St. John's businessman Dean MacDonald says he wants to buy Mile One Centre and give the stadium a $25-million makeover.
MacDonald, owner of Deacon Sports and Entertainment and the Newfoundland Growlers — who play at Mile One — says he wants to add two theatres, an e-sports arena and a recording studio. He increase the size and availability of concessions, and build a two-story sports bar.
"We want to make a substantial investment in the building to make it work for what it's intended purpose and use was, because it's generally closed all the time," said MacDonald on the steps of Mile One on Thursday.
MacDonald said Mile One is an economic burden on the city because taxpayer money is used to subsidize it.
The city subsidized St. John's Sports and Entertainment, which consists of Mile One and the Convention Centre, by $3.4 million in 2019 alone.
MacDonald wouldn't say how much he'd pay for the stadium.
"It has to be fair to taxpayers," he said. "We're not looking to get it for nothing."
But MacDonald says's he growing frustrated with the city because he's been trying to get a meeting to talk about striking a deal since March.
"The city can't spend 1.3 million bucks on plowing the sidewalk. And we're saying, 'Hey, look, we're going to save you three million,' and that conversation isn't happening," he said. "That's a dereliction of duty, quite frankly."
MacDonald says he can make the arena profitable.
"We also feel that we can manage it in a more efficient fashion than it has been managed," he said. "You can't get a beer in the stands. You know, it takes you over 20 minutes to get food at the concessions."
Not ruling it out
Coun. Jamie Korab, chair of St. John's Sports and Entertainment, says city council isn't ruling out privatizing Mile One.
"The public has made it pretty clear that this is something they want us to consider," said Korab.
He said the city needs a fair process to decide if privatization is the right move, since Mile One was built and is operated with taxpayer money.
Korab said there should be a bidding process, such as a request for proposals, in case more than one party is interested, and public consultation.
"We've said from Day 1 it should be an RFP process. That's the right thing for the public," he said.
Korab said the city has hired consultants KPMG, which completed a report last year about having a third party manage Mile One, to look at the issue, which he said should take about a month.
"We've reached out to them to quickly put together some recommendations and some advice on if we were to privatize Mile One, what that would look like," he said.
He says they haven't yet met with MacDonald, or any potential bidder, in order to ensure a fair process.
Korab also disagrees with MacDonald's opinion that Mile One is poorly run.
"We're happy with how the building is being run. Our staff are doing a great job over there," he said.
"We operate Mile One and the Convention Centre at a low risk because we are using taxpayers' money, so we can't go out and bid on a big concert and risk taxpayers' dollars."
Korab said Mile One provides an economic benefit, such as a $10 million economic impact from its hosting of the 2017 Brier.
"These buildings aren't built to make money," he said. "So if we can keep the operating grant or the subsidy at a low level, it's a benefit to all the citizens, visitors and businesses here in St. John's."
While it's still too early to say what a potential deal may look like, MacDonald said if he and the city can't come to an agreement, the Growlers may have to play elsewhere.
"If we can't get satisfaction, we have two other places where we have franchises. So, you know, maybe that's the alternative," MacDonald said.
With Mile One empty — no hockey, basketball or concerts — since the pandemic hit Newfoundland and Labrador in March, MacDonald says there's no better time to buy and renovate the building.
"What better time to do it when there's nothing happening here?" he said.