HAMILTON — It’s a Hail Mary of a political power play but will it be a touchdown for Tiger Town councillors, or did they just send the Hamilton Tiger Cats packing?
Hamilton city council voted 12 to 3 late Tuesday to keep the west harbour site for its Pan Am stadium, despite a media blitz by the city’s CFL team vowing they wouldn’t play there and pushing councillors to choose the east Mountain site.
The vote capped an almost 12-hour committee-of-the-whole meeting where councillors heard from 27 delegations and then debated among themselves for several hours. Ticats caretaker Bob Young pulled out of the process to select and develop the Pan Am stadium site a day earlier, and rumours swirled the team was about to say au revoir to the Hammer and pull up stakes for Quebec City.
Councillors also voted to negotiate with the Ticats for sustainable terms that would have them set up shop at the west harbour site and have the province, federal government and Pan Am host committee join them in those discussions.
Councillor Terry Whitehead called the move a public sign to the Ticats that the city wants to work with them.
“This is an overture,” he told councillors.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger vowed no matter how council voted on reaching out to the Ticats, he would be calling Young personally.
With the Ticats pulling out of the stadium deal for now, they take with them much-needed millions to inject into the project and the required legacy tenancy that senior government demands before making the Pan Am investment.
Councillor Sam Merulla argued the city was ignoring the fact the Ticats announced they were having no part in the stadium.
“We lost a tenant to the stadium,” he said. “We don’t have the money … I think we’re setting ourselves up for failure.”
Merulla added that assuming the Ticats were bluffing was too much of a risk.
Inside City Hall Tuesday, every spectator seat in council chambers was full along with more than 100 chairs set up outside the room.
Nick Marzilli, a season ticket holder for 15 years from Stoney Creek, came to watch the debate.
“Obviously I want the Cats to stay,” Marzilli said. “I’m for Bob Young but not at all costs. In the end, it’s the taxpayers who pay.”
Michelle Fevers, who owns the Bottoms Up bar near the east Mountain site, said she came to ensure council keeps the team in town.
“(Losing the Ticats) would be devastating,” Fevers said. “It’s the only pro sports team we have.”
Fevers said council should go with the Ticats compromise. “It keeps the team in town and keeps us bringing in money,” she said.
Tuesday night’s decision reaffirms one made earlier this year where councillors backed putting the stadium in the city’s west harbour, a site not supported by the Ticats. The team had been pushing a compromise site on the east Mountain.
Most of the delegations argued putting the stadium in the downtown harbour site encouraged development and much-needed remediation of abandoned industrial land.
Larry Pattison tried to encourage councillors to save the Ticats existing home, Ivor Wynne Stadium.
“I love Ivor Wynne Stadium because it is what it is,” he said. “Why aren’t we saving Ivor Wynne Stadium?”
By 9 p.m. Tuesday, the Ticats still hadn’t made a statement in response to council’s decision.
In a letter to Eisenberger on Monday, Young dug in his heels on his opposition to the west harbour site.
“I cannot be part of a process that destines us to financial failure before the first shovel goes in the ground,” Young wrote. “I regret that over the course of the past year, you have not been sensitive to our concerns as your tenant.
“My major regret is the harsh reality that after next year, there will be no home for the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the city where we shared so much success and positive experiences together.”
This likely won’t end the Ticats controversy.
Councillors still have to approve their decision on Thursday at the city council meeting and Pan Am and senior government officials still have to agree to fund the stadium project.