One of the principals behind what is now a stalled bid to establish a minor professional hockey team in St. John’s next season says he doesn’t understand why his group isn’t in the “middle of the game” to obtain a lease agreement at Mile One Centre, but instead left watching from the sidelines while another group challenges Mile One’s operators over lost hockey exclusivity for the building.
St. John’s businessman Dean MacDonald was commenting after St. John’s Sports and Entertainment (SJSE), the municipally-established entity which runs Mile One, announced it would not enter into negotiations on a hockey team for the facility until the outcome of a binding arbitration process initiated by the owners of the St. John’s Edge professional basketball team.
MacDonald and well-known local hockey executive Glenn Stanford say they are only a lease deal away from announcing they can have an ECHL team — The Telegram has learned it would be affiliated with the Toronto Maple Leafs — playing out of Mile One this fall. And this time last week, it appeared the MacDonald and Stanford were in a position to begin talks with SJSE.
But those talks never got underway and, according to SJSE, won’t until an arbitration decision is rendered.
“For some reason, there suddenly appears to be confusion over whether the city and SJSE can negotiate with us (on a Mile One lease),” said MacDonald. “Well, it’s pretty clear to me that we should be doing just that, and according to a letter we received (from SJSE), the city was very confident in that position as well. We were told in that letter that once we got to Jan. 22, we would be in that position. It’s right there, written down.
“But even though we immediately reached out to St. John’s Sports and Entertainment after that date was reached, we had absolutely no communication — nothing — other to be told last Friday that (SJSE) would be making announcement Monday.
“And it turns out that after not talking to us all last week, that announcement was that they can’t talk to us at all.
“This just all unbelievable to me.”
At issue is a clause in the agreement between SJSE and the Edge, one which provided the Edge owners with exclusive rights to place a hockey team at Mile One until March 31, 2019. However, a sub-clause said that exclusivity could be challenged in the event another group stepped forward with a hockey plan.
After MacDonald and Stanford revealed their hockey intentions in early December, the Edge ownership was given a window of time — it turned out to be 45 days, ending Jan. 22 — in which to show it had a competing hockey plan. That didn’t happen, leaving MacDonald to believe his group would immediately begin talks with SJSE.
“The city was 100 percent correct in the interpretation (of that sub clause),” said MacDonald, “and I think the city should be commended for including that clause in the first place, otherwise when it came to hockey, that facility could be held in absolute abeyance by one group for two years even if somebody else was ready and willing to put a team in there.”
Nevertheless, the Edge owners are challenging the interpretation of that clause and will do so through the arbitration process.
“I saw Sandy Hickman (the St. John’s councillor who sits on the SJSE board) saying this is all based on some sort of misunderstanding,” said MacDonald. “What is there to misunderstand?
“A process was spelled out. We followed that process. The city directed us in that process. And the city was confident in that process, so much so that we have a letter from them saying that when that process concluded, we would be in a position to negotiate (a lease).
“The process has finished and now we are told everything is up in the air because of what’s being called a misunderstanding? How does that happen?”
MacDonald’s group will not be involved in the arbitration; the Edge ownership and SJSE are the two parties who will argue the eclusivity issue.
McDonald says his expectation is that SJSE will vigorously defend its position regarding the exclusivity clause — “nobody should go wobbly here” — but adds he has no idea on what basis the Edge owners are challenging how that clause was applied.
“It can’t be over anything we’ve done or didn’t do,” he said. “As I said before, we absolutely followed the process that was spelled out for us.
“And unless I’m missing something, they (the Edge owners) don’t have a hockey team. If they did, we would have known by now.”
Irwin Simon, one of the Edge owners, has they have been looking at a number of hockey options, including the ECHL. However, MacDonald maintains his group has its own exclusivity when it comes to that league.
“I know that the city has a letter from the ECHL saying that the league will only move forward on a team for St. John’s with Dean MacDonald and Glenn Stanford,” he said.
“That’s today. That’s tomorrow.”
However, MacDonald sad any time taken up by the arbitration process — nobody is saying how long that would be — “is not helpful” is his group’s timeline in establishing a team at Mile One next fall.