Why the Hamilton 100 committee says Commonwealth Games are worth a $1.425B price tag

If Hamilton is awarded the 2030 Commonwealth Games, it’s going to cost at least $1.425 billion.

That’s a chunk of money that, many people in Hamilton are saying, could be better spent on hospitals, affordable housing, public transit or other bright ideas.

Jasper Kujavsky and Greg Maychak from the Hamilton 100 committee tasked with putting together the city’s bid for the Commonwealth Games spoke with the CBC’s Conrad Collaco about the concerns that people have raised and why they think, in the end it will be money well spent.

You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or watch to the full interview by hitting the play button above.

Jasper Kujavsky and Greg Maychak from Hamilton 100

Why should Canadians spend at least $1.425 billion Hamilton to host the Commonwealth Games in 2030?

Kujavsky: It’s because it will be arguably the most engaged community project that the city will ever be a part of and in terms of an investment where you’re getting a return on the dollar that is between 5 to 1 on the dollar to upwards of even a ten dollar return for every dollar spent. It is an unbelievable economic development opportunity, social impact opportunity for the city of Hamilton, community engagement opportunity for our community to move forward.

This is not just about sports. It’s about investment in infrastructure. It’s about social impact. It’s about dealing with all of the sustainable development goals of the United Nations which has been a major part of this. There are multiple reasons to do something that is economically sustainable, financially viable, socially impactful and community engaging. On so many different fronts this makes sense.

What concrete infrastructure projects can we expect for Hamilton?

Maychak: I could speak to just some of the larger infrastructure: one a small stadium up on Hamilton Mountain, a retro-stadium. We want to rebuild the original stadium but the modern amenities to host track and field. There would actually be two tracks up at Mohawk Sports Complex that would accommodate athletics. We’re also talking about, and Jasper has been working on for the last few years, the possibility of a new arena in the downtown core. That would, of course be, one of the jewels. The McMaster pool there was built in 1963. Most people don’t know it doesn’t even meet international standards and they’re spending really bad money every year at the university just to keep it going. 

So, there’s an opportunity to build a brand new aquatic centre but then we looked down to Confederation Park. We’ve had immigration to Canada and there’s an outcry for cricket pitches. So the city is building a world class cricket pitch but we’re going to build a field house with it so that we can have spectators there with all the modern amenities, a social area, meeting space, place to store their equipment, a place for the community to congregate and have some incredible cricket matches both at the local level and the international level. Right beside it, beach volleyball courts, both indoor and outdoor, so, year round use. We’re looking at refurbishing some of our older facilities like the Dave Andreychuk arena to ensure our facilities are some of the best really in all of Canada, maybe North America.

Kujavsky: One of our key priorities is to make sure that any new housing component that is constructed that can accommodate these individuals at the games isn’t built solely for them to then afterwards become a gigantic white elephant that isn’t used. These are going to be designed specifically to become affordable housing. We believe there’s going to be the ability to secure enough land on a major transportation corridor and be able to do that. An athlete’s village is different in the sense that, when you talk about 6000 people, that requires about 20 acres of land. Now, has that been identified as of yet? Not right this second but our priority is to work with the municipality on all the other stakeholders to identify that.

In the event that larger project can’t be brought to fruition we do have McMaster University residences as an available option that we know we can go to but our priority is to try to work, over this 10 year period, to get this larger social impact infrastructure constructed for the benefit of all people in Hamilton.

Canada’s Angela Whyte holds up the Canadian flag as she runs a victory lap after winning the silver medal in the 100-metre hurdles at the XVIII Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, March 24, 2006. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Affordable housing

The city of Vancouver promised, for the Olympic bid, 52 social housing units. In the end, council approved a plan to rent half of those at market rates. Another 850 units were sold as condos at market rates out of range of most people who desperately need housing. Can you guarantee your affordable housing estimates?

Maychak: At this point in time it is early. But it is a priority and we’re also working closely with the private sector and we’re looking at some investment again with the municipality and maybe the upper levels of government to help support where we do come up with a specific number but it is kind of early. We’re going to work towards that end goal because it is really important to us. 

Kujavksi: You have a lot of progressive voices on that council who are going to insist — I don’t speak on their behalf — but I have a pretty strong suspicion and sense that they are going to be watching this very, very closely and are going to insist that these guarantees in terms of percentages for affordable housing are locked into the agreements that are signed. So, this is going to be as simple as a bunch of business people that are putting up some money afterwards saying ‘oh yeah I know I promised that but now it’s going to be this.’ All of this is being done openly and transparently in negotiations with the city of Hamilton who have to be a signatory to this thing if it ever comes to fruition.

Hamilton 100 says the city’s portion of that $425B is going to be $100 million. They city says it’s going to be $300 million. How do you account for such a huge discrepancy?

Kujavsky: One hundred per cent of games related revenue stays with the host community. That is estimated at in excess of $225 million dollars. And I will state right here that by the time we get to 2030, and you look at the additional revenue sources and opportunities through sponsorships or through sport related activities, that could bring in huge dollars, especially when it comes to broadcast rights,  you’re going to see that the host community share of this entire thing because of the revenues that stay locally is going to make this profitable, not just break even, but profitable.

So the difference is that you have incorporated projected revenue?

Maychak: Yes. But it’s also based on past games and it’s very, very conservative.

Dan Jelly’s comment raises this question — For $1.425 billion, why is the Commonwealth Games a better idea than spending that money on affordable housing, or LRT or any other bright idea that builds infrastructure?

Kujavsky: The issue then becomes ‘well then why would you spend that money on affordable housing if we need money in our hospitals?’ And if you then spend it on the hospital, someone else will say ‘Well yeah but what about the water and sewer and hydro and fiber optics that all would have been a part of the LRT investment that will be lost if that LRT project doesn’t go ahead because 80 cents on every dollar spent on LRT would have gone to underground infrastructure?’ 

if you don’t spend the money on the Commonwealth Games you will not get 75 percent funding for, for example, on amateur sports facilities and community projects that are needed in Hamilton, that have been identified by the city’s real estate department. So, if we don’t get the games what will happen is groups will go to the city and say ‘we need this, we need that.’ If the answer is always going to be ‘well we’re not doing any of that because we have to have this,’ whether it’s a health care related matter, an education related matter or affordable housing component. Then we shouldn’t have any money spent, for example, on recreation. Any penny spent on recreation is not being spent somewhere else. So, when you get into this concept of we should never do this unless we fix all that in its entirety, there are things you will not have in your community, for example, a place where you can send your kids to for into a sports program.

Maychak: We feel strongly that our city, our province, has been under serviced in terms of hosting multi-sport games.

Kujavsky: Out of the Pan American games you get Tim Horton’s field, a new home of the Tiger Cats, which has been incredibly important for the Tiger Cats to remain here and be profitable here. Just on the basis of the fact that because of the Pan Am Games over two thirds the cost of a brand new stadium were borne by the senior levels of government to the benefit of the community. Go and ask people in Hamilton if they, knowing what they know now, would say no you know what I would rather turn that down. I don’t want it. And just leave it up to the city to figure out how to fix Ivor Wynne. The Tiger Cats might be gone from Hamilton as a result of it and if anybody would say yeah that would be a price worth paying because whatever money the city didn’t invest in that they could have invested in roads or sewers or something else. I don’t know if you’d find too many people in Hamilton that would say today they don’t want Tim Horton’s field. 

What happens now?

Maychak: We submit on March 9th and then we sit back and wait, probably for about a four week period, to find out who goes forward.