|Former names||Copps Coliseum|
|Location||101 York Boulevard
|Owner||City of Hamilton|
|Operator||Global Spectrum Sports & Entertainment/Live Nations/Core Entertainment|
|Field size||200 x 85 feet (expandable to 200 x 100)|
|Broke ground||July 8, 1983|
|Opened||November 30, 1985|
|Construction cost||C$42.7 Million
($83.4 million in 2015 dollars)
|Architect||Parkin Architects Ltd.
Sink Combs Dethlefs
|Project manager||STERRY Support Services Ltd.|
|Structural engineer||John A. Martin & Associates|
|General contractor||Pigott Construction|
|Hamilton Steelhawks (OHL) (1985–1988)
Dukes of Hamilton (OHL) (1989–1991)
Hamilton Skyhawks (WBL/NBL) (1992-93)
Hamilton Canucks (AHL) (1992–1994)
Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL) (1996–2015)
Ontario Raiders (NLL) (1998)
Toronto Raptors (NBA) (occasional home games) (1995–1997)
Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) (2015–)
FirstOntario Centre (originally Copps Coliseum) is a sports and entertainment arena on the corner of Bay Street North and York Boulevard, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Depending on event, the arena has a capacity of up to 19,000.
Hamilton had been without a large ice hockey arena since the demolition of Barton Street Arena in 1977, and even that arena had a relatively small seating capacity by modern standards. The arena's large capacity was in part designed to lure a potential National Hockey League expansion franchise; however, the location of the arena (less than 50 miles from the home arenas of both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres, both of whom have explicitly opposed any NHL presence in Hamilton) has proven to be an obstacle to landing a team, and the NHL has rejected overtures to relocate a team to the arena.
It was started in 1983 and was completed in 1985 at a cost of $33.5 million, and an additional $2.3 million for a parking garage. The construction was overseen by local Hamiltonian, Joseph Pigott.
Originally named after long-time mayor Victor K. Copps, the patriarch of a Hamilton political family. That family includes former MPP and MP Sheila Copps, and Victor Copps's wife, Geraldine, who was a long-time councillor.
The scoreboard clock was originally from the Winnipeg Arena, purchased for $214,000. Although it was not brand new, the scoreboard clock met the needs of FirstOntario Centre. The original Day Signs/Naden scoreboard, built in Toronto, was replaced in the mid-1990s by a centre-hung scoreboard with an electronic message centre on each side, which, in return was replaced with the current scoreboard, built in Hamilton by Media Resources and featuring a LED video board on each side.
While FirstOntario Centre was built in the hope that Hamilton could draw an NHL franchise, for the past 15 seasons, beginning in October 1996, FirstOntario Centre has been home to the Hamilton Bulldogs, first of the American Hockey League and now of the Ontario Hockey League. The AHL Bulldogs, the top affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers (1996–2003) and the Montreal Canadiens (2002–2015) brought over 2 million fans to FirstOntario Centre. They are the second longest serving pro hockey team in Southern Ontario after the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bulldogs are the sole primary tenant in the facility. On June 7, 2007, the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs won their first Calder Cup Championship in franchise history at home in FirstOntario Centre by defeating the Hershey Bears.
On March 12, 2015, Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer announced that he had sold the team back to the Canadiens, who would move the team to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador for the 2015–16 season as the second incarnation of the St. John's IceCaps. Concurrently, Andlauer announced his acquisition of the Ontario Hockey League's Belleville Bulls, and that the team would be moved to Hamilton and adopt the Bulldogs name.
In 1987, the arena was the primary host for the Canada Cup ice hockey tournament and was the site of Mario Lemieux's famous goal that beat the Soviets 6-5 in the decisive game. It hosted a number of games in the Canada Cup again in 1991 when Canada defeated USA in the finals.
In 1990, FirstOntario Centre hosted the Memorial Cup. The tournament that year recorded the highest attendance for any single Memorial Cup game, on May 13, 1990 at 17,383 spectators. In that same championship game, the Oshawa Generals defeated the Kitchener Rangers by a score of 4 to 3 in double overtime on a goal by Bill Armstrong.
