It’s not an about-face but it’s certainly a significant shift.
The group trying to bring a CFL franchise to Halifax provided the first look at a possible stadium design on Saturday while also unveiling a dramatic change in their approach to securing government money as they try and get a facility built.
Anthony LeBlanc, a founding partner of Schooners Sports and Entertainment (SSE), says the group has shifted to a community-oriented model that would feature a permanent 12,000 seat facility that would be expandable for CFL games.
“We’re finally getting to the point to getting a building that makes sense but it ties into the vision that we’re talking about. The first thing they’ll say is that a community stadium doesn’t have to have the amount of seats that a CFL team may need and we agree,” LeBlanc said Saturday at an event in Halifax hosted by the CFL. “From a community perspective, what is needed is a fixed facility that will house roughly 12,000 permanent seats so this structure is what we’re talking to our friends and partners at the municipal, provincial and federal level.”
LeBlanc says his group at SSE would then be responsible for paying for the construction of an additional 10,000 seats, along with 4,000 temporary seats, for a total of 26,000.
“That brings the capacity of the stadium up to the level that would be acceptable for CFL events and that’s what we’re responsible for,” LeBlanc said.
SSE has entered into a partnership with Sport Nova Scotia, a non-profit organization whose membership is made up of over 50 provincial sport organizations. CEO Jamie Ferguson says his group is firmly behind the new vision, which could provide a facility that would be available to community groups 300 days a year.
“We are going to be able to program this facility for all of the days that the CFL team is not using it or there aren’t other large events. We are looking at upwards of 300 days a year that our provincial sport organizations are going to be able to use this facility a drastically reduced cost. That’s a big deal for us,” Ferguson said. “We think it’s a model that can be used for pro sports franchises and an amateur sports organizations all over the world that can help provide more opportunities for our kids to get the benefits of sports.”
LeBlanc says the group has signed an agreement with federally-owned Canada Lands to explore the development of the Shannon Park site, which had previously been identified as the preferred site for a stadium. A delay in reaching that agreement has slowed the progress of the project, including a planned update to the Halifax regional council.
“They still haven’t received that proposal because it took a lot longer then we anticipated to get to the point where we are now with Canada Lands,” LeBlanc said. “It will allow us to do that last piece of work HRM and the province have been waiting on to do the full analysis.”
LeBlanc says the change in approach came after Halifax mayor Mike Savage raised concerned about the scope and cost of the project and suggested a phased approach. While LeBlanc didn’t provide any numbers on Sunday, it has previously been reported the cost of the project has dropped from $190 million to approximately $130 million and that the SSE partners had about $60 million of their own money to commit to the project.
“We want to make sure that anything that is done that is involving any level of government is done in a wise, frugal manner and we have really listened to what we have heard,” LeBlanc said. “We have shifted and we’ve turn this conversation into what the community wants from a community stadium.”