Brantford mayor is optimistic about OHL Bulldogs' possible move to his city
The Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) could temporarily be relocating to the Brantford Civic Centre while their home arena, the FirstOntario Centre, undergoes major renovations.
According to the staff report on the City of Brantford’s website, the proposal is for a three-year term with an additional three-one year renewals.
“I am very excited about the prospect of bringing an OHL team to Brantford,” said Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis, in a release sent by the city. “A partnership with an established OHL franchise will reinforce the image of Brantford as a renowned sport-friendly city, as well as enhance the perception of the city as active, vibrant, and attractive to future investment, especially surrounding the downtown core.”
Before the move becomes a done deal, Brantford city council will consider a proposal to enter into an agreement with OHL Hamilton Bulldogs at a meeting on Feb. 7.
“We have signed a proposed deal or agreement with the Hamilton Bulldogs and it calls for the team to be here a minimum of three years, could be as many as six years,” said Davis. “Myself and ten other members of council will consider the proposal. If a majority supports it, then the Bulldogs will be coming to Brantford, to be known as the Brantford Bulldogs.”
Though there was some competition as to where the Bulldogs would be temporarily relocating to, Davis said that Brantford just made the most sense.
“Many of the young players are billeted in Ancaster. They practice at a facility in Ancaster so it allows the Bulldogs to maintain that. A lot of continuity can be maintained with locating the team here.”
According to the mayor, the Bulldogs coming to Brantford would also bring many positives to the city.
“It means a major upgrade in this facility, which is 55 years old,” Davis said. “It’s a morale boost. Any city that gets an OHL team, it’s the civic pride. They do not go to a city that is in decline or a city that isn’t doing well. We are doing well, we’re growing. We’re a much different city than the last time we had an OHL team here in the 1980’s.”
The Brantford Alexanders were apart of the OHL from 1978-1984, before relocating to Hamilton where they became the Steelhawks.
“At that time, Brantford was going through some pretty tough times and was not able to sustain or afford a team,” said Davis. “We’re a different city now, completely different. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can support an OHL team, we’ve just been looking for the opportunity to prove it.”
The Brantford and District Civic Centre on Jan. 31. (Karis Mapp/ CTV Kitchener)
The Bulldog’s possible use of the Civic Centre is contingent on the facility receiving substantial upgrades to meet fan, player and OHL standards.
Right now the centre has tempered glass, which would need to be changed to acrylic plastic, an OHL regulation.
“That’s a safety issue for the players. Acrylic has a bit more give to it,” said Davis.
He added that lighting in the facility would need to be tripled, as it’s not up to broadcast standard. Davis also said the PA system, scoreboard, dressing rooms, public washrooms and concession areas would also be getting an upgrade should the agreement pass the vote.
“The city is contributing $3 million towards the cost of probably $8 million to $9 million depending what you include in it. The Hamilton Bulldogs will be paying the balance of that to get the job done,” said Davis. “If the Hamilton Bulldogs go back to Hamilton or somewhere else at the end of the three years, they’ll repay to the city the $3 million of the city’s investment.”
The Hamilton Bulldogs currently have a large fan base, but Davis is not concerned with capacity issues at the Civic Centre.
“We can’t add any seats but I’m confident we’ll have no problem filling this arena and it does have the capacity of 3,400 standing. There are some OHL teams that have a much bigger facility that don’t even get out 2,000 fans to games.”
Once the renovations are complete, Davis said the goal is to have all kinds of events in the arena.
“It’s not called the Brantford Arena, it’s called the Brantford and District Civic Centre. The original concept for this building was not just hockey,” he said. “There could be many events in this facility like concerts, trade shows, other championships and other sporting events. It’s hard to do that now because there’s no air conditioning. So between May and August, the building essentially is vacant.”
The proposal also includes the city paying for the installation of an AC system.
If the plan gets the go-ahead, Davis said that the entire downtown Brantford core will benefit from the renovations.
“It means more economic vitality, more life, more activity. So that’s a spin-off benefit to a lot of the businesses already here but also new businesses, new restaurants, and new bars. Also, of course, we have the casino right next door and that’ll mean surely more customers for that casino. “
Though the deal calls for a maximum of six years in the renovated arena, Davis said he’s hoping that timeframe could be extended and the Bulldogs will become a permanent fixture of Brantford.
“Hamilton is going to have in two to three years, a terrific facility and maybe they get something more than an OHL team, who knows,” he said. “It means we’ll have hockey here at a very high level, inspiring many more Wayne Gretzkys to come out of Brantford.”
Officials from the Hamilton Bulldog organization said they will wait until the vote on Feb.7 to talk about their plans for the future.
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