Monday, September 12, 2011

Perspectives, On the Veledrome

We asked our Perspectives Virtual Panel the following question:

How important do you think a permanent Velodrome is to Hamilton, and do you believe the investment required, is worthwhile?

Please consider the following responses from Herman Turkstra, Larry Di Ianni, Mark Alan Whittle and Marvin Ryder, and feel free to add your own:

If we review our City's history with major tax funded projects, about the only success stories are the art gallery, Theatre Aquarius and our conservation areas. I have to make this comment in the context that I was part of the team that
approved Hamilton Place (although I seriously campaigned to restore the Palace theatre for millions less and put the extra dollars into a performing arts sustaining fund.)

Our track record on tax funded city owned projects is pretty dismal. Ivor Wynne runs a huge deficit. Hamilton Place, Copps and the Convention Centre are dismal failures. We've spent millions of dollars over the last generation on consultants with Coney Island fantasies about the west harbor and our fabulous lakeside waterfront, all to no avail.

What we seem to do well is modest projects that have a strong community base of support and activism. Like our amateur sports facilities, buildings with no name that just seem to work. On the other hand our three success stories all have something in common - a team of zealous committed volunteers ready to work, work, and work, and evangelize and hustle for years.

So at this moment I really have no idea whether its a good idea or not. I do not see the evangelical team of dedicated cyclists ready to make it happen. At the moment it seems to be an idea starting in City Hall. Based on our track record, that almost guarantees failure. As a municipality, we simply have no decent track record on big projects run by City Hall. Not the airport. Not the sewage treatment plant. If a velodrome can be a success, someone will have to propose a radically different development and management structure than using a few folks from Council and city staff.
Herman Turkstra, Lawyer, Activist

The original Velodrome was supposed to be a temporary $11.5 million structure that could be dismantled after the TO2015 games. Today it has become a $50 million permanent structure. The city-hall committee struck to steer this project along had the Mohawk College proposal dropped in their laps at the last minute. The number one choice, before that, was McQueston Park, near Limeridge Mall. The old site first proposed for the Velodrome was the toxic Rheem property in the west harbour area. Now city hall will abandon that location and cancel all expropriations not completed, thereby leaving a $10 million dollar deficit in its wake. The Velodrome, unlike the new stadium, does not have a tenant willing to pay millions in rent, like the owner of the Tiger-Cats is willing to do, and spend millions more within the community, 600 programs in all. As a taxpayer I would be willing to have a $25 dollar surcharge on my property tax bill for the next four years until the Velodrome opens. After all we get a $152 million dollar stadium for $50 million and we get a 250m $50 million Velodrome for only $20 million. Failing that, Hamilton should debt finance the whole project over a thirty year life-span.
Mark-Alan Whittle, Registered Lobbyist, Engaged Hamiltonian

I am pleased to be interviewing Andrew Iler, recent president of The Canadian Cycling Association, and velodrome advocate this Thursday at 10 p.m. on Hamilton Talks, Cable 14.

In terms of your question, please understand that I am a cycling enthusiast having gone to the 1976 Olympics with a month old newborn and wife to see the cycling event, went to the Greek Olympics in Athens a few years ago and cheered our very own Sue Palmer-Komar; and was in 7th heaven for the Hamilton Bike race World Championships in 2003. So, I'm a fan.

But the Velodrome issue for me is one of cost and affordability. If Hamilton has to come up with $20M, it just can't be done and that is a shame. As with the stadiium debate things have been left far too long; the planning and the money should have been lined up two years ago. It was ludicrous at the last meeting for Council to give itself two weeks to come up with appropriate funding. Good luck; but it will be nearly impossible to do.

Larry Di Ianni, Host- Hamilton Talks, former Mayor of Hamilton

An easy question - a velodrome is a "nice to have" not a "need to have." Hamilton needs sewers or a road infrastructure or parkland. A velodrome or a convention centre or an NHL arena (without an NHL tenant) are all "nice to haves." For that reason, Hamilton should only have them if the business case makes sense. And on that front,a good business case has to make sense both in terms of capital dollars to construct the facility and operating dollars to run and maintain the facility.

Usually on the capital side, the equation is pretty good - for every one dollar invested by the City, others will invest two dollars or three dollars or four dollars. The key, then, is on the operational side. After the PanAm Games, what kinds of revenue can such a facility attract and what will be the cost to operate/maintain it. This is where the problem arises. The original PanAm plan had only a temporary velodrome in it because the operational picture looked bleak. Only if those numbers have changed should Hamilton consider this investment.

Post-script - I recently visited Montreal where the permanent velodrome built for the 1976 Olympics has been converted to a Biodome which allows visitors to walk through four different eco-systems. It could be considered a compliment to the Biosphere which was created from the conversion of the former American pavillion of Expo 67. It would be interesting to know why that velodrome ceased being used as such!
Marvin Ryder, University Professor

Thanks to our panel. Your thoughts? 


