Halifax Regional Municipality votes in favour of funding $20 million for CFL stadium

Halifax Regional Municipality debated the proposed stadium in Atlantic Canada Tuesday afternoon and it ended with council voting 10-7 in favour of funding $20 million for the project.

According to Halifax municipal government, Regional Council has directed the Chief Administrative Officer to negotiate a one-time contribution of $20 million towards construction costs of a community stadium, payable upon substantial completion of the facility.

“Today’s vote in Halifax is a giant step forward for the plan for a new stadium there and, ultimately, the launch of a new CFL franchise in Atlantic Canada. Councillors for the Halifax Regional Municipality have essentially approved the municipal portion of the needed financing,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said.

“There is more work ahead, of course, for the Schooners Sports and Entertainment group and the stadium project. But today represents an important milestone for everyone who shares the dream of a truly coast-to-coast CFL.”

The contribution agreement with the stadium proponent, Schooners Sports and Entertainment, is subject to the selection of a site with optimal access to major transportation routes and necessary infrastructure acceptable to Regional Council.

“I want to show that we are greater than the sum of our parts, whether it be the city of Halifax, the city of Dartmouth, the council of Bedford or the council of Halifax it’s not about our individual districts,” District 1 Councillor Steve Streatch said.  

Founding partner of SSE Anthony LeBlanc was present for the meeting. SSE amended their initial proposal for a community stadium which would have seating capacity for 24,000 — 12,000 permanent seating and 12,000 temporary seating. The cost of the stadium is estimated to be in the range of $100 million to $110 million including the purchase of land.

“This is a watershed moment for HRM, and I think that this is a vote of confidence not just for our municipality but for our province and for Atlantic Canada. We have a very steady economy and I think that we should take opportunities when we have a partner want to go come forward with a proposal such as this,” District 2 Councillor David Hendsbee said. 

“I’m prepared to put my money on the line, whenever a ticket comes available for the games, because I believe the Atlantic Schooners will be the hottest ticket in Atlantic Canada. I think we’re going to rival the Saskatchewan Roughriders when it comes to Rider pride, we’re going to have Maritime pride.”

In July 2014 council approved a strategic plan that identified a multi-use stadium as a project that council would like to see in HRM. SSE is a private sector funding partner and has a conditional CFL franchise. The 2011 FIFA bid in Halifax failed to generate interest from a private sector partner or a professional sports team. The 2011 FIFA bid had HRM support for a $20 million investment in a 20,000 seat community stadium.

“We do have the guarantee of a major tenant, which is a positive thing, for the CFL.
The community aspect of it is nice to have. I don’t think it needs to be there, but I think it’s a real bonus if we can work with all those organizations that support this, the minor sports organizations,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said. 

“Mosaic Stadium in Regina, the city committed $73 million to that. And that was funded largely out of a property tax increase to do that. We don’t have to do that. Our situation is strong enough that $20 million — for me it’s the leverage and the fact that we can do it.”

A one-time payment of $20 million has projected funding available in the HRM strategic capital reserve in 2024. Total HRM cost of the recommendation would be $20 million which is considerably less than the costs of the original options proposed by SSE of $41 to $79 million.

The stadium would pay full property tax of approximately $8.7 to $28.7 million over a 10-20 year period. Staff has been clear in discussions to date with HRM it will not take any financial, construction and operational risks.

Risk in the proposal will be reviewed through negotiation of a contribution agreement with SSE in accordance with terms and conditions including: no ownership, debt guarantees or participation in capital; HRM has a say on the stadium site; contribution is executed upon substantial completion.

“It’s a strategic piece of infrastructure, albeit not necessarily owned by the municipality but done in partnership with the municipality that has some community benefits,” CAO Jacques Dube said. 

The CAO will return to Regional Council for approval of the site and contribution agreement before construction commences.

“There’s a provincial legislative piece that needs to appear,” Dube said. “So there are a number of moving parts on this one, but I think if everybody gives its best efforts, I think in three-to-six months we can get back to council with a proposed deal and a site. The province has to be a partner in this in order to make this feasible.” 

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.