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The New Home of a Hamilton Stadium?

Tiffany Block is ready for the taking if Council makes the call.

By Paul Wilson

(Published in the Hamilton Spectator on Feb. 20, 2009.)

The planning department calls it the Tiffany Block, an elegant name, a place where there should be beautiful things that shine.

But there are more lumps of coal than diamonds in this area from Bay to Queen, Barton to Stuart.

In three days, however, city hall could vote to drop a new stadium in the midst of this west harbour site.

The backup location for the 2015 Pan Am/Ticat stadium -- plus a velodrome -- is the airport area. But that's so '60s, building a 30,000-seat barn on a field miles from town and surrounding it with a sea of blacktop. If Hamilton did that, how would we convince Queen's Park we're serious about that light-rail transit system we've told the province it just has to build for us?

So the Tiffany Block is tops. The views of the bay and the escarpment would be great from this sloping site, though you would need to ignore the CN marshalling yards.

And if fans disembarked from a King Street LRT at Caroline or Hess, it's just a 10-minute walk to the stadium site. (I did it in eight.)

We're down here for a look around, walking past the long, weathered walls of the Rheem plant, a place where they used to turn out a thousand hot-water tanks a day.

We peek in the window by the back door, bang on it and get the attention of Steve Embreus, product manager.

He's been in this building for 37 years. Once about 250 worked here. Now there are two dozen, in a century-old structure big enough for a football field or two.

"It's just a shell now," Embreus says. Production has moved off to other places, like Alabama and Mexico, and new Rheem offices are under construction in Brampton.

This used to be part of Hamilton Bridge and Tank. The plank roof is still in place, way up there.

Rheem began production here after the war and stopped a couple of years ago. The company plans to vacate the building in April and confirms talks are under way with the city about buying the property.

There are three full blocks in the Tiffany area and a purchase from Rheem would take care of the entire eastern block.

Most of the western block, Hess to Queen, is now an unruly -- and surely toxic -- urban forest. It still belongs to Stelco/U.S. Steel and went on the market two years ago.

Ownership changes slowed the process but the vendor is motivated and ready to deal now. Asking price: about $600,000.

There are one or two smaller owners on this block, presiding over rubbled ruins of block, brick and wood.

And that leaves the middle block, Caroline to Hess. It includes eight frame houses that sit on Barton. Cathy De Luca has lived in one of them for 57 years.

At the doorstep, she at first declares, "I'm old. I don't care what happens now."

But then her love of this place swells, even though the trees out front are gone and too many cars speed past.

"I do like living here," she says. "I've got good neighbours. We're all getting older and we don't want to go."

Most of this middle block is owned by B & M Metal Recycling, which arrived from Scarborough 15 years ago. Heaps of scrap rise over high metal fences.

President Kathy Belanger isn't sure what to think of moving to make way for a stadium. If the city comes calling, she'll see what they have to say.

There's a good example in San Diego of doing this right. The city's baseball team, the Padres, had been playing at a facility out beyond the suburbs. But five years ago they erected an open-air stadium in the core, 70 per cent owned by the city, the rest by the Padres.

It's on old industrial lands between downtown and the bay, where tracks run by the water's edge.

The stadium has given the core a big boost and increasing numbers of fans arrive from the north, east and west by the city's LRT system called The Trolley.

We can't snatch San Diego's sunshine, but that city's stadium ideas are definitely worth stealing.

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