Though the Centre has never been able to attract a full-time NHL tenant, it did host a number of regular-season neutral-site games in 1992–93 and 1993–94. Most of these games featured either the nearby Toronto Maple Leafs or Buffalo Sabres.
In 1994, the Centre was one of the homes to the FIBA World Basketball Championships, along with Maple Leaf Gardens and SkyDome. The next year, the Centre hosted the FIBA Americas Championship for Women, which was won by Canada.
During their first two seasons of play (1995-1997), prior to the completion of construction on their new home the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors played three regular season games at FirstOntario Centre, as well as a preseason game in 1997.
The arena hosted the WWF pay-per-view Breakdown: In Your House on September 27, 1998.
In 2007, from March 3 to March 11, FirstOntario Centre hosted the Tim Hortons Brier, the annual Canadian men's curling championship. The Centre will be hosting the West 49 Canadian Open, from September 20 to October 1.
In 2007, Waterloo billionaire Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion, made an offer to purchase the Nashville Predators for $220 Million US. His intention was to move the team to Hamilton and either use FirstOntario Centre as a temporary home while a new state-of-the-art arena could be built, or to renovate FirstOntario Centre to bring it up to modern NHL standards. The bid was ultimately unsuccessful.
In 2008, it was announced that the Golden Horseshoe would be bidding for the 2015 Pan-Am Games, which would mean the venue would likely be part of the venue plan for the Games. On February 18, 2009, FirstOntario Centre was identified as the proposed site for the volleyball competition for the Games.
In the spring of 2009, the Phoenix Coyotes filed for bankruptcy and Jim Balsillie immediately offered a rumoured $212.5 Million US, while stating he wanted to move the franchise to Southwestern Ontario. Balsillie has applied for a lease option which, should the relocation succeed, would invoke a 20-year lease for the team to play at FirstOntario Centre.
On May 9, 2009, the Toronto Star, Hamilton Spectator and others reported that that Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger was to meet with a second group interested in securing a lease. The group, led by Vancouver businessmen Tom Gaglardi and Nelson Skalbania, was interested in securing an interest in the Atlanta Thrashers and moving them to the Centre for the 2010-11 NHL season. The team moved to Winnipeg in 2011, becoming the new incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets, instead.
On May 13, 2009, The Canadian Press reported on TSN.ca that Balsillie won the exclusive rights to Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre until November after a unanimous vote by Hamilton city council. On May 29, 2009, Balsillie unveiled his plans to renovate the Centre into a state-of-the-art facility in anticipation of a NHL franchise coming to Hamilton. It's unknown when these renovations will come to fruition since Balsillie ultimately lost his bid to buy the Coyotes.
On January 3, 2014, Nitro Circus performed at the stadium for the first ever and only stop in Canada. Due to the high risk nature of their stunt based shows most North American venues will not host the events.
On January 27, 2014, Hamilton City council voted unanimously to approve a $3.5-million deal to rename Copps Coliseum after local credit union First Ontario. The city unveiled the new look signage, FirstOntario Centre, later that spring.
On March 22, 1990, the Copps Coliseum hosted a famous concert by the Grateful Dead. The band played one of its most flawlessly executed versions of Scarlet-Fire, and the concert was later chronicled in the box set Spring 1990.
The popstar Britney Spears had performed here 3 times. The first time occurred in July 13, 1999 during her ...Baby One More Time Tour, the second in June 25, 2002 during the Dream Within a Dream Tour and again on August 20, 2009 during The Circus Starring Britney Spears.
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- "Jim Balsillie Puts in Offer on Phoenix Coyotes". TSN. May 6, 2009. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- "Statement on Copps Coliseum NHL Lease Option" (Press release). Veritas Communications Inc. May 14, 2009. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- "Jim Balsillie statement on NHL in Hamilton" (Press release). Veritas Communications Inc. May 13, 2009. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- Shoalts, David (May 9, 2009). "Hamilton Mayor Only Focused on Balsillie". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
- "Jim Balsillie Unveils Dramatic Revitalization for Copps Coliseum" (Press release). Veritas Communications Inc. May 29, 2009. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
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