Shift in renovation means Toronto Rock will play next season at Hamilton's FirstOntario

Despite Hamilton’s sports teams being given notice they would need to find new homes amid a two-year FirstOntario Centre renovation, one tenant announced it will play its next season “from start to finish” at the arena.

Toronto Rock owner Jamie Dawick revealed a “renovation timeline shift” at the York Boulevard venue will accommodate his National Lacrosse League team allowing them to play a full schedule in the arena during the 2023-24 season.

Dawick confirmed the “soon-to-be-announced shift” in the FirstOntario renovation following engagement with operators, the Oak View Group (OVG) and partner Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG).

“So we’re super excited about that,” Dawick said.

“We knew there was a possibility …. there might be a few games that we could play there. We maintained all along we were going to play until we couldn’t play there any longer.”

PJ Mercanti, CEO of Carmen’s Group and president of HUPEG, is expected to appear before city Councilors next Wednesday to give an update on the renovation.

He previously stated no events would be able to run at the venue past the end of 2023 due to the “expanded scope” of the renovation, making it “impossible” for the tenants to play through it.

The Rock’s 2023-24 schedule will run between December and the end of April.


That news led two FirstOntario occupants, the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and CEBL’s Hamilton Honey Badgers, to relocate after receiving notices from the operators.

Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer previously expressed his surprise in a letter to the team’s fans when he was told renovations meant his team would need to find a new home for the 2023-24 season and much of the 2024-25 season.

The team would eventually begin a new partnership with the city of Brantford in a relocation.

Meanwhile, the Honey Badgers would announce a permanent move to Brampton in November.

In May, Mercanti told Global News the venue would fully close at the end of 2023 despite a report Disney On Ice had confirmed dates for a run in 2024.

After some “digging,” he explained that a third party handling Feld Entertainment’s marketing for Ontario Disney On Ice shows was working on the assumption Hamilton shows at FirstOntario would be in the mix, as they have been in the past.

Renovations to FirstOntario and some surrounding venues are expected to take between 16 to 20 months to complete.

Dawick said he’d known going into his deal the Rock would be able to play some of their latest schedule at FirstOntario and found out Wednesday they would be able to finish their season.

He says the team will have to relocate to the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga for the 2024-25 season, after FirstOntario construction begins.

In an email, President of OVG Canada Tom Pistore said the Rock announcement as well as additional bookings set to be announced in the coming weeks have “no bearing upon the progress of the proposed arena project.”

“Preliminary work starting early in the new year can begin while the team is still playing,” Pistore explained.

“For example, external elements like signage and paint, clubs that are not currently in use, and an inactive concourse.”

He went on to say the group has dealt with similar obstacles amid the development of eight other new arenas and stadiums they built across North America during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for Mayor Andrea Horwath says she’s been assured by OVG that the decision to accommodate the Toronto Rock’s season was made with the site’s current local business manager Core Entertainment, owned by OVG.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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