO field.”

Bidulka said that other financing options may include municipally owned land sales, as well as reserves, tax supported debt and fundraising.

As far as the implementation plan, the KKR Managing Director said that is premised on the city committing to the project and formally declaring it one of its priorities.

“Declaring it a priority project gives certainty to the market as you then proceed to go out on a request for the business partnerships process, that the city is in fact committed to this,” said Bidulka.

He said that while working to secure corporate partnerships, preparatory site due diligence should be done at the same time.

“What I mean by this [due diligence], is that there’s a lot we don’t know about the Civic Centre site from an archaeological perspective, from a geotechnical perspective, from a hydro perspective, from a transit and a traffic perspective,” he said.

A rendered drawing shows the proposed blueprint of the new potential Sports and Entertainment Centre. Photo courtesy City of Brantford and KKR Advisors.

This research would help to inform a developer who may want to come in and not have to do the work at a later date, as well, it will help to inform the design process that follows.

He said that if approved, securing partnerships as well as the design could be underway by late 2024 and into 2025, meaning that they can get started on construction by 2026 and hopefully open the centre in 2027.

Councillor John Sless then inquired if Bidulka saw a positive outcome in his ability to find partnerships to work alongside the city and the KKR managing director confirmed that he did.

“In fact, we’ve already had unsolicited expressions of interest and parties informing me that they would like to be involved in this project,” responded Bidulka.

Councillor Dan McCreary then asked about the decision-making process and whether council would have any say along the way.

“If council elects to move forward tonight, that is not the last time you get a say in this project,” said Bidulka. “… There are six to eight process steps, a lot of them happening in the next nine or 12 months, for you to then dictate and to make sure that where we have proceeded from and where we’re going to, meets with what your expectations are.”

Councillor Greg Martin said that he was pleased to hear that there were various stages where council could intervene.

“I think this is an exciting project that we need to progress on. What we’ve heard tonight, I think it’s all good news that there’s lots of potential for this,” said Martin. “The idea that there are various stages where we can say ‘no’ if we run into problems, I think is good for this council.”

Sless said that the city is growing and it’s time to embrace it.

“I think as a city, we have to get out of the 80’s mindset that some folks are just stuck in,” he said. “I think we have to embrace and we have to celebrate the city we are today, and that doesn’t remotely resemble where we came from. We’ve emerged as a strong vibrant city and we continue to emerge and we’re growing very quickly.”

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