City, Growlers cancel news conferences. Is Mile One lease deal close?

Negotiations appear to be coming down to the wire between the St. John's Edge, the Newfoundland Growlers and St. John's Sports and Entertainment. 

Mayor Danny Breen was supposed to talk to reporters at 4 p.m. Monday, but cancelled less than an hour before it was to start. 

The Growlers have also cancelled a news conference that had been planned for Tuesday to "lay out the future" of the team. 

There had been speculation Dean MacDonald, owner of the Growlers, would threaten to leave Newfoundland and Labrador after this season.

MacDonald has been vocal about his disagreements with the city throughout negotiations to try and reach a lease agreement for the upcoming season. 

Sandy Hickman, St. John's city councillor and chairperson of St. John's Sports and Entertainment, said when it comes to the owners of both sports franchises bidding for a lease agreement at Mile One Centre — "you must pay your way."

Hickman said the city has offered the Growlers and the St. John's Edge a lease very similar to the ones they signed last season, with a few "nuances."

One of those nuances would be paying more toward the operating costs of the building, though Hickman wouldn't get into details on what exactly the city is asking for.

Mile One operates at a loss each year, and those losses are covered by the city's taxpayers. It's estimated that figure was around $1 million last season.

Back and forth 

In a release Monday afternoon, the city said the Growlers are looking to take over control of food and beverage revenue, which would increase the city's subsidy for Mile One by about $500,000.

The city said it has also offered a 50 per cent rent reduction for the new season, stating that the "significant reduction in the rent demonstrates the city's commitment to retain the teams."

Jen White/CBC

In its release, the city said it hopes the Growlers will reply to its latest offer and return to discussions. 

"The Growlers response to this most recent offer was to call a media conference," the city's release states. "We are still having discussions with the Edge."

Hickman said the city is offering the teams a "historic low" cost to rent the stadium on game nights. 

The city also takes a cut of the revenue from corporate boxes, food and beverage sales.

Running a professional sports team can be fickle and it's hard to make a profit — the Growlers won an ECHL championship last season but still lost money.

"The Growlers have a huge task ahead of them," Hickman said. "Their average attendance was quite low. Their average paid attendance was very low for most games."

One of the challenges was a busy March, where the Growlers and Edge had strings of home games each week. It's hard to expect people to pay for three games a week, Hickman said, so both teams are hoping for a better schedule this year.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC

If the Growlers leave, it probably wouldn't hurt the city's budget, Hickman said. It would cost the city in other ways, however, like economic spinoffs for downtown businesses, or the simple fact of giving people something to do.

"We do very well when there's no teams here. Historically, we've shown that. We don't have as high of costs for staffing, even electrical costs, but we make very good revenue on hourly rentals," he said.

"But that's not what the building was put there for, and that's the conundrum. We really want these teams here, but we just want them to pay a fair amount of money to even help us cover our costs. We're not trying to rip them off."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador