Danny Williams says Mile One subsidy a 'no-brainer'
The president and CEO of the IceCaps said the City of St. John's made a smart business decision with its plans to set aside $700,000 to keep the AHL team in town.
"It's a wicked decision. It's a great decision. And I would have been deeply disappointed if they'd decided anything else," he said.
On Tuesday, Coun. Art Puddister leaked a city memo to CBC News about giving $350,000 to St. John's Sports and Entertainment, which runs the Mile One Centre, for the next two years.
The money would help subsidize the team's rent and other fees incurred by the IceCaps at Mile One.
"It's a shame to have all our laundry washed in this particular way when it's really a good news story, and all we're trying to do is keep hockey in St. John's, is promote St. John's and Newfoundland and Labrador, and ultimately to get another team to replace the Winnipeg Jets when they move on," Williams said.
Team brings in $25.5 million to city
He addressed the media on Wednesday to lay out the financial implications of what the AHL hockey team brings to St. John's.
Williams said on an annual basis, the IceCaps bring in roughly about $25.5 million to the city and the province.
He said that includes about $3 million in revenue for Mile One; more than $10 million for businesses like restaurants, hotels, and taxi drivers in St. John's; $10 million from the AHL team and the Winnipeg Jets to operate; and taxes.
Williams said there are also intangible elements the team brings to the city.
There's certain things that are so obvious, there's no need for even a discussion on it. Just look at the numbers.- Danny Williams
"The tourism benefit is enormous. We get exposure in 29 other North American cities as a result of being in the league," he said.
"I know what it costs for tourism dollars, and it's significant."
Williams said the subsidy will reduce the $1 million rental fee — "probably the highest rental in the entire league" — by a third.
"To me, the City of St. John's, Mile One, has made an outstanding investment by exchanging $350,000 for $25.5 million plus tourism benefits. It's really a no-brainer ... It's a great business opportunity for everybody," he said.
"If [the team is] gone, it's gone. We don't get it back. That money is lost, those jobs are lost, that revenue is lost, those tax revenues are lost, and we lose as a province."
Williams said from his former experience in the premier's chair, decisions like the city's plans to subsidize the AHL team's rent at Mile One should be kept to private discussions between key people.
"You can't discuss every single contract and every single detail in the public. There's not enough hours in the day, there's not enough days in the week. The details of negotiations with private corporations have to be ironed out, and then when the final deal is reached, it's laid out before the general public. Now if the public has some input on things, they get an opportunity to do that," he said.
"There's certain things that are so obvious, there's no need for even a discussion on it. Just look at the numbers."
Other options won't work
Williams said adding the extra amount needed to help cover rental costs on IceCaps tickets is not a viable option.
"Then you're actually putting it all on, totally on, the person who watches the hockey game," he said.
"The benefits here are for the people who go to the restaurants, the people who go to the bars, the people who go to the hotels, the taxi drivers... and everybody benefits from that."
He also said that the commentary that this subsidy should only be for hockey fans is unfair.
"You can't trickle it down to every single person. However, for the greater good, if people take the big picture, and look at what it does for the city and what it does for the province, it's a wonderful thing," he said.
Williams said the team is also looking to reduce its travel costs. Last year, the team spent about $2 million on travel.
He said the IceCaps couldn't turn to the league for help on the issue of high rental fees, since they had already sought some relief from the AHL for travel costs.