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Robin Short: Mile One's not very busy, but it is very pricey

Mile One Centre
Mile One Centre

So, apparently the gang down at St. John’s Sports and Entertainment have been busy as bees, “working diligently to address a broad range of issues” involving Mile One Centre, the big downtown rink where, for the low, low price of two bucks, you get to walk around the concourse for a couple of hours a day.

Bob Verge is the beleaguered head of SJSE. He must be wore out trying to keep up with it all.

On top of scouring to find the 100-plus grand that floated unnoticed out the door, SJSE has been busy with the dizzying array of show dates filling up the calendar.

Let’s see. Um, yes, there were the two days of the Atlantic Canada petroleum show last week. Avalon Expo for three dates in late August. And, of course, kd lang, Chris de Burgh (yes, he is still alive and touring) and Daniel O’Donnell taking up three nights in September.

Who could blame poor Bob if he needed a break?

We agree with Bobby and the Board of Nine (two have since clewed up their terms), that there are a “broad range of issues” facing Mile One.

The missing dough’s but one of them. There’s also the little matter of an empty building.

And we won’t even get into some if the attitudes that exist down on New Gower St., probably minor in this big picture.

That said, I could probably help Bob, who somehow had his board appointment extended, with at least a part of his dilemma (no, I don’t know where the bag of money went).

Here’s a suggestion: drop your prices.

Mile One has not one, but two distinctions within Atlantic Canada: it’s not only the emptiest rink around, but the priciest.

The Telegram obtained a copy of Mile One’s rental rate card (sshhh!, it’s top secret) and the numbers are, well, interesting. Especially so when compared to other buildings.

To rent Mile One, the full venue (you can rent half the rink, or three-quarters of it) costs $12,000. However, the building has expenses, and within the industry, it’s known as the ‘House Nut’, or expenditures buildings incur that they need to recoup.

Just a few of examples would be ushers and security staff, or setting up a stage or covering the ice.

In the case of Mile One, its house nut, or expenses, are listed at $14,850, meaning it will cost $26,850 to rent the full building for a night.

As an aside, but nonetheless noteworthy, you could sympathize with suite-holders who will encourage their clients to have their supper before the big Chris de Burgh show. That’s because a tray of nachos in one of the suites costs $48.25, a bag of salt and vinegar chips $6.90, $18 for a 12-can box of Pepsi and $48 for a case of beer.

I think I’m getting indigestion.

But back to our building rents.

In Saint John, N.B., where Harbour Station is closest to Mile One in terms of size, the house nut runs anywhere from $10,000-$12,000. Rent is $3,500, or 10 per cent of the net ticket revenue, with a cap of $12,500.

Cheaper than Mile One.

It costs roughly $16,000-$17,000 to rent (house nut and rent included) Centre 200 in Sydney, N.S.

Cheaper than, you guessed it, Mile One.

Which brings us to Halifax, and more in line with St. John’s, being a capital city and corporate hub and all.

The difference is Scotiabank Centre is a 10,000-seat building vs the 5,800 seats at Mile One.

Lo and behold, the former Metro Centre is still cheaper to rent, by $2,000. Ten grand, or 12 per cent of the net ticket revenue.

Imagine, the potential to make more money is greater for the promoter in Halifax (because of the additional seating), yet it’s cheaper to rent.

I’m told the figures coming out of Halifax, Sydney and Saint John all vary. “All over the map” is the house nut in Halifax.

It’s because the primary tenants — in this case three QMJHL teams — are valued, and as a result all get better rates. Standard fare within the industry, except in this city, where such an adjustment is absurdly interpreted as a “subsidy”.

There’s a reason why St. John’s is a sporting/entertainment desert, and why those who operated hockey teams, from Derm Dobbin to Danny Williams, complained vigorously of the high rent, at least in comparison to other junior and pro teams across the country.

In most buildings, the aim is to attract shows and get people through the doors. It’s the building’s purpose … why it was built.

In St. John’s, prospective tenants are seemingly shooed away, with unreasonable rules of play like clawing back 100 per cent of the sponsorship and advertising revenue, which prospective investors in a National Basketball League of Canada franchise for St. John’s recently learned.

“We don’t do that,” said one official, with a chuckle, from a rink within Atlantic Canada.

Unreasonable, but so, too, are Mile One’s expectations it can sell its corporate suites without an anchor tenant.

Perhaps delusional might be a more apt description.

It’s been over 15 years since Mile One Centre was constructed. For many of those, it’s been a stage of silliness and conflict.

Curling Canada’s experience with the building in 2005, at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, left then-manager of events Warren Hansen privately grousing he’d never return to St. John’s.

Dobbin warred with the building before his Fog Devils hit the ice, and Williams had his battles as the IceCaps’ keyholder.

Tales of pettiness between the building and the American Hockey League team — its major tenant, its primary client, and hence the biggest contributor to the building’s coffers — are too plentiful to delve into.

Except for the scrap hockey players, Mile One will remain empty this winter, but hopes remain intact for a return of major junior hockey in 2018-19.

Unless pricing is adjusted and attitudes change, however, the two-buck walking fees just may be welcomed revenue in a hollow shell far beyond next year.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

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