  1. Marvin Ryder:

    " It would be interesting to know why that velodrome ceased being used as such!"

    My understanding is that because of bad planning, the track was never up to international standards. It was, in a nutshell, 'shoe-horned' into the space that was available, so it was not a UCI-sanctioned track for future competitions. (I'm imagining that the Olympics' stature -and pressing time-constraints- allowed it a 'pass' and the events were held).

    So there was little to be gained in keeping it. (Underscored by the fact that there is only one indoor track in North America that is a 250m, UCI-sanctioned facility, and that's in California.)

  2. Brian Henley +September 12, 2011

    Mr. Turkstra is right on in my humble opinion.
    I was particularly interested in his reference to the Palace Theatre.
    A classic example of what could have been.
    Short-sighted, reactive decisions can be wrong short term and long term - like the imposition on the Football Hall of Fame on expropriated library property thus preventing the retention of the 1913 building as a library with an major addition to the rear.
    Hamilton Place while lovely on the inside and fine acoustically, is a very unattractive building in a poor location, while a revitalized Palace Theatre could well have had a continuing positive impact on the downtown core.
    Back to the Velodrome - Councillor Whitehead claims that the issue is not about land, but construction costs.
    Not completely true, Councillor - please do not forget the necessary costs for a parking lot to replace the 'donated' land...up to a potential $3 million...these costs are for the city, not Mohawk College.
    Finally a velodrome is a decent idea, but costs appear to be prohibitive.

  3. This is like someone who is already overspent on his credit card and is is not spending enough on the essentials to start with. All of a sudden the person decides to start another credit card, max it out and spend the second card on something he really doesn't need, but other people say he does.

  4. Brian, though I am an impassioned cinema history aficionado, and have waxed longingly about both Thomas Lamb structures on King (The Palace and The Capitol), the truth is that taking everything into consideration, looking at the context of the times ('55-75') a Palace-effort wouldn't have worked, nor would it have provided the ancillary results desired. (I'm not claiming that what did transpire was anywhere near a 'success')

    Losing both cinemas was probably the saddest development I can think of downtown, but perfectly understandable, as I've written about elsewhere.

    (Drop me a line at mystoneycreek@gmail.com, would you please? I have some questions for you, if you have the time.)

  5. My stance on a velodrome for Hamilton is thus:

    -We never should have committed for more than one facility. We spent ourselves on the stadium, and given how things have gone in the past few months, we clearly don't have the conviction or a basic grasp of the notion of a velodrome.

    -The Mohawk option is a bad one. Compromise left, right and centre.

    -Hamilton should be the home of only the second UIC-sanctioned indoor velodrome in North America, the only one in Canada. Hamilton has a great tradition of road racing going back decades, it's got some of Ontario's best mountain biking nearby, it has a great tradition of rowing (this may seen like a non sequitur, but it's not.) and it's positioned perfectly geographically in relation to the other UIC-sanctioned facility in California. But the thrust for it has to be more than just 'an obligation'. No matter where this facility ends up (I don't believe it'll be in Hamilton), the pursuit of it as well as its promotion shouldn't be something that is begrudgingly adopted, it needs to go to the party that clearly wants it to be built in that community, it needs to be acknowledged and recognized as an athletic jewel, its intent should be honoured naturally, not merely seen as an obligation to be fulfilled.

    What strikes me more than anything else about this issue is that this city's stewards clearly don't appreciate an opportunity when it's presented to them. In other words, there's a saddening dearth of visionary leadership in Hamilton.

  6. Tangent: "Rodin's Thinker cast vandalised in Argentina" http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-14850493

  7. I grew up in Hamilton.

    It is sad to hear that so much public money was committed to the private business of professional sports - ie. a new stadium for pro football. Same old, same old...

    The result is that amateur sport takes a kicking, as usual.

    We have to remember as well that this is a once in 20 or thirty year opportunity for the amateur sporting community.

    Where is the federal government when we need them?

    This facility would be the basis for a centre of excellence just as the Olympic speed skating at the University of Calgary ended up being. That facility has been successful since 1988.


Your comments are welcome. Please abide by the blog's policy on posting. This blog facilitates discussion from all sides of issues. Opposite viewpoints, spirited discussion and even pointed comments are welcome, provided they are respectful. Name calling is not allowed and any posts that violate the policy, will simply not be authorized to appear. This blog also reserves the right to exclude comments that are off topic or are otherwise unprofessional. This blog does not assume any liability whatsoever for comments posted. People posting comments or providing information on interviews, do so at their own risk.

Comments posted on this blog, may be used as excerpts in whole or in part, in other media sources .
This blog believes in freedom of speech and operates in the context of a democratic society, which many have fought and died for.

Views expressed by commentators or in articles that appear here, cannot be assumed to be espoused by The Hamiltonian staff or its publisher.