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More live events, better food among new plans for Saint John's TD Station

OVG360, a division of the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, has signed a five-year agreement with the city to manage the arena’s day-to-day operations and concessions.  (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
OVG360, a division of the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, has signed a five-year agreement with the city to manage the arena’s day-to-day operations and concessions. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

The new managers of Saint John's TD Station say they want to bring as much live entertainment as they can — and some new things for audiences to snack on while they take it all in.

A division of the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, OVG360, has signed a five-year agreement with the city to manage the arena's day-to-day operations and concessions.

"We want to increase the programming, increase the content that's coming into the facility," said Blair McGauchie, who is moving to Saint John from Windsor, Ont., to be the arena's new general manager.

"And for people who come into the facility, we want to make it a top-class, you know, fan experience for them."

Zoom/CBC
Zoom/CBC

The new agreement took effect on Feb. 15, adding Saint John to a long list of cities where the company manages venues.

Clients include Climate Pledge Arena, the home of the NHL's Seattle Kraken, and the UBS Arena, where the New York Islanders take the ice. In Canada, the company's 24 clients include the Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont., the Enercare Centre in Toronto and the South Okanagan Events Centre Complex in Penticton, B.C.

The TD Arena will be the company's first foray into the Atlantic provinces.

Arena regularly operated on a deficit

"They're a very capable and experienced operator, and I think they bring a great deal to the table," said James LeMesurier, chair of the Harbour Station Commission. "I think we're very fortunate that they were interested in coming to operate our facility."

The Harbour Station Commission was looking for a management company that could maximize revenue and eliminate the arena's operating deficit, said LeMesurier.

The deficit was $614,186 in 2021, but even before the pandemic, in 2019, it was $570,218, according to city documents.

Until now, the arena was managed by a general manager, not a company, but that person has retired.

CBC News
CBC News

McGauchie said there's no immediate plans for any staffing changes at the arena under the new management.

Using a network to bring more shows to Saint John

From a business perspective, OVG360's main goal is to increase revenue at the arena, said Dan Berger, the company's regional vice president for central and eastern Canada.

"We're about increasing the content and doing it as efficiently as possible," he said.

Berger said the company is well positioned to bring more shows to Saint John because of its clients in the eastern United States, in both Bangor and Portland, Maine.

Berger said when an artist is setting out on tour, it's all about the route. An artist wouldn't play a show in Vancouver and then one in Miami the next day, he said.

Zoom/CBC
Zoom/CBC

"It's all about proximity. And it's about artists trying to maximize their own return," he said.

"So when you have three venues that are very close to each other like that, there is an enormous opportunity to reach out to promoters and say, 'Look, here's the package that we can put together for you,'" he said.

Berger and McGauchie said they couldn't share the specifics of any shows that might be coming to the arena. But McGauchie said they'll be looking to bring in more concerts and family shows.

Improving the food

While consulting with people in Saint John about the arena, food was identified as an area that could use improvement, Berger said.

In other properties, such as at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont., the luxury suite menu includes a charcuterie board for $90 or a maple-bacon baked brie that costs $81 and both items serve 14 people.

"The high quality [of food] that you see in places is something that we are absolutely going to bring here," said Berger.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

He said they won't just be bringing menu items from one property to another, and that he wouldn't be surprised if the new menu items have an east coast flair.

"Just because we've got a specific burger that works well in Penticton, it doesn't mean we're just going to completely mimic that," he said.

When it comes to how much people will have to spend at the arena, Berger said they don't intend to simply up the prices on existing items. New items will have new prices and any increases will be justified, he said.