Steve Craig says despite years of buzz over the possibility of building a stadium to accommodate a CFL franchise in Halifax, Regional Council has had no formal discussions and it’s time councillors get concrete answers.
“There have been a couple of in-camera updates if you will from the CAO and the parties involved, and we certainly need to now provide direction and to get some concrete answers to help us understand the situation better and formally,” the councillor for Lower Sackville said Friday. “Also we really need to get it into the public realm.”
When Halifax Regional Council meets on Tuesday, Craig plans to bring forward a motion requesting that council direct its staff and the CAO to pursue discussions with Maritime Football Limited Partnership and the province “to explore opportunities and risks related to establishing a mixed-use development, a CFL franchise and stadium” in the Halifax region and to bring forward recommendations.
Craig said if Tuesday’s motion passes, the initiative would be CAO-led but council-directed.
“We need to be able to understand it better to take some action. They’re talking about 2020 to have a CFL team, they’re talking about the Lansdowne experience in Ottawa, they’re talking about all these other things and yet we’re not talking,” he said.
“We’re not making any decisions. There’s all this buzz going around and has been for years around a stadium and HRM and I think we need to be able to stand up and seriously consider the environment that we’re in now and what, if anything, we’re prepared to do.”
The CFL confirmed last November it had been communicating with a group looking to secure an expansion franchise for Halifax. Mayor Mike Savage said at the time a stadium was not a capital priority. He also said any proposal would have to be led by the private sector.
Public opinion on a stadium is decidedly split in the municipality.
Craig said he personally has “thousands” of questions and believes it’s important councillors are provided with a clear understanding of both the opportunities and risks associated with the municipality’s potential future involvement in any stadium endeavour.
“The implications of location, for example, has to do with infrastructure, capital that we might be asked to put in in advance of other worthwhile projects we have,” Craig said. “For example, a $50 million-plus plan for a Halifax Regional Police headquarters that isn’t funded, we have roads that aren’t done, we have all kinds of other demands for capital, strategic capital.”
Craig said he wants to know if the municipality will be asked to provide upfront money and if they’ll be asked to defer taxes. If so, he wonders what guarantees the municipality would have about when such a deferral would start and end.
“And are we going to have interest on that? Because we would have incurred interest for capital and we would have deferred or not done other projects that were worthwhile that are already municipally funded, and rightfully so,” Craig said.
“Yeah, a CFL franchise would be great, but not owned by the taxpayer. If proponents are going to come in and do it, I want to know what they’re willing to put up. Not just the idea.”
Although Craig acknowledged there are many who would happily fork over cash to watch CFL games in a Halifax-based stadium, he wouldn’t be one of them because it’s not of personal interest. He said he wants to ensure that he and his council colleagues have answers ahead of any formal discussions or decisions.
“Depending on the cost we are looking at 25,000 who may go to 10 games in a year,” he said. “Are the rest of the 400 some odd thousand people in the municipality who are paying property taxes going to subsidize it? I’m not into that. I don’t agree with that.”
Craig said his council colleagues also want answers, and he’s hopeful they’ll get some as he expects his motion to pass at City Hall on Tuesday.
“We (Regional Council) have our plans as well and we’ve been arguably doing pretty damn good at making changes over the last six years or so and I want to continue that,” Craig said.
“I don’t want to take our good work off the rails because somebody else has a vision of a CFL franchise and to do that they need a stadium and then ask the taxpayer to foot the bill for that or a portion of it.”