Councillors react to Halifax stadium poll and possible taxpayer involvement

HALIFAX — A game plan based on throwing tax money directly at an outdoor stadium won’t win, say some municipal councillors.

“If it means increasing your taxes, I’m not interested in doing that,” said District 6 councillor Tony Mancini in an interview. “If it means some tax breaks, if it means us doing some infrastructure work, I’m interested in that.”

A StarMetro exclusive poll revealed split opinions on using municipal taxes, directly or through tax breaks, to pay for a football stadium for a possible CFL franchise for Halifax.

Forty-two per cent of those polled said they were very favourable or favourable to using taxpayer money to build a stadium, while 41 per cent were unfavourable or very unfavourable. Fifteen per cent were neither unfavourable nor favourable, and 2 per cent were unsure.

Rick Emberley of MQO Research, which conducted the poll for StarMetro, was surprised by the split opinion.

“I honestly thought it would be a much lower level of interest,” he earlier told StarMetro.

Mancini also expected more opposition.

“My gut feeling would have been stronger numbers against using taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Mancini thinks municipal involvement will be worthwhile if plans include more than just a stadium. He referred to Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park, which includes the 24,000-seat TD Place, home of the Ottawa Redblacks, as well as shops, restaurants, green spaces and courtyards.

“That Lansdowne approach interests me or excites me for Shannon Park because it may help to address some of our challenges when it comes to transportation,” said Mancini, whose district includes the Shannon Park area. “Expanding our transportation, metro transit, possibly even a third ferry coming into that area.”

Shannon Park was the most desired location in StarMetro’s poll, followed by Dartmouth Crossing. Unlike Lansdowne, which is owned by the City of Ottawa, Shannon Park is not owned by HRM.

“The challenge with Shannon Park,” said Coun. Sam Austin in an interview, “is we’ve just gone through a whole planning process to redevelop that as a mixed-use neighbourhood. And it’s owned by Canada Lands, so I’m not sure that that’ll come to pass.”

Austin, District 5, and fellow councillor Tim Outhit, District 16, both said the poll was consistent with what they’ve been hearing from residents.

“I’ve heard from people who are vehemently against and people who are really in support. So it rather fits what’s been coming in to me,” said Austin.

Outhit added that it’s hard to come down on either side, since council hasn’t received an official ask from potential franchisees.

“What I hear from people is they may get the vision of the stadium, but the devil will be in the details,” Outhit said.

Last year, council heard from a private group interested in bringing a CFL team to the Atlantic region. The session was closed to the public, but Mancini said the group shared “their intention” without proposing a business plan or making an official bid for municipal dollars.

Council still doesn’t have a proposal, said Austin, but for him: “It would have to be a pretty darn good deal for me to see putting municipal money into it. This has to be something that the private sector leads.”

One person in support of an outdoor stadium in Halifax is Saint Mary’s Huskies football coach James Colzie III.

He believes a stadium and CFL team would be a great fit.

“It’s not just support for football, it is support for the city,” he said in an interview Monday.

Colzie hopes the Huskies would be able to use a stadium, should one ever get built, but knows there would be some red tape in terms of working out a partnership.

“Obviously when you build a stadium you want to sell it out,” he said. “You bring in CFL fans and hopefully that leads to some new fans for the Huskies.” – with files from Tony Davis