Poll shows people in Halifax open to using municipal taxes to pay for CFL stadium

HALIFAX—There is a clear appetite for spending municipal tax dollars to help fund a new outdoor stadium for Halifax.

That’s one of the findings of a new survey conducted exclusively for StarMetro by the polling firm MQO Research.

Between March 26 and April 2, 500 people in HRM were asked the following question: “To what extent, if at all, are you in favour of the Halifax Regional Municipality contributing taxpayers’ dollars, either directly or through tax breaks, to the building of a new outdoor stadium in the municipality.”

In total, 42 per cent of respondents said they were either “very favourable” or “favourable” to the idea. Forty-one per cent said they were either unfavourable or very unfavourable.

Another 15 per cent were neither favourable nor unfavourable, with another 2 per cent unsure.

The most popular of the six possible answers was favourable, at 27 per cent.

“I honestly thought it would be a much lower level of interest,” said Rick Emberley of MQO Research.

“There are a lot of people that want a stadium but don’t agree with the idea of it being funded in part, or in whole, in any measure or ways, with taxpayer money. But let’s face it: In a marketplace of this size, it will never happen without some sort of financial incentive of financial support of government.”

The CFL, and a possible stadium for Halifax, are top-of-mind with an ownership group now established and looking to bring a team here.

League commissioner Randy Ambrosie even wrapped up a 10-city CFL road trip in Halifax in February to talk about a possible expansion and how the league would love to one day be a coast-to-coast entity.

To do that, they would need Halifax.

When you dig into the MQO Research polling numbers more closely, you get a clearer picture of who supports funding a stadium with the help of taxpayer dollars.

Looking at people between the ages of 18 and 54, the very favourable or favourable total reaches 47 per cent. In that same age bracket, 37 per cent say they are unfavourable or very unfavourable to the idea.

For the 55-plus age group, the very favourable or favourable number drops to 33 per cent, and the unfavourable or very unfavourable figure jumps to 48 per cent.

Emberley thinks the low support from the 55-plus group is partly due to them having the impression that private or commercial projects get more than their fair share of government funding.

“The second piece is they are probably the least likely demographic to take advantage of such a facility,” he continued.

There has been plenty of debate within the city over different levels of government supporting large, private-sector projects.

The most notable is the Nova Centre, which includes the Halifax Convention Centre. Last week regional council learned that Halifax was expected to lose millions in the next 10 years on its downtown convention centre.

“Even though the economic impacts of a convention centre might far exceed a stadium over a sports team or two here, the reality is more local people identify with a stadium … compared with never stepping inside a convention centre,” Emberley said.

The poll by MQO Research also asked respondents what size such a stadium should be if built. The runaway winner — at 40 per cent — was between 15,000 and 25,000 seats.

The other options were up to 15,000 seats or more than 25,000 seats. Both those suggestions received less than 15 per cent support.

“I know nothing of the economics to produce a creature like this,” Emberley said.

“But I think the argument would be it’s got to be the right size … and right size means it can’t be built just for a football team. It has to properly accommodate concerts, other sporting events and so on.”

The polling firm also asked about possible stadium locations. Shannon Park was top choice at 27 per cent, followed by Dartmouth Crossing at 22 per cent and Bayers Lake at 14 per cent.

“The Shannon Park thing — not only is it central, it’s also very accessible,” Emberley explained.

“Bayers Lake, it’s a nightmare to get around out there. Imagine what it would be like if you dropped a 20,000-seat stadium out there. You would have to reconfigure the entire road network.”

The sample size of 500 people results in a margin of error, for a population of this size, of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.