Tourism and Culture Minister Terry French threw cold water on the hopes of hockey fans Wednesday, saying the provincial government will not subsidize an AHL team in the province.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, French said he is philosophically opposed to the idea of putting taxpayer dollars into a professional sports team.
“We’ve got to make a philosophical decision if this is the way we want to go and we decided that we wouldn’t go down that road,” French said.
The Telegram has reported a deal to move the Manitoba Moose is complete, contingent on an NHL team being relocated to Winnipeg.
But former premier Danny Williams, who is at the centre of the negotiations, said Tuesday such a deal may rest on some sort of provincial government support.
He said the hockey team would likely require some sort of travel subsidy, which would cost roughly $500,000.
Following French’s announcement, Williams was unavailable for an interview, but in an email statement, he told The Telegram he’s “deeply disappointed.”
He indicated the Moose would now likely be moved somewhere other than St. John’s.
“This represented the last best chance to bring the AHL back to St. John’s and it unfortunate that another city will reap the benefits that we could have seen in our own province,” Williams said.
The request for provincial support didn’t come from Williams himself; since he’s only six months retired from politics, that would have represented a conflict of interest.
Instead the proposal came from St. John’s Sports and Entertainment (SJSE) which owns and operates the Mile One Centre.
Coun. Danny Breen, the City Council’s representative on the SJSE board, said he was disappointed the province didn’t come through, but at least the decision came quickly.
“This thing is unfolding pretty quickly, so we would have needed an answer fairly quick,” Breen said. “Sometimes, you know, it’s like pulling off a Band-aid.”
Breen said the AHL team would have an economic impact on the city of roughly $10 million, based on salaries for players and support staff, along with other increased economic activity.
Williams said the taxes alone would have offset the subsidy that was being asked for.
“I can’t understand how they would not appreciate the tremendous economic spin-offs associated with an AHL franchise in the province,” he said.
“Tax revenue alone would more than offset the City's subsidy request, not to mention the added economic bonus of employment opportunities, tourism benefits and business for the downtown core.”
If the Manitoba Moose were brought to town, they would remain the property of Mark Chipman, and Manitoba-based True North Sports and Entertainment.
Williams has said that while he acted as a sort-of matchmaker in bringing the deal together, he would not have an ownership role in the team.
It is unclear whether the lack of a provincial subsidy will kill the deal.
Breen said until he’s told the deal is dead, he’ll keep looking for a way to make it work.
One group who is enthusiastically behind the AHL deal was the hospitality industry.
Restaurant and hotel business from out of town hockey fans would coincide with the tourism off-season, bolstering the revenue for many St. John’s businesses.
“We do think it would be very good for the economy, you know, in terms of guest rooms, food and beverage and all the other kinds of expenditures that players and officials and people coming into the city, you know, will spend,” said Cathy Duke, CEO of Destination St. John’s.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale has declined repeated requests from reporters to comment on the AHL situation.