There seems to be some confusion amongst the major players involved in Trade Centre’s takeover of the Metro Centre box office as to who knew what and when. The former CEO of Trade Centre Ltd., Fred MacGillivray, puts blame squarely on the shoulders of current Trade Centre Ltd. CEO Scott Ferguson.
Ferguson worked under MacGillivray as TCL’s vice president before MacGillivray’s retirement a few years back. Curiously, MacGililvray says that Ferguson was responsible for the Metro Centre file when he was VP. Now, apparently, Ferguson remains responsible for the Metro Centre file as CEO.
MacGillivray also says Mayor Peter Kelly was kept in the loop, as were senior bureaucrats no longer with the municipal government – a claim that Kelly flatly denies.
The explanations, taken as a whole, make little to no sense. Somebody is misremembering, whether intentionally or not, what happened in the lead up to Ticket Atlantic’s creation in 2007.
Here’s what Ferguson had to say about it when I talked with them yesterday. The interview has been edited for relevance to the Ticket Atlantic issue (we talked, at length, about the management agreement as well. Read that here).
Metro: It’s pretty clear from (auditor general Larry Munroe’s) report that TCL acted unilaterally to move that asset from HRM’s possession to TCL’s possession.
Scott Ferguson: Mmhmm.
M: What are your thoughts on that?
SF: Well Alex, that process as far as Ticket Atlantic commenced as far back as 2002. And from that time we had regular updates to our board over approximately a four year period on the need for a new system, the acquisition of a new system, right through the (request for proposals) process through the development of a business plan and finalizing with the statements of 2006/2007, which included Ticket Atlantic as a business unit of Trade Centre. And those statements were signed off by both the municipality and both by our board. And so there was obviously a great deal of discussion and disclosure with our board over that timeline. Having said that, I certainly recognize the recommendations that the auditor general has made, and you know, we feel we’ve done a good job of managing the Halifax Metro Centre, and we’re obviously willing to work with our major partner to address and to review any aspect of that arrangement or in fact of our (management) agreement that was struck in ’82.
M: Sorry, are you saying that HRM council had knowledge that TCL was taking that asset to TCL?
SF: Well what I’m saying is that we regularly briefed our board on the need for a new system, the process of acquiring new software for that new system, the creation of Ticket Atlantic right through to the published financial reports for 2006 and 2007. So we have four councillors on our board. And those statements in that last year would have been signed off by both the municipality as well as by our board. So…
M: That’s painting a very different picture than what Munroe presented today. Regional council in no way gave Trade Centre Ltd. authority to take over the box office operations.
SF: I’m recognizing, Alex, that there was not a specific agreement signed with HRM and Trade Centre Ltd., and that’s why I’m obviously looking at the report and committed to working with HRM on any recommendations on how they want to view our relationship in the future with respect to ticketing.
M: Are you confident that the creation of Ticket Atlantic and divesting the municipality of the asset was a legal move?
SF: You know, as I mentioned to you earlier on the creation of Ticket Atlantic, that was communicated on a regular basis to our board which includes councillors. I’m confident that we’ve operated in the best of interests for HRM for the past 30 years. I think we have done a good job of managing the asset, that we have over the last six years attracted over three million visitors and returned over $3.45 million to regional council, to the municipality, by way of a net income. It’s far different than the years 20 or 30 years ago when there was an operating loss for the facility. So I think we’ve done a great job and I think we’ve operated in the best interest, and more importantly I think we value our relationship with the city. So absolutely I accept the report and we’ll work with our major partner and make sure the new agreement that comes forward has the detail they’re content with.
M: I wasn’t asking if you think Trade Centre has done a good job of managing the Metro Centre, I think the numbers would tell that story. What I’m asking you is whether you’re confident this particular move … was a legal thing to do.
SF: Alex, I don’t think we have done anything illegal or misleading for HRM or for the asset, no. I’ve worked for this organization for over 27 years, and I think we’ve done the right thing. We have a stellar record by way of the events that we’ve attracted so absolutely not. I think we’ve gone well above and beyond. This is a tough business, it takes a lot of hours. I think we’ve given those hours, that time and that effort, and I think we’ve done a great job.
M: Do you think it’s fair to say that Trade Centre Ltd. directly financially gained from divesting the municipality of this asset?
SF: Well, I think that the overall city has gained in that we have developed a system that allowed us to attract and support events that we bring into the marketplace … It supported our ability to attract major shows into the marketplace. And people need to understand that side of it, is that when you bring major shows you’ve got to make sure you have a strong system in place to account for the significant dollars that are paid in ticket revenue. And if you don’t have that system, you’re challenged in attracting shows. So I think the other benefit of this system is that we’ve managed to attract a significant number of events and I think that’s benefited the municipality.
M: But what I’m asking is – HRM is pretty much revenue neutral since the creation of Ticket Atlantic. There’s one year, I think it was 2008/2009, where profits were way up and the municipality did not share in that, that all flowed to Trade Centre Ltd.
M: So what I’m asking you is would you agree with the statement that Trade Centre Ltd. directly financially gained from divesting the municipality of box office operations?
SF: I can tell you that Ticket Atlantic, the ticketing business is a tough business. And yes there were years where there was a net return for Ticket Atlantic. You point to one of the years that was a very strong return, but there’s also years where there was a financial loss. So as in any business you have good years and bad years, and we’ve experienced both.