By Kevin Werner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
The Carmen’s Group is investing more than double than originally promised to improve the Hamilton Convention Centre – even before it takes over operating the aging facility next year.
Peter Mercanti of the Carmen’s Group confirmed after the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facility Inc. (HECFI) board meeting Dec. 6 that it was proposing to spend up to $700,000 to upgrade the entrance to the building, lobby and several convention rooms.
“There is a lot that needs to be done,” said Mercanti. “We want to do it as soon as we can, when city council allows us to do it.”
When it pitched its plan to council earlier this year to take over operating the convention centre, Carmen’s promised to spend $685,000 in capital improvements over a five-year period. But a review of the facility found further “modifications” are needed, including work on the exterior entrance canopy’s lighting and signage, updates in the main lobby, the Albion rooms, the lobbies of the Chedoke and Wentworth rooms and improvements to the sound system.
“The objective of these upgrades is to provide a fresh new atmosphere…” stated Carmen’s Group.
Carmen’s is scheduled to take over the convention center by mid-January, once a memorandum of agreement has been established between the city and the company. City staff cautioned that if the city and Carmen’s can’t reach an agreement, Hamilton taxpayers would be on the hook for any capital costs Carmen’s spends.
City treasurer Tony Tollis said allowing a third-party to do work on a city facility isn’t unprecedented. There have been other examples the city has allowed other organizations to spend money to upgrade a city-owned facility, including recreation facilities. He said city staff needs to approve the work and make sure the work meets all relevant bylaws.
“It is enhancing our facility,” said Tollis.
Tollis said negotiations with the Carmen’s Group are moving along, and he doesn’t expect any issues to hamper the memorandum agreement. Council should have the document before them by the end of January.
Loren Lieberman, who is associated with the Carmen’s Group, said the extra capital money the organization is willing to spend to improve the convention centre will benefit Hamilton taxpayers.
“This is an opportunity to save taxpayers money,” he said.
During the tendering process, the Carmen’s Group pointed out to councilors that it would save the city $1 million by cutting the taxpayer subsidy to the facility, and over the next five years, it would eliminate it altogether. In addition, the Carmen’s Group has promised to build a 44-storey, 440-room hotel and entertainment complex, including 150 condominium units near the facility.