CFL commish visiting Halifax as boosters work on bid for Atlantic team

The Canadian Football League’s commissioner will be in Halifax Friday, for what’s expected to be a morale booster to those hoping the city will gain a professional team.

Randy Ambrosie issued a news release noting the league has made the Nova Scotia capital the sole non-franchise city on his national tour.

He’ll be holding a public town hall in a large hotel ballroom in the city’s downtown at noon on Friday.

The league has confirmed it has been in talks with a “professional, enthusiastic and impressive” group of prospective owners rallying for a Halifax franchise.

No spokesperson for the league was available Thursday, but a press release stated that Maritime Football Limited “has sparked the imagination of having a 10-team league.”

“There is still lots to do, but the group is working hard to make the dream a reality. I’m here because I want our fans in Halifax and across Atlantic Canada to know they are an important part of the CFL family,” Ambrosie said in a statement.

One economist who studies the Canadian sport industry says Halifax’s major hurdle remains the issue of who will pay for a stadium that can house over 30,000 fans.

Moshe Lander of Concordia University says a solid plan for a stadium that includes taxpayers’ support will need to be in place before a professional team can set up in Halifax.

“Where are you going to put a CFL team if you don’t have a stadium?” he said. “A stadium is critical.”

Bruce Bowser, a businessman backing the bid, said during a CTV interview last week that Lansdowne Park in Ottawa is one model for the Halifax bid. The concept would entail a mixture of apartments, restaurants, shops and other real estate developments mixed in with the stadium, he said.

“All of our discussions have been around building not just a stadium, but a development that incorporates a stadium. … All of our discussions have been around, how do you bring a team, a stadium and a development to a city like Halifax,” Bowser said during the television interview.

He also said public money will be required, possibly from “all three levels of government,” but didn’t provide a specific figure other than to note stadium price ranges can go from $50 million to $250 million.

Lander said recent trends have seen most football stadiums built or re-developed in the centre of cities, and it’s unclear what suitable land is available on the Halifax peninsula.

Close access to a large population base and public transit are both desirable, he said.

Lander said part of the consortium’s strategy will likely be to pressure governments into agreeing to some form of capital financing and future tax rebates.

“Part of this is a public relations game … You trial-balloon it and let the number (for public financing) cycle through newspapers, television and talk shows and gauge what the public feels about it,” Lander said.