Grey Cup seating plan for Hamilton stadium still a big unknown

When Tim Hortons Field was being conceived and built, it was consistently described as being capable of expanding to 40,000 seats for big events. Now, as talks begin about the city and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats bidding for the 2020 Grey Cup, there’s been talk of a 35,000-seat capacity for the game.

Yet there’s one small hiccup. Nobody really knows if even the smaller number is possible.

“We don’t have a structural design for the bleachers,” says city facilities manager Rom D’Angelo. “That was one of our deficiencies.”

It seems when the stadium was being built, engineering studies for temporary bleachers were supposed to be included with the finished product. Yet D’Angelo says that never happened. All the city received was an artist’s rendering of what it could look like.

During recent negotiations between the city and builder to settle legal disputes, the city took on the task of getting this done. Which means that while the 24,000-plus-seat stadium may indeed be expandable to 35,000, knowing for certain won’t happen until the city brings in engineers to do a study.

D’Angelo says this work could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, though Mayor Fred Eisenberger says when the negotiations were ongoing, some money would have been held back from the builder to pay for this.

With bidding for the game about to ramp up, D’Angelo says a report that lays out what needs to be done to get the engineering reports will be landing in front of the new council sometime this month.

“If it’s the 2020 game, we have to act really, really quickly,” he says.

Council will have to sign off on the cost to get the structural engineering report done, which would require hiring outside engineers since the city doesn’t have people who can do this on staff.

Even if the maximum capacity turns out to be on the lower end, it wouldn’t preclude Hamilton from hosting a game. Three years ago at BMO Field in Toronto, the announced attendance was 33,421. (The last time the game was held here, back in 1996, the official number was 38,595.)

However, it’s a fair guess that fewer available seats might increase the average price of tickets. And might make the CFL lean toward Saskatchewan that’s also in the running for 2020 and has a stadium that’s reportedly expandable to 40,000.

After the team made a presentation to the CFL’s Grey Cup subcommittee a couple weeks ago — the first of several steps to ultimately winning the right to host the game — Ticats president of business Matt Afinec told The Spectator’s Steve Milton that the exact details of the bid hadn’t been worked out yet. Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell also declined to offer Milton any concrete details. So 35,000 has just been a reference point.

Bringing the stadium up to that capacity means adding nearly as many temporary seats as there are on each side of the facility. But doing it in smaller spaces.

The majority would be built on the south end plaza by the entry gates while some others would likely be constructed around the scoreboard at the opposite end. Working around the permanent brick entry gates would likely pose no real problem. But D’Angelo says the new stands might not be able to go the full width of the field because they can’t block the stairways fans use to get to their seats.

“We will not get a permit if we do not have proper egress,” he explains.

Once engineering work has been done, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson says putting in the bleachers shouldn’t be too difficult, even in these spots. It’s simply a case of spreading the weight-bearing load, even if that requires bolts to be drilled into the concrete.

“That can’t be too complicated to do that,” says the longtime builder.

The city does seem motivated to make this work. Eisenberger has already given the franchise a letter of support which he says offers no specifics for aid but general enthusiasm for the bid. He says Hamilton would be expected to contribute either with cash or in-kind services which could involve HSR buses, the use of public facilities or other things.

Whether the eventual cost of erecting the temporary seating is borne by the city or the Ticats or some combination, it’s not going to be cheap, D’Angelo says.

“Obviously, it’s going to be a hefty price,” he says.

The Tiger-Cats did not respond to emailed questions and a request for comment.

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