Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says bringing a Canadian Football League franchise to the city is an “exciting opportunity,” but the municipality will not be leading the charge.
The CFL confirmed Thursday it has had talks with a group looking to secure an expansion franchise for Halifax.
Savage said there has been a long-standing interest in the city for a football franchise and stadium – Halifax currently does not have one suitable for a CFL team.
“My consistent response has been that a stadium is not a capital priority at this time,” said Savage in a statement. “Any proposal would need to be private sector led and make economic sense for the municipality.”
Savage added that while the project is not yet at the decision stage, it “could be an exciting opportunity for the Halifax region.”
The league said in a statement there have been discussions with a group interested in securing a franchise for Halifax, but the talks are preliminary.
“While this group has been professional, enthusiastic and impressive, these conversations are relatively new and a very thorough process of due diligence must be put in place and completed before we can fully assess the viability of the project,” it said.
A league official said a timetable for potentially awarding a franchise has not yet been established.
TSN reported Thursday the group made a presentation to the league’s board of governors several weeks ago in Toronto. The report also identified Anthony LeBlanc, a former president and CEO of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, as a partner in the group.
A franchise in the Maritimes would give the league a coast-to-coast reach and would also allow it to form two five-team divisions.
The CFL awarded a conditional franchise to Halifax in 1982 – it was named the Atlantic Schooners – but financing for a stadium never came about. The league played regular-season games in Moncton, N.B., in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
In 2014, city staff presented Halifax council’s committee of the whole with several potential large-scale capital projects for the municipality, such as a performing arts centre, multi-pad arenas and a stadium.
The presentation noted a desire for a multi-use stadium in Halifax, and that the city is “now large enough to support a stadium.”
Municipal staff pegged the cost of a stadium at $60 million, and noted the need to cost-share with the private sector and other levels of government.
Halifax council later discussed Shannon Park, an abandoned military enclave on the Dartmouth side of Halifax harbour, as a site for a potential stadium.
Around that time, Savage toured Ottawa’s redeveloped Lansdowne Park, which includes a 24,000-seat sporting arena, TD Place Stadium.
The redesign of the park at the southern edge of the Glebe neighbourhood, which included retail space, condominiums, and a children’s play structure along with the stadium, was critical to securing the Ottawa Redblacks franchise.
The public-private partnership was a model Savage called “attractive” at the time.
In 2015, however, council shelved the idea of a stadium, instead opting to focus on parks, recreation facilities and affordable housing.
The population of Halifax was about 403,000 in 2016, according to Statistics Canada. By comparison, Regina – home of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders – had a population of around 214,000 in 2016.
Earlier this year, the city came closer to capturing a new FIFA-sanctioned professional soccer franchise after city councillors unanimously signed off on a pop-up stadium at a downtown municipal sports field.
Sports Entertainment Atlantic pitched the temporary soccer facility in a bid to earn a team in the Canadian Premier League. The team’s home field would be at the Wanderers Grounds, a four-hectare natural turf sports field on the Halifax Commons.