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‘It is devastating for the city:’ Belleville Bulls sold, moving to Hamilton

Charlie Graham Bulls [1]

The Belleville Bulls are pulling up stakes after more than three decades in this city. Photo by Andrew Lahodynskyj, Loyalist Photojournalism

By Joseph Quigley [2], William Proulx [3]Samantha Reed [4] and Cam Kennedy [5]

BELLEVILLE – The Belleville Bulls [6] have been sold and the team is moving to Hamilton, Ont.

The sale was confirmed late Thursday afternoon by the Ontario Hockey League [7]:

The team’s new owner is Michael Andlauer, the owner of the Hamilton Bulldogs of the professional American Hockey League [12]. At the same time that the Bulls sale was announced, Andlauer told a press conference that he had sold the Bulldogs, the farm team for the Montreal Canadiens [13] of the National Hockey League, back to the Canadiens. The team will move to St. John’s next season.

The Bulls became part of the OHL in 1981, but were established in Belleville even before that.

OHL Commissioner David Branch said late Thursday afternoon: “The Bulls have been a part of the Belleville community for over 30 years and we respect the role they have played in the community. It is the OHL’s hope, as with other small cities in our league, that one day, with the right conditions, OHL hockey will return to Belleville.

The Bulls also released a statement. In it the club says “over the past few months the ownership group of the Belleville Bulls Hockey Club have faced some very difficult decisions, ones that were not made lightly and took into consideration the important role the team plays in the community.”

It goes on to say that it believes the city of Belleville can support an OHL team with the proper investment in a sports and entertainment facility.

But the statement suggests that in the absence of a commitment to that facility, team ownership had no choice but to transfer the ownership and the location of the franchise.

“The expiration of the arena lease at the end of this season teamed with no commitment to a broadly supported improvement plan puts our ownership and the OHL in an untenable position,” the statement reads.

“With increasing costs, and a sub-par facility, we see no viability in this context.”

The statement also says “it is completely unlikely that the OHL would entertain the transfer or sale of the Club if the team was to stay in the same facility.”

The sale was first reported by Quinte Broadcasting [14], whose sports director, Jack Miller, is the Bulls’ play-by-announcer. Miller is also a Belleville city councillor. 

QNet News was unable to reach the Bulls’ owner, Gord Simmonds of Uxbridge, Ont., on Thursday afternoon.

The news took members of Belleville city council by surprise. Mayor Taso Christopher could not be immediately reached, but Councillor Mitch Panciuk told QNet News: “If it is true, it is devastating for the city.”

Councillor Garnet Thompson said he had known nothing about the sale, adding: “The Belleville Bulls are certainly an important part of Belleville. We’ve had them for a very long time, and they are an important part of the city.”

He said he hopes the new owners will take that history into consideration.

Arlene VanderBeek, a city councillor in Hamilton, told QNet News that Hamilton council had not heard anything about a possible move of the Bulls there.

In a story in February 2014 [16], QNet News reported that Simmons had said he would consider moving the team unless the city made upgrades to the Yardmen Arena [17], the team’s home base and one of the oldest arenas in the OHL.

In September 2014, the month before the municipal election, Simmonds told the Belleville Rotary Club [18] in a speech that the city needed to make upgrades to the arena if it wanted to keep the team. The condition of the Yardmen affects fan turnout for games, he suggested.

“At the current support level, our operation is not (financially) viable,” Simmonds told the  club. In response to Miller’s report, Daryl Kramp [19], the Conservative MP for Prince Edward-Hastings, tweeted:

A Facebook page called Keep the Bulls in Belleville [22] was set up Thursday afternoon and was rapidly collecting likes – about 475 by 5:30 p.m.