There have been several reports in the news today regarding St. John’s City Council’s decision to reduce or subsidize the St. John's IceCaps rent of the Mile One Stadium.
Given the importance and controversial nature of the issue, it’s important that I share my thoughts on this with you.
First off, you may have heard the information about the decision was "leaked" to the media in the form of a memo discussed at a private (or, "special") meeting of Council. These meetings are generally held every week before the regular meeting to discuss issues of a legal, intergovernmental affairs, or human resources nature.
The issue is related to a lease / contract negotiation, and that’s why it was in the private meeting rather than public.
Admittedly, this particular issue is a little blurry to me because it's a contract with a private, for-profit organization. I trust our staff's judgement when deciding which is which, but I will more forcibly question these types of private agenda items in future to ensure we are following appropriate procedures.
Why did we agree to support this sports organization?
We had an intense debate around the council table two weeks in a row on this issue. In other words, the decision was not made lightly. Many, if not all of the questions that are being raised in public today were also asked by council members.
Ultimately, if I were to sum up the “gist” of the vote, it was that Council sees immense value in having an AHL team at Mile One, and that helping them stay at the facility for an extra year could help us lock down a new team for the forseeable future.
The IceCaps are Mile One's 'Anchor Tenant.' This means Mile One can attract other major events like concerts and conferences."
Importantly, the IceCaps are Mile One's "Anchor Tenant." They fill the lion's share of the yearly schedule, and this enables the venue predict revenue and to retain employees. This means Mile One can attract other major events like concerts and conferences.
In other words, without the IceCaps, our local arena becomes much less sustainable and much more expensive.
What Council has approved is a lower rent for the team to help ensure they can remain in St. John's as our anchor tenant while the organization works to secure another team once the Winnipeg Jets pull out. (As noted in the news reports, the Jets agreed to extend the contract only if the IceCaps pay $1.5m extra over the next two years.)
Why did Council make this decision in private?
This is probably the side of the issue that most concerns residents: why was this decision made in a private, rather than public, meeting?
Notwithstanding my point above about it being considered a legal issue, I understand that such a sum of money should be discussed with taxpayers.
Currently, the issue has gone back to the board of St. John’s Sports and Entertainment, the arms-length organization that manages Mile One, to finalize negotiations with the team and to explore ways to offset the extra cost. The decision will then come to the public chamber for final vote as we debate and approve our budget.
To that end, I’d like to note that we need much better engagement around how we spend taxpayer dollars. We’re working on that; municipal budgeting is a very complex topic, and we are looking at ways to help people be a part of the process. You'll see some new efforts in the coming weeks to engage on the budget process.
Ultimately, I support our decision (after much thought and debate) because I feel it is an investment that brings positive returns that ultimately strengthen our economy and improve our standard of living as a result.
I will continue to support my other priorities such as improving housing affordability, protecting our environment as our city grows, enhancing our recreation infrastructure with bike lanes and trails, preserving and celebrating our culture and heritage, and much more. It's all part of a big-picture vision for our City.
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