Say one thing for Dean MacDonald: he’s a determined chap.
Actually, make that two things: there’s certainly no grass growing under his feet, either.
Not a day after it was made official the Newfoundland Growlers’ owner had landed an ECHL expansion franchise in Iowa (a similar deal to bring a new ECHL team to Trois-Rivières, Que. is almost done), MacDonald was again beating the drum on his desire to purchase Mile One Centre, the soon-to-be 20-year-old downtown St. John’s arena and home to his Growlers.
That’s nothing new, of course. MacDonald’s been talking about that for well over a year. St. John’s Sports and Entertainment (SJSE), which operates the arena, hasn’t been so anxious to gab about selling Mile One, however.
But recently, the city was grumbling about the additional $1.77 million needed to cover costs at Mile One and the St. John’s Convention Centre, even though the buildings are very under-utilized — pandemic or no pandemic.
So along comes MacDonald, ready to pour in something like $20 million or $25 million to breathe new life into Mile One.
For a city that apparently can’t afford to put more shovels to sidewalks this winter, that would seem like a no-brainer, no?
“We’ve had informal conversations with the city,” MacDonald said, “and they are now considering if there should be a process and an opportunity for us to present our ideas to council.”
Anybody else find it ironic MacDonald and Co. are being wooed by an American group and another in Quebec to step up and help run their respective buildings and teams? Here at “home,” however, the crowd that operates Mile One is trying to figure out if MacDonald should be allowed past the receptionist.
It’s ludicrous, really.
MacDonald is convinced that to make Mile One work, to make it a non-subsidized facility, it needs to operate 365 days a year.
And he’s got big plans to do so.
Aside from his Growlers — who knows what’s going on with the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge, or the league, for that matter — MacDonald envisions an overhaul for Mile One. That would include expanding out to the New Gower Street sidewalk, with a two-storey sports bar overlooking the street.
Additional expansion would occur on the east and west ends of the building, those facing city hall and the Delta Hotel.
“That would bring life to the street,” said architect Ron Fougere, “and we saw this past summer (with the Water Street pedestrian mall) what that can do.”
Fougere, the original architect for Mile One, said the building is reaching the age where it needs a complete maintenance upgrade.
Further, it is his and MacDonald’s vision “to see where this building needs to be in today’s society.”
In addition to the sports bar, MacDonald would like to see a couple of theatres constructed, and an Esports arena.
Esports gaming, MacDonald said, is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. He is a shareholder in a company called Enthusiast Gaming, and would like to see an Esports sound and recording studio inside Mile One.
The east side of Mile One would be dubbed the St. John’s Art House, devoted to the arts.
“That’s a big part of it. The arts community is the social contact with the city, and we want to make this building accessible to everybody.”
On the west side, office space and the existing merchandise store would be removed, making room for concession areas.
“They will be moved to the ends with big space, to remove clogging around the concourse,” he said. “We have to provide people with a level of service they’ve become accustomed to in other arenas.”
A couple of floors of office space would be added on either end of the building.
“Ultimately,” he said, “we want to make a better user experience in terms of service in the building. A full-time bar/restaurant helps defer the subsidy. Same with the theatres and Esports arena, etc.
“Basically what we’re doing is taking this shell of a building, and making it a building with all sorts of activities around it to keep it open every day of the year.
“It’s very doable, and we’re ready to rock.”
Question now is whether SJSE wants to be part of the show.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s sports editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort