Nfld. & Labrador

Mile One for sale? Sports owners make pitch to city to buy stadium

The owners of the St. John's Edge and Newfoundland Growlers are making an aggressive pitch to purchase the city's arena — which costs taxpayers $1.8 million annually.

Newfoundland Growlers and St. John's Edge combine forces, money and influence

Mile One Centre in St. John's could be up for sale, as owners of its two main tenants begin talks to purchase the arena from the city. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Nobody knows how much Mile One Centre is worth, but all parties involved in a potential sale know what it's costing the people of St. John's each year.

A cool $1.8 million — the difference between expenses and revenue — at a time when city taxes are going up.

Dean MacDonald, owner of the Newfoundland Growlers hockey club, wants to take the taxpayers off the hook.

"We've offered to purchase the facility," he said. "Whether the city wants to consider it or not, it's really up for them to comment on."

MacDonald has partnered with Irwin Simon, the billionaire owner of the St. John's Edge basketball franchise, to put forth an offer.

There is no dollar figure attached to their bid just yet, but MacDonald says he expects a negotiation.

Dean MacDonald has had his battles with City Hall in the past, but now he's trying to take Mile One Centre off the city's hands — and its bottom line. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

What number those talks begin at, he isn't sure.

"You'd have to ask the seller. It's costing them $2 million a year in subsidy they have to reach into their pocket for. So obviously each year it goes on, it's costing them a significant amount of money."

City seeking expert advice

Mayor Danny Breen told CBC News the city is taking the request for purchase seriously, but there is a lot of research to be done before they can begin to throw any numbers around.

Breen said he wants to be sure the arena will be run in the most effective manner. Aside from selling it outright, one option being explored is for the franchise owners to run the arena while leasing it from the city.

Mayor Danny Breen says the city is looking at options when it comes to Mile One Centre's future. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

"We're getting some outside advice," he said. "We're going to expand that now to look at how a sale would happen. We're open to discussing all the options."

Breen said city staff has no idea what the building is worth on the real estate market, but it's something they are exploring.

"It's not something you just go out and do," he chuckled. "Right now we are doing our homework and looking at how that may all work in the case that we get a firm offer on the building."

How can you make it profitable?

When asked why they would want a building that operates at a $1.8 million loss annually, MacDonald said they see potential that the city isn't exploring.

"We wouldn't operate at a loss. That's the long and short of it."

It's unbelievable the amount of approvals, red tape, etcetera that you have to go through.- Dean MacDonald, NL Growlers owner

They have contacts in the entertainment world that the city doesn't have, he said, and plan on bringing in more concerts and events to increase revenue.

"That's the risk a private company takes when it takes over a facility like this. But obviously, from our perspective, we feel confident we could make it work."

Aside from potential profitability, there is also a benefit to cutting the city out of decision-making, MacDonald said.

Something as simple as putting a coat of paint on the dressing room walls has to go through a process.

Carl English and the St. John's Edge were the most popular ticket in town last winter, frequently drawing more than 3,000 fans per game. Now the owners want control of the arena. (St. John's Edge)

"It's unbelievable the amount of approvals, red tape, etcetera that you have to go through," he said. "That's kind of the battle. We've been working in earnest, trying to do what I think are really simple things that don't tend to turn out to be simple."

The Growlers have yet to finalize a lease agreement with the city for the upcoming season, despite opening night being Oct. 12.

Breen said that deal is close to being done, and doesn't anticipate any issues.

MacDonald said the hockey club has asked the city for a timeline on when they can deal with a firm offer, but is still waiting on a response.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.