Otters Future

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Otters future

The owner of the Erie Otters is looking at moving Ontario Hockey League team to Hamilton, Ontario, according to published reports on TJHM. But the team is staying put in Erie, according to David Branch, league commissioner, when speaking to local Erie press. What’s missing here? Openness with the public about the future of the Otters, a major tenant at Tullio Arena.

So far, Erie residents have been kept in the dark about important details on the lease negotiations between Otters’ owner Sherry Bassin and the Erie County Convention Center Authority. Bassin has declined to comment on reports, attributed to unnamed sources, that he wanted to move the team to Hamilton. Instead, the team issued this statement on Feb. 24: "In our history, the Erie Otters have never discussed our business dealings with the press. In light of recent speculation regarding the Erie Otters, we would like to clarify our position regarding our commitment to Erie."

Erie’s Tullio Arena will close May 7 for $42 million in renovations before reopening in mid-September.

The arena is home to concerts and three sports teams, the Otters, the Ultimate Indoor Football League’s Erie Explosion and the Erie Bayhawks of the NBA’s Developmental League.

Some of the renovations began in December and some work will continue even after the arena reopens at summer’s end. The work being done while the arena is closed include new bathrooms, concession areas and locker room improvements; widened concourses and an expanded lobby; and demolition of a two-level parking deck.

Under Pennsylvania Law, government is allowed to meet behind closed doors for certain deliberations, including lease negotiations. But Erie residents and hockey fans are not served when they are the last to learn that $42 million being poured into much-needed renovations for Tullio Arena might not be enough to keep the Otters. The renovations are being funded with $32 million in state money and a $10 million capital improvement bond that Erie County Council OK’d in 2009. The local share is being paid with casino gambling revenue.

Bassin now says his team is "real close" to a multiyear lease in Erie. But what terms will have to meet to keep them?

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