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Residents offer their input for proposed sports and entertainment centre

City of BrantfordResidents offer their input for proposed sports and entertainment centre

Over 60 people attended a public meeting held at the Civic Centre on Monday, December 18, 2023, to voice their input for a newly proposed sports and entertainment centre.

The meeting kicked off with a presentation from Ron Bidulka, Managing Director of KKR Advisors, Maria Visocchi, the City’s Director of Communications and Community Engagement, and Brian Hutchings, Brantford’s CAO, and was followed by a moderated Q&A session.

Back when the City first signed the three-year contract with the Bulldogs, part of the agreement was to explore building a new facility large enough to support an OHL team.

Earlier this year, the City hired KKR Advisors to help create a proposal for the project and the report’s findings were released to the public in November.

After looking at ten potential sites for the new sports and entertainment centre, the Civic Centre property was identified as the best option for the new facility.

The new arena has been designed to hold a capacity of up to 5,300 people (seats, barstools and standing room) and will work in tandem with the Civic Centre. The estimated cost for the build could land anywhere between $115 million to $140 million.

If the build goes ahead, the venue could host around 80 events a year, 36 of those being OHL hockey games, and the others being concerts, family shows, other entertainment events, as well as rentals.

Brian Hutchings, Brantford’s CAO, Maria Visocchi, the City’s Director of Communications and Community Engagement, and Ron Bidulka, Managing Director of KKR Advisors present the plans for the newly proposed sports and entertainment centre during a public meeting at the Civic Centre on Monday, December 18, 2023.

On Monday, Bidulka shared success stories of other cities who have built similar venues and the reasoning behind the capacity estimate, noting that if the City were to construct a venue with more seating, it has the potential to “breed empty seats” for the Brantford Bulldogs.

Later, Visocchi discussed the economic and social impact of a project of this scale, stating “the economic, social and cultural impact of an initiative like this in the City’s downtown core, could be very profound.”

“Our tourism and economic development staff did an initial estimate just based on the current three-year partnership with the Bulldogs right now, and conservatively estimated $4.6 million dollars annually coming into the downtown,” said Visocchi. “…When somebody comes downtown for an event, they are also going to probably grab something to eat and they’re going to walk around and shop from whatever retail is there. There are many spinoff effects of making a destination where people want to be for an event or activity.”

She also noted the societal impact of bringing in 5,000 people from the community together, “in person, in a venue, and all sharing the same experience,” she said. “…It’s not something that exists in our city right now.”

During the Q&A session, guests had many questions, comments, and concerns. Some supported the proposed build, and others weren’t quite convinced.

One resident asked about the previously mentioned shopping opportunities, and the three presenters noted there could be shopping within the new facility, as well as potential future retail spaces that would go in the plaza across the street.

Over 60 people attended the public meeting for a new sports and entertainment centre on Monday, December 18, 2023.

The same resident asked what would happen to the existing Civic Centre and Bidulka responded that the current building would stay and would be used as a practice facility for the team and would also be used by Brantford Minor Hockey, as well as other events.

Another resident noted that many people do not believe that the Bulldogs will stay in Brantford and asked if there was any guarantee they would stay should the City build this new facility.

“Is there going to be a 25-year lease agreement or such to keep the team in Brantford?” he asked. “Because a $120 million facility seems to me, to be a concern financially when this community has a $200 million water and wastewater budget for the next 15 years. We also have a $1.3 billion hospital to build that we have to finance ten per cent of. I guess what I’m asking is, what is the financial certainty of us investing in a new facility in Brantford?”

Bidulka said that no, there is no guarantee that the Bulldogs would stay.

“We have a three-year lease with three one-year renewal opportunities. So, the team could be here for six years,” he said. “…What we do know is, if the team is successful and Mr. Andlauer does not stay, he has given the word that he will work to get either another team to relocate, or an expansion team.”

The same resident had also guesstimated that it would cost three-million-dollars a year to operate the building, however Bidulka said that this was not true and was estimating it would cost around $600,000 to operate.

When it comes to the cost of the hospital, Hutchings told residents that it’s about eight to ten years out from being built and that the funding is a provincial responsibility.

He said the City will have to come up with about $90 million and has already set aside $8.5 million for the hospital, and will continue to put more aside over time. He said that the hospital, with the help of the broader community (Brantford, County of Brant and Six Nations of the Grand River) will be required to fundraise ten per cent of the cost.

During the earlier presentation, Bidulka had also noted that with the size of the new build, they could potentially host a Memorial Cup championship at the facility.

One attendee voiced his concerns that the arena would be too small for such an event, however Bidulka said that the Memorial Cup does in fact play in venues with less than five thousand seats.

“The Memorial Cup does play in buildings that are less than five thousand seats, and in fact, the 2024 Memorial Cup will be played in Saginaw, Michigan at the Dow Event Center and it has 4,213 fixed seats and a 5,527 person capacity,” he said. “Since 2010, there have been 13 Memorial Cups, including the one in 2024, and five of those hold less than five thousand seats.”

Another attendee asked if Earl Haig would stay where it is, and Hutchings referenced the artist rendition of the plan.

“This plan that you’ve been seeing on the screens, includes Earl Haig and this new venue will fit right on the parking lot beside the Civic Centre and does not affect Earl Haig,” he said.

After, a resident asked if there was a situation where the City and the hockey team could strike a deal where they both owned the building.

Bidulka said that this is a potential option and that there are other places where this exact situation has happened.

“There are a bunch of deals out there and we are outlining what those deals are to the City,” he responded. “That will all go in the form that I will be bring forward to say ‘here is the right financing and partnership plan for you to get this built.’ …I would argue that this is something that needs to happen.”

One woman in attendance said while she wasn’t against a big arena, she was concerned with parking.

“I don’t think this is the time, nor the place to have in Brantford,” she said. “I would like to know where you will have those people park.”

Hutchings responded saying there were currently around 450 parking spots at the Civic Centre, 150 over at Earl Haig, 951 at the Market Centre parkade and 60 spots near the market.

“If this is built at this site, we would utilize the 150 at Earl Haig and try to maximize the parkade, which is a three-minute walk up the street,” he said. “We also have the transit service that people aren’t using at this point in time either.”

Other concerns addressed during the meeting, included if the venue would take business away from the Sanderson Centre, as well as concerns for other sports that need indoor facilities,

Despite the various concerns from others, several others were also in support of the build.

“I have lived in the city all my life, almost 60 years, and I remember the Alexander’s being here and the crowds weren’t there towards the end. You’ve got to remember in those days that Massey’s and White Farms were gone,” said one man. “But the city has grown folks, get used to it. The city has grown and it will continue to grow. I took my grandson who was only eight years old to support the Bulldogs in Hamilton, but boy, I would like to continue to leave my dollars in the City of Brantford.”

Dave Carrol, Lead Pastor of Freedom House, also expressed his support for the venue.

“I could not be more excited about this proposal. My one thing is, I would love to make sure that as somebody who does event planning and has friends who throw big concerts and events, that as we move forward with this, we consult and work with people who do local events as well,” he said. “But honestly, being able to have an OHL team in my neighbourhood, that I can walk to… that makes me super in favour of this. This is a terrific plan and I’m thrilled that we are talking about being down in the area.”

For those looking to view more information on the proposal, they can visit https://pub-brantford.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=18678

And for those looking to put their own input regarding the proposal, they can partake in the City’s current survey at https://letstalkbrantford.ca/sec?tool=survey_tool#tool_tab

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