Being forced to leave OHL arena was ‘shocking and unexpected,’ Hamilton Bulldogs owner says | CBC News


For the owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs, being forced to leave the team’s home arena at FirstOntario Centre to accommodate renovations was “shocking and unexpected news.”

Michael Andlauer said, in a message to fans posted on the team website, the team will be forced to leave the arena for the next two seasons even though “we had been told that the renovations would occur in a manner that would allow hockey to continue,” Andlauer said.

Jasper Kujavsky, a partner with the Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG) — the group managing the renovations — says they “anticipate an approximately 20-month construction period beginning in late summer/early fall of 2023.”

That would cancel games for three teams that play out of the arena including the Bulldogs, the Hamilton Honey Badgers (basketball) and the Toronto Rock (lacrosse).

Kujavsky says HUPEG’s “minimum commitment to the project will be at least $100M” and described the renovations as “major.”

The FirstOntario Centre is planned to undergo renovations that will span up to 20 months, but will not allow local sports teams to play during construction. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The Toronto Rock say they found out on Nov. 11 and will be forced to relocate their home games for the 2023-24 season and possibly a portion or all of the 2024-25 season. 

“With the more recent increase in the project’s budget, it does not come as a surprise that the scope of the project and the timeline have both increased dramatically,” said Toronto Rock owner Jamie Dawick in a statement released Monday.

The Rock relocated to Hamilton from Toronto in 2021, after signing a 5-year agreement with Spectra managed Core Entertainment to have games take place in the downtown venue. The team is scheduled to open its 2022-23 season on Dec. 3 at home when they face the Vancouver Warriors.

The venue also features concerts and special events. American rapper Rod Wave performs on Nov. 26 and Shania Twain is performing next June. And there are many events scheduled in between.

The Bulldogs are the reigning Ontario Hockey League (OHL) champions. They beat the Windsor Spitfires in game 7 of the OHL finals at FirstOntario Centre on June 15, 2022. 

Bulldogs owner Andlauer said that he would be spending the following weeks finding the team a new home.

“I know that we can find a solution that is convenient for our Bulldogs community and allows our players to continue with great Bulldogs hockey,” he said.

The city of Hamilton told CBC Hamilton they expected tenants of the arena would be regularly appraised as the plan progressed. 

“It is disappointing to hear that Friday’s notice to the teams may have come as a surprise to them given the teams are such an important part of our community,” senior communication officer Michelle Shantz said in an email. 

Andlauer said the team “100% support(s) the renovation to our arena, in fact, we have been calling for significant and necessary improvements for years. Our fans, community and sponsors deserve a facility that is as high quality as our two-time OHL Championship Bulldogs.”

Rock owner Dawick said, “while there will be some short-term pain with being displaced from FirstOntario Centre, we’re very excited about the new venue we will return to upon the completion of the project.”

At the time of publication, representatives of the Hamilton Honey Badgers had not returned calls from CBC Hamilton.

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