Copps could get reno

Don Peat, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 5:03 PM ET

Home sweet Hamilton Home.

BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie unveiled the new look for Hamilton's Copps Coliseum today – giving hockey fans a glimpse of how the 24-year-old Steeltown arena could look should he win his bid to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Canada.

The renovation, which will likely cost at least $150 million, puts a new gleaming glass facade on the aging arena, ups its capacity to 18,000 and fully complies with the NHL's rink rules, Balsillie's bid committee stressed.

But taxpayers will be on the hook to fund most of the renovations.

Balsillie is willing to pay for the initial upgrades, around $30 million, and the City of Hamilton would ask other levels of government to help fund the bulk of the overhaul costs.

Two weeks ago Premier Dalton McGuinty left the door open to using public funds to help fix up Copps Coliseum.

Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger said he's confident other levels of government will open their wallets after hearing the business case.

"If a team were to come to Hamilton there would be significant PST, GST income tax generated from that, that would certainly have a quick payback that would justify a return on investment on behalf of the federal and provincial government," Eisenberger told the Sun today.

Balsillie's spokesman Bill Walker stressed the RIM czar would only be the lease holder with 41 home NHL dates, not the arena's owner.

"Let us be clear, at no time would Jim Balsillie request government funding from any level of government," Walker said. "The City of Hamilton owns Copps and would benefit from a facility better positioned to host events such as concerts, trade shows and conferences.

"We think a renovated Copps would go a long way to helping revitalize downtown Hamilton and stimulate economic activity in the tourism and service sectors."

Fans coming into the new arena will be dazzled by a new atrium-style lobby that will boast ticket offices and street-level retail.

Inside the arena, all the seats will be upholstered under a new digital, centre-hung state-of-the-art scoreboard. A club lounge and club seating section will be installed along with 50 mid-level private suites, 20 bunker suites with prime seats in the first six rows between the blue lines, four, mid-level group suites and a group sales/party deck in the upper bowl.

Hockey players will have new home and visitor dressing rooms and a new rink surface powered by a new ice plant and climate control systems.

The group leading the design, BBB Architects and its subsidiary group Stadium Consultants International (SCI), is no stranger to sports facilities.

They are currently renovating the New York Rangers' Madison Square Garden and the New York Islanders' Nassau County Coliseum. Canadian sports fans are likely already familiar with their work, they've worked on Toronto's Air Canada Centre, BMO Field and Vancouver's GM Place.

Costs for the renovations are still up in the air but a 2007 detailed construction estimate on the arena pegged the renovation at $150 million.

Bid officials stress the estimate could change based on timelines, approvals and access to the facility.

“A new team for the best new hockey market deserves spectacular new home ice, and that’s exactly what the upgraded Copps Coliseum would offer,” Balsillie said in a release today. “This facility will deliver unparalleled excitement and bring fans closer than ever to the action.”

Earlier this month, Hamilton city council unanimously approved a deal giving Balsillie until October to bring a hockey team to Copps Coliseum. In exchange, he promised to sign a long-term lease up to 32 years if he secures the Coyotes.

Eisenberger said the "impressive" arena announcement "demonstrates to the NHL that they do have a plan in terms of making Copps Coliseum suitable for a full NHL franchise and that it's very doable and that even though it's a 24-year-old facility it can be easily upgraded into a fully serviceable, fully financially-viable facility for the NHL."


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