The project manager of the group tasked with renovating FirstOntario Centre insists the consortium is looking forward to welcoming the OHL‘s Bulldogs back to Hamilton despite claims of miscommunication with the tenant.
Hamilton Urban Precinct Arts & Entertainment Group (HUPEG) partner Jasper Kujavsky told 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show the organization is looking forward to welcoming back all tenants they’ve told to find alternative venues for two years.
Kujavsky admits the need for the Bulldogs and Toronto Rock to vacate the downtown site during the construction period is tough, but says they are welcome back upon completion of the “reborn coliseum” in 2025.
“So the Rock will be back, (and) we look forward to welcoming the Bulldogs back,” Kujavsky said. “We think it’s going to be an extremely successful project in the long term for all of the people, not just in Hamilton, for everybody in southern Ontario.”
On Tuesday, the Hamilton Bulldogs revealed they were stepping away from the city and potentially moving to Brantford for at least three seasons amid the major renovation.
In a release on Tuesday, the city of Brantford revealed talks with the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) franchise for an agreement that would not only relocate the team but involve a renaming and investment for upgrades to the city’s Civic Centre.
The proposal, to be considered by Brantford councillors in a meeting on Feb. 7, calls for an estimated $7.5 million in upgrades to the city’s arena — with some of the spending coming from the Bulldogs ownership.
Owner Michael Andlauer told 900 CHML’s Hamilton Today on Wednesday he hasn’t had much communication with the developers since learning of the “bombshell” news in November his team would not be able to play in the arena during renovations.
“I’ve had a couple of meetings with HUPEG … and my last conversation with them would have been a couple of weeks ago,” Andlauer said.
“They were suggesting that it was going to take … 24 months of construction which kind of led me to believe I could be in a situation where the arena wouldn’t be available.”
He says “there’s nothing concrete” in the form of a statement or agreement from HUPEG that points to a return for the team at this point.
“There’s no lease, nothing of the sort,” said Andlauer. “I haven’t seen any designs or anything that would indicate that there’s something concrete, just a desire to have us back.”
Kujavsky contends that’s “not accurate” and that Andlauer knows what’s been discussed in regards to the long-term and a potential agreement for a Bulldogs return.
“He was in that meeting on Jan. 20 that was less than two weeks ago,” Kujavsky explained.
“He knows what the takeaways from that meeting are and what was expected that we’re preparing to deliver to him.”
Hamilton’s manager of tourism and events Ryan McHugh suggests HUPEG was put into “an awkward position” upon a decision from the city and the consortium to bump the FirstOntario renovation from around $50 million to $100 million.
The change in plan was precipitated by involvement from the Oak View Group run by former president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Tim Leiweke.
That group spearheaded the recent $700 million renovation of Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, home of the NHL’s Kraken and $1 billion development of the Islander’s UBS Arena in New York.
As a result of the HUPEG deal, the City of Hamilton will no longer subsidize the arena over the next 49 years, equating to some $150 million in savings by turning over operations to the group.
McHugh insists the city has “every intention” of welcoming back the Bulldogs since they are “a valued member of the community.”
“So the group, which is now overseeing the operation of the FirstOntario Center, I can assure you they have that same level of commitment,” McHugh told Global News.
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