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Irwin Simon, the story goes, was young and eager and poised to take a chomp out of the Big Apple.
Climbing the corporate ladder, Simon was surely in a New York state of mind.
And then he got canned.
Newly married and not yet with a green card — most of us would have soiled our drawers getting fired under those circumstances.
Undaunted, Simon elected to start his own business, tapping into the natural foods market.
It worked. He made a fortune.
So it’s obvious Irwin Simon, he of the Glace Bay, N.S. Simons, son of a Union Street grocer, knows how to run a business and make a buck.
Which is why it only makes sense that Simon and local guy Dean MacDonald, another chap who’s done pretty good for himself in business, take over the operations of Mile One Centre.
Why then, is there a part of me that remains skeptical of the whole idea?
Simon was in town this week to meet his St. John’s Edge basketball team for the first time this season, and to meet with city council and/or St. John’s Sports and Entertainment, the board that runs Mile One.
But see, here’s the thing: Simon just got in from his native Cape Breton, where a day before there was a news conference announcing his purchase of a majority share of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise.
And we know hockey is Simon’s first love. He played the game growing up in Glace Bay, and it’s the reason why he came to St. John’s in the first place — to bring a hockey team to Mile One, by then empty with the relocation of the Montreal Canadiens farm team back to Quebec.
When it became apparent there was no team to be had, Simon shifted gears, and the result was a National Basketball League of Canada franchise for the city, named the Edge.
With Simon now taking over the Screaming Eagles, is this why I get this gnawing feeling that his focus and energy will be on Sydney — St. John’s and the Edge shoved aside?
Relax, Irwin says. Trust me, he says; I’m all in.
“Let me be very clear: I am staying here,” Simon said this week, as the new-look Edge, a team which could make a lot of noise this year, staged its media day at the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre.
“I have no intention to ever leave St. John’s.”
Simon, as it turns out, is doubling down. He, along with MacDonald (Simon also has a stake, albeit a small one, in the Newfoundland Growlers ECHL franchise), are hell-bent on getting the keys to Mile One.
In fact, he plans on taking things a step further. He’s considering doing the same in Sydney with the 30-year-old Centre 200 rink, and don’t be shocked if there isn’t a purchase of a minority share in the Cape Breton Highlanders NBL team.
The NBL, we should note, is weird like that: it’s OK for an individual to have a piece of a couple of teams. London Lightning owner Vito Frijia purchased John Graham’s small share of the Edge over the summer.
“Absolutely not,” Simon said when asked if the junior hockey team will take his focus and interest away from the Edge. “Two weeks ago, I stepped down as chairman, president and CEO of Hain Celestial, which is a $3.5-billion company. It’s freed me up to have more time on my hands.
“This is a big focus for me, my sports teams. There’s a lot more I want to do in Newfoundland.”
And that involves Mile One.
The building is busier than even before, with the Growlers and the Edge, who kick off their season at home next weekend.
But Simon feels there’s opportunity for more business, and he and MacDonald are the ones to get it done.
“There is so much we can do in terms of concerts and other events,” he said. “It’s a great facility.
“Facilities that are not utilized and have these deficits, it’s not fair to the taxpayers and it’s not fair to the upkeep of these buildings.
“Mile One is a tremendous facility and the Convention Centre has tremendous opportunities, and you now have two great tenants. I would be very interested, myself with my group, to own Mile One or have some type of management agreement taking over Mile One.
“And I will say the same thing in Sydney. We’ve had discussions regarding the opportunities with Centre 200. And I think there are some big opportunities there.”
Simon and MacDonald have put their money where their mouths are with Mile One, investing in the renovation of dressing rooms, corporate suites and an LED ring which should be in operation shortly.
“So we’re committed,” he says.
“Municipalities realize they have these great big facilities that they spend a lot of money on, and with that they need to ensure there is a utilization. And a lot of them today are going to outside businesses to take over them.
“I am very optimistic, and I feel very comfortable that we will get something worked out with the city. I really do.”
So do we.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort