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Hamilton Bulldogs owner ‘shocked’ team will need new home for two seasons amid FirstOntario reno

The owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs wrote a letter to the team's fans on Nov. 13, 2022, saying he's shocked by news the team will need to find a new home over the next two seasons. The relocation is due to renovations to FirstOntario Centre set to start in 2023.
The owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs wrote a letter to the team's fans on Nov. 13, 2022, saying he's shocked by news the team will need to find a new home over the next two seasons. The relocation is due to renovations to FirstOntario Centre set to start in 2023. 900 CHML

The owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs is expressing surprise that renovations to First Ontario Centre will mean the team will need to find a new home for two seasons.

In a letter to fans on Sunday, Michael Andlauer touched on the rehabilitation of a FirstOntario Centre and recent news that development changes have affected the scope of the project.

He insists he was previously told renovations would occur in a manner that would allow hockey to continue.

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“I had hoped, however, to have the opportunity to speak to you first with this shocking and unexpected news and come to you with a solution to the short-term location change,” Andlauer said in his letter.

“Unfortunately, other parties had different plans and chose to share the news prematurely.”

Work on the arena is now expected to take about 20 months, according to a Hamilton Spectator post on Saturday, which says both the Bulldogs and Hamilton Honey Badgers were told Friday they will have to seek alternative accommodations for almost two seasons while upgrades are completed.

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The changes mean the 2023-24 season and much of the 2024-25 season will be lost.

Previously, a spokesperson with Hamilton Urban Precinct Entertainment Group (HUPEG) partner and director of the arena project told Global News in July the potential timeline for the start of development would be June or July of 2023 with the hope of reopening by the fall of 2024.

Recent additions to the design include a completely reimagined facade with a massive concourse on the ground floor stretching around the arena instead of the stairs now seen when entering the building.

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Initially, the group planned on “staging” the project, allowing for some work in the summer with a pause in the fall to allow its clients, like the Hamilton Bulldogs, Hamilton Honey Badgers of the CEBL and Toronto Rock, to finish their seasons.

Mike Morreale, Commissioner & CEO of the CEBL, says communication has “not been good at all” with the people behind the scenes of the FirstOntario upgrade.

He says it’s been hard to point fingers in the matter since he’s not sure where the communication breakdown has happened and who is responsible.

“I have to be honest, historically speaking, I’m not sure anything has gone to plan with a lot of these major events and major projects in Hamilton,” Morreale told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

“So I’m a little bit nervous that it will only be two years.”

Morreale says it will be difficult to keep the team in and around the city during the renovation due to a lack of alternative mid-market arenas or spectator facilities in the Hamilton or Burlington area.

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“Thankfully, we’ve been working on things knowing it was coming,” Morreale said.

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“We just didn’t know when and we didn’t know for how long. So this does just make our decisions, I guess, more time sensitive.”

For the Bulldogs, Andlauer said he will keep the community up to date over the coming weeks in a search for a new home arena which is now a franchise priority.

“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,” Andlauer said.

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