Halifax regional council voted 10-7 Tuesday in favour of a staff report that supports a $20-million contribution to a stadium, but only if a long list of conditions are met.
Schooner Sports and Entertainment, the consortium that wants to bring a Canadian Football League team to the Halifax area, is seeking municipal and provincial funding to build a complex in Shannon Park by 2022.
However, the staff report rejects the choice of Shannon Park as a site for the facility. Funding would be contingent on another location being approved by council, as well as other terms.
The stadium proposed by SSE would be a 24,000-seat facility with an inflatable winter sports dome that could be used for professional football and community sports. SSE said the stadium could host one to two major concerts a year and a minimum of one Grey Cup every 10 years.
The staff report recommended a one-time payment of $20 million “upon substantial completion of the stadium.”
Stadium proponent is ‘thrilled’
“We’re thrilled. We thank council for their due diligence and very spirited debate. We’re very excited to move forward,” said SSE partner Anthony LeBlanc, following the vote.
“What we put on the table a year ago is drastically different from what was approved here today. Obviously the first order of business is securing a site that that is going to be acceptable to council.”
LeBlanc predicted that could take between three to six months.
SSE had asked for $41 million to $79 million, according to the staff report. It also recommends the company pay full property taxes on the stadium and the land.
It said Halifax should take no ownership of the stadium, make no loan guarantee, and not participate in ongoing capital or maintenance costs.
What councillors said
“The original costs were, what, $41 [million] to $70 million, and this report is suggesting we might be able to do this for $20 million. I can support that,” Mayor Mike Savage said during Tuesday’s debate.
Councillors Sam Austin, Waye Mason, Lindell Smith, Shawn Cleary, Richard Zurawski, Matt Whitman and Tim Outhit voted against the motion.
Outhit told council he could not support spending $20 million on a recreational facility when the municipality needs a new police station, a new library in Bedford and improvements to transit services, roads and sidewalks.
“I’m going to have trouble looking into the eyes of the people I represent and say that we used the strategic reserve or debt or a tax increase to come up with that $20 million,” he said.
The issue has been a polarizing one, said Coun. Lorelei Nicoll, who voted in favour of the deal.
“What I’m hearing from residents is they really want one or they really don’t want one. But those that don’t want one, they want a hospital,” she said.
High expectations for ticket sales
Some councillors were critical of SSE’s proposal that the team would sell 96 per cent of tickets to games. Halifax CAO Jacques Dubé called that figure “aggressive” in the staff report.
Coun. Tony Mancini asked Dubé what would happen if ticket sales failed to meet expectations and the stadium company folded.
“Well, the assets are not going anywhere, it’s not on wheels, it’s not transportable. At that point, we made a contribution of $20 million into the stadium. There’s a financial institution that holds the debt, so they would then seize the asset and try to sell to someone else,” said Dubé.
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