No amount of public support warrants using public money to build a football stadium, an economist says.
“I do support the idea of a CFL team in Halifax,” said Moshe Lander, economics professor at Concordia and Dalhousie Universities. “I think it’s good for the city, I think it’s good for Atlantic Canada, I think it’s good for the CFL.”
But, he said in an interview with the Star, “I very rarely have come across any publicly funded stadium that paid for itself.”
Forty-two per cent of those polled said they were very favourable or favourable about using public 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.
Pollster Rick Emberley of MQO research, which conducted the poll, was surprised by the split opinion.
“I honestly thought it would be a much lower level of interest,” he told the Star.
Still, Lander doesn’t think the interest was high enough.
“The fact is when you’re going to put up government dollars, that type of 41-42 (split) with 15 per cent undecided is not a clear mandate for using public dollars to fund the stadium,” he said.
“I’m never in favour of using public dollars to fund a stadium, regardless of the level of public support.”
Some municipal councillors agree: a gameplan based on throwing tax money at a CFL franchise won’t win.
“If it means increasing your taxes, I’m not interested in doing that,” Coun. Tony Mancini said in an interview. “If it means some tax breaks, if it means us doing some infrastructure work, I’m interested in that.”
Mancini also said he expected more people to express opposition.
“My gut feeling would have been stronger numbers against using taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Mancini thinks municipal involvement would be worthwhile if the plan included 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 popular location in the Star’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,” Coun. Sam Austin said 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.”
Lander, the economics professor, said that, even if the stadium were built entirely with private funds, a location in an outlying area like Shannon Park or Dartmouth Crossing could draw fewer fans — and produce a lower economic return — than somewhere more central.
“I don’t want to take some car — not even public transportation, ’cause you can’t even get out there — go watch a three-hour game, and then turn around like a lemming and get back in my car,” he said.
Building stadiums on the outskirts of a city is an antiquated model, Lander said. The modern way is to build it where the people already are.
“You want them to be able to come out of their office buildings at five o’clock in the afternoon on a nice sunny Halifax afternoon, be able to go grab a drink, go walk around for a bit, go to the game,” he said.
Austin and fellow councillor Tim Outhit both said public opinion as represented in the poll is 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,” Austin said.
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, Austin said, 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’s support for the city,” he said in an interview.
Colzie hopes the Huskies would be able to use a stadium, should one ever get built, but knows that working out a partnership could be complicated.
“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.”