Nfld. & Labrador

Empty Mile One, Convention Centre costing St. John's $1.77M to keep lights on

With no conventions or concerts bringing in revenue, the city is on the hook for the cash needed to keep the building's operating systems going.

City hopes to see revenue from rescheduled concerts and events in 2021

Mile One Centre, alone with the St. John's Convention Centre, may be empty, but maintenance and operations are still costing the city $1.77 million. (Jen White/CBC)

Two empty buildings in St. John's are racking up a big bill, as the city keeps them afloat amid the pandemic.

The City of St. John's is covering the $1.77 million needed to keep the lights on at Mile One Centre and the St. John's Convention Centre, despite all galas, hockey games and other mass gatherings being cancelled due to COVID-19.

The crowds may be gone, but costs remain.

"Regardless of whether we have events or not, there's annual maintenance, there's things we have to do to keep these things up and running," said St. John's City coun. Jamie Korab, who is also the chair of the facilities' operator, St. John's Sports and Entertainment.

Korab said the mechanics of both buildings can't be shut down, and things like generators and refrigeration systems have to keep running. As many operational expenses as possible have been shaved off, he said, adding up to $492,000 in savings.

In the meantime, there's no rental times or snacks or drinks being sold, which typically cover 75 per cent of the city's operating grants for the facilities, Korab told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show on Tuesday.

And while none of the part-time staff have had shifts during the shutdown, all of the permanent staff are still employed.

That means the total cost of both facilities to the city is around $5.7 million for the year.

Coun. Jamie Korab says about half a million dollars in savings have been found between the two buildings, but the rest of the expenses are necessary. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Council looking to defer extra cost

In June, Korab said the city is looking for ways to mitigate the buildings' losses, such as deferring some capital projects and working with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to secure federal support.

Ottawa has since brought in the Safe Restart Agreement, a deal with the provinces and territories that will see $146 million transferred to Newfoundland and Labrador, although there is no word yet on how that money will be split.

There's also no word on when any sort of large indoor gathering could be held. Alert Level 2 only allows mass gatherings of up to 50 people outdoors, with social distancing.

Korab said staff are working through possible operating scenarios for the buildings, but admits "it's challenging" to figure out logistics. Come colder weather, Korab expects some ice rentals to start to trickle in, and he welcomes any group looking to hold events to get in touch.

"We're certainly open for any ideas or whatnot," he said.

Potential pent-up demand

Despite the losses, Korab said Mile One and the Convention Centre are valuable assets to the city — at least, in a world without a pandemic.

"As part of tourism and bringing people in, with regards to conventions and events, we need to have buildings like this," he said, adding the Brier, that Mile One hosted in 2017, brought in $10 million overall to the city.

That spin off is key, he said, as the buildings are not designed to rake in profits in and of themselves.

"Council would like to see Mile One, the Convention Centre make more money. But typically right across the board in North America and worldwide, buildings like this don't make money," he said.

Travis Tritt was set to play Mile One in October, but has postponed the concert until April, 2021. (Travis Tritt/Facebook)

While the East Coast Music Awards, set to be held in April, were cancelled due to the pandemic, that is actually the only event to have been cancelled so far, he said. All the other big events have been postponed to 2021, from ZZ Top to Travis Tritt.

"There's a bit of pent-up demand, so depending on how alert levels go, we could have a very busy year at Mile One and the Convention Centre next year, so fingers crossed," he said.

Those postponements are part of what is occupying facility staff during the shutdown, said Korab.

"There's a lot of preparation to get ready for those next year," he said in June.

"On the Convention Centre side, a lot of those conferences were cancelled, some are postponed, so there's a lot of administrative work to get those rebooked."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from the St. John's Morning Show

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