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MacDonald visits under-construction arena in Trois Rivieres; he’s not saying whether ECHL champs might eventually move there, but declares 'they’ve had it' with Mile One lease negotiations, adding team might play somewhere else in this province
The majority owner of the Newfoundland Growlers says his visit Tuesday to Trois Rivieres, Que. and a new arena being built in that city amounted to exploration of “options.”
Dean MacDonald did not say outright whether those options might involve the Growlers, but did reiterate his frustration with ongoing negotiations on a new lease agreement at Mile One Centre in St. John’s. He also spoke about the possibility of having the defending ECHL champions eventually playing somewhere else in Newfoundland.
The Growlers begin defence of their crown in about seven weeks, but have yet to finalize a new lease a dealmwith the management of St. John’s Sports and Entertainment (SJSE), which operates Mile One on behalf of the City of St. John’s. The same goes for the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge, whose 2019-20 campaign will begin later in the year.
Earlier this year, expectations were the owners of the Growlers and Edge might take over management of Mile One — there was a memorandum of understanding on the matter between the city and two teams. However, in early July, the city and SJSE announced they were ending discussions about transferring operations of the 18-year-old facility because there was no certainty the move would result in a decrease in the $2 million-plus, city-paid subsidy to cover the operating deficit for Mile One and associated St. John’s Convention Centre.
That meant the current lease negotiations, which MacDonald says have been gone nowhere. He claims that while the presence of the Growlers and Edge last season decreased the Mile One operating deficit, SJSE is looking for an in increase in rent from the teams ,plus an adjustment in the split of food and beverage revenue
“The city has gotten back to us with a proposal that amounts to a 65 per cent increase in what would we would pay. So we’re taking the approach that clearly council does not want to have professional sports at Mile One in St. John’s,” said MacDonald.
“Who would propose a 65 per cent increase knowing both teams lost significant amounts of money last season, while also knowing the city had a net benefit because those teams played out of Mile One?”
St. John’s Coun. Sandy Hickman, chairman of the SJSE board, sees the negotiations — and the city’s/board’s attitude towards them — in a different light.
“We’ve been back and forth in negotiations and although we’re not there yet, we want those teams playing out of Mile One,” said Hickman.
“We’re ready to make a fair deal.”
MacDonald doesn’t seem to be buying it.
“Whatever the reason, it’s a fair assumption that they don’t want professional teams in that building. So we have to consider alternate arrangements,” he said.
According to MacDonald, that would include the Growlers taking advantage of their geographic name and looking at playing at somewhere else in the province, even if none of the alternate facilities are comparable to Mile One.
“We may have to play somewhere else in Newfoundland this year. This is a disappointing situation and we know this has to be frustrating for our fans, too, but it’s a situation where the city doesn’t value the economic impact of the teams in addition to the entertainment value they bring,” he said.
“We can’t agree to what’s been offered us when it comes to Mile One. We’ve had it with them, just like just everyone else whose dealt with them, so that means we must consider alternatives.”
MacDionald didn’t say how exactly the new 4,000-seat arena in Trois Rivieres, which is not scheduled to be finished until next year, might eventually come into play. However his Tuesday visit, accompanied by Growlers’ chief operating officer Glenn Stanford, came as both the result of an invitation from city officials and from the Growlers’ interest in the project.
“Whatever the reason, it’s a fair assumption that they don’t want professional teams in that building. So we have to consider alternate arrangements." — Dean MacDonald
“They rolled out the red carpet and made it clear they were prepared to make the economics work for teams that would play out of there,” said MacDonald.
Trois Rivieres once was home to a team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but construction of the new arena has led to speculation about an ECHL team, especially one affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens, eventually playing out of the new arena.
The Growlers have two more years remaining on their affiliation agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Hickman said he only became aware of MacDonald and Stanford’s visit through a photo on MacDonald’s Twitter account.
“That’s entirely their business. We’re just focusing on the (lease) negotiations,” he said.