Hamilton, Ontario, plans include arts district redevelopment, arena renovation

Oak View Group announced Thursday that it’s partnering with the Hamilton (Ontario) Urban Precinct Entertainment Group on a more than $500 million project to renovate FirstOntario Centre arena and redevelop the arts and entertainment district in the city, Canada’s 10th largest by population.

The deal represents Oak View Group’s first development property in Canada as the company, the parent of VenuesNow, expands its global footprint. The project will also serve as the launching point for OVG’s Canadian office.

HUPEG is a private consortium led by Carmen’s Group and the Mercanti Family & Associates. Carmen’s Group dates to 1978, when the business was founded as a bakery by the father and uncles of its current CEO, PJ Mercanti. Today, the Hamilton-based company is a leading hospitality and entertainment outfit with interests in boutique event venues, hotels, restaurants and facilities like the Hamilton Convention Centre.

In a statement, Mercanti called OVG, “a forward-thinking pioneer in the world of sports and live entertainment.”

“By joining forces with their impressive team of industry champions, we are one step closer to achieving our vision of transforming Hamilton’s beloved arena into a destination for sports fans, music lovers, and families,” he said.

The project includes a two-year, more than $50 million renovation of FirstOntario Centre, originally known as Copps Coliseum when it opened in 1985. That part of the project, expected to break ground in fall 2022 and take two years and two phases to complete, will be directed by HUPEG partner Jasper Kujavsky.

Kujavsky pointed out the arena’s place in history as the site of the famous “Gretzky to Lemieux” goal during the 1987 Canada Cup competition and the first Juno Awards KickOff Concert in 2015. “We genuinely believe that the best is yet to come for Hamilton, the ‘Ambitious City,’ and we are eager to embark on this historic journey with our incredible partners at OVG,” he said.

A 49-year master agreement was recently ratified by the Hamilton City Council. The plan includes over $500 million in auxiliary mixed-use development, “with a substantial focus on the delivery of new residential units,” according to the official announcement.

The announcement comes as OVG is poised  to christen Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, home of the NHL expansion Kraken, which it is developing and owns. The company is also developing UBS Arena next to Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, the new home of the NHL’s New York Islanders.

The renovation design in Hamilton will be led by Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects, which managed the renovation of Madison Square Garden. The project will include upgrades in food and beverage, premium and club spaces, employ the latest technology, and make sustainability a priority as it is at Climate Pledge and UBS arenas.

Tim Leiweke, OVG’s co-founder and CEO and the former president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, recalled his days in Ontario with fondness.

“I have been very fortunate in my career to be part of the Toronto community and call Canada home,” he said. “I saw firsthand the continued growth in the Toronto metro area, and we believe Hamilton, in particular, needs a venue that reflects the growth, great fans, and community, thus requiring that new facilities are developed and new opportunities are created. We believe Hamilton is the perfect market to plant our first OVG Canada flag and will be a venue that complements Toronto and the Scotiabank Arena.”

Hamilton is about an hour’s drive from Toronto and is northwest of Buffalo, New York.

“This partnership brings together two dynamic enterprises with an aligned interest around developing world-class sports and entertainment venues in one of North America’s fastest-growing urban markets,” said Francesca Bodie, president of OVG business development. “OVG’s core competencies in arena development and corporate sponsorships, coupled with HUPEG’s deep local expertise and success in championing impactful city-building projects, will result in the formation of a regional powerhouse.”

The Hamilton City Council selected HUPEG for the redevelopment in June 2020, following a competitive process.

Correction: The total estimated cost of the project was incorrect in a previous version of this story.