HALIFAX — After a closed-door meeting, the mayor says a bid to bring professional football to the city is “just outside field goal range,” and he hopes further discussions will happen in public.
Regional council got an in camera update on Tuesday afternoon from Anthony LeBlanc and Gary Drummond, of Maritime Football Ltd., the group working to bring a Canadian Football League team to Halifax.
“They’ve advanced their case. They’re more definitive, I think, about where they want to go, although I think it’s not 100 per cent,” Mayor Mike Savage said Tuesday evening.
Earlier in the day, TSN’s Dave Naylor reported that the group had reached an agreement with the CFL for a three-step process to secure the league’s 10th team, “with the details and conditions of the first step laid out on paper.”
The report from TSN said the team is hoping to join the league for the 2021 season.
In an email, CFL spokesperson Lucas Barrett said: “I can confirm that talks have taken place however there is no ‘deadline.’ ”
“I think the CFL are very excited about coming potentially to Halifax, but again, that’s never been the issue,” Savage said. “The issue is where are they going to play?”
Savage said the group has a location in mind for a stadium, but he wouldn’t say where it is. He did suggest that the municipality would provide some kind of financial assistance if council approved the plan.
“We haven’t got the numbers, but stadiums aren’t free,” the mayor said.
“The question is, is there a way the city can contribute to that without digging deep into capital? Maybe that’s the way to go, but that’s not the model they’re looking at,” he said.
“They’re looking at more of a model — and I think that they’ve been public about this — that is offset against future potential tax revenue in the area they want to build.”
It’s a similar model to the Halifax Convention Centre, into which council invested millions of dollars and was supposed to pay for itself through property taxes.
“It does seem that there’s only two things we insist on a business case that brings in enough revenue to pay for it, and that’s convention centres and stadiums,” Savage said.
That hasn’t worked as planned for the convention centre, which is projected to lose tens of millions over the next 10 years.
Council wants “the best deal possible,” Savage said, and the group is “sensitive” to the municipality’s Integrated Mobility Plan, which prioritizes active transportation.
Savage said the group is looking at a similar model to Lansdowne Stadium in Ottawa, which includes the 24,000-seat TD Place where the Ottawa Redblacks play, along with shops, restaurants, green spaces and courtyards.
“We think it has to make sense for the municipality, but we also want something that’s transit-oriented. I don’t think anybody’s interested in building an old-school stadium with 20,000 parking spots,” he said.
Public opinion on a stadium is decidedly split in the municipality, but Savage urged citizens to keep an open mind.
“Let’s wait and see what this looks like, and it could be a lot more than even just a football stadium,” he said. “It could allow us to get back into the concert business, it could allow us to do a lot of different things, but we’ve got to see the numbers.”
The in-camera portion of council’s meeting on Tuesday lasted about four hours, though the CFL plan wasn’t the only item.
Savage vowed that the next discussion would be public, but said this one had to happen behind closed doors “because of the contractual nature and in fact even intergovernmental nature of some the discussions that they’re having.”
Councillor Tim Outhit asked his colleagues earlier in the day if some of Tuesday’s discussion could happen publicly, because, as he saw it, there was no contractual agreement proposed between the proponents and the municipality, and there was no non-disclosure agreement.
Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé explained to council the justification for holding the update in camera.
“This is a commercially sensitive discussion we’re going to be having, and it’s a matter that the proponents have asked to have a private conversation with council on, to give you an update on the project,” Dubé said.