Oshawa Generals owner insists the team is “not for sale”
Published October 1, 2021 at 7:19 pm
Oshawa Generals owner Rocco Tullio insists he wants to keep the team in Oshawa but says it is the City’s lack of flexibility in negotiations – not his own – that has left him with “no choice” but to look for a new home for the team.
Tullio has made no secret of his desire for more space inside the city-owned Tribute Communities Centre or of his proposal to move the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame outside the arena to accomplish that goal. But he disagreed with suggestions that he has not been willing to negotiate or compromise in his asks and took offence with comments made in this newspaper by Oshawa Councillor John Gray that he should sell the team if he wasn’t happy with the terms of his lease.
“The Oshawa Generals are not for sale. I’m keeping it and I’m keeping it for a very, very long time.”
Tullio, who purchased the club from John Davies in 2007 – one year after the arena (then named General Motors Centre) opened with Gray as Mayor – said he has been talking with the City for three years over his need for space.
“We are in a different era now,” he said, citing staffing increases in season ticket sales and marketing and new hires in areas that didn’t exist at the team 14 years ago. “We have a social media person now. We have a video coach. I have a full-time controller now.”
“We’ve evolved. And COVID comes along, and people don’t want to share office space anymore.”
In addition to more office space for his staff, Tullio said the ground-floor, 400 square-foot pro shop – the Gens Store – is in dire need of more room.
“People want product. We want more space,” he said, citing the need for at least 1,000 square feet to sell Oshawa Generals jerseys and other branded products.
The solution to all his space requirements is sitting right on the main concourse of the arena: The 3,600 square-foot Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame. Tullio said he is a big supporter of the Hall of Fame, which is chock-full of artifacts of Oshawa’s rich sporting history – but believes it should be somewhere where it is accessible to the public seven days a week, not just on Generals’ game days.
“We just don’t think it makes sense there. We think it should be in a place more suitable to the general public.”
Tullio said he has reached out to Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter – who has said the Hall is “not going anywhere” – numerous times to try and work something out and, in fact, thought he had a deal in place two years ago.
Tullio said he invited Carter, Chief Administrative Officer Paul Ralph, and other senior people on both sides out to dinner with the goal of reducing what the club’s owner deemed onerous rent payments in return for signing a lease extension for another 12 years, which would put the arena at the ripe age of 37 years old.
After early discussions that evening still left the team with what Tullio called a “significant shortfall,” the two sides agreed to reduce the rent by $220,000 and increase Tullio’s take of food and beverages five per cent to a 15 per cent share.
“After the lawyers work on it, I’m shown the result: a two-and-a-half per cent increase,” Tullio said. “It seemed to me they were trying to pull a fast one.”
Tullio said talks continued later that year anyway and the City was asked to vacate some storage space they were using in the arena to create some extra room for the team. They said no. Tullio then asked for half of the Hall of Fame space, in a trade-off for the Pro Shop.
“I told them I would pay for everything.”
The final blow in an already fractured relationship came in the form of a letter rejecting all the team’s requests with a message to not come back to the table until “after the election.”
“What landlord says that to their tenant? Every step of the way it’s been no, no, no,” Tullio said. “If this was mostly about cash I could almost understand. But this is about space. We’re a small family but this family has outgrown its home.”
Tullio said he is in discussions with two possible sites for re-location, both within Durham. His interest in the Pickering Casino Resort property has been widely reported and he would only say the second location is off Highway 407 in the north end of the region.
With nearly ten years to go on the lease Tullio said he will honour his contract at the arena but if he can’t get the space his team needs he will have to move.
“We’re not obligated to stay here until perpetuity,” he said. “We’re getting the wheels in motion as a prudent owner to have a fallback position.”insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies