CFL stadium in Halifax another likely COVID casualty: report

Mere months ago, the outlook was positive that the CFL would be adding a tenth franchise, the long awaited Atlantic Schooners, but now it seems that dream has all but disappeared just like the CFL season.

During a Thursday press conference, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil made no attempt to soften the blow when asked about the proposed stadium project in Halifax and its future in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s not at the top of my list,” McNeill dismissed.

Halifax Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn also admitted that municipal priorities had changed when asked by CTV reporter Paul Hollingsworth.

“COVID has meant that we have to relook at everything that we do,” she said frankly.

A tightened financial belt means the government has to be selective on the passion projects it supports. Originally, the Halifax Regional Municipality had pledged $20 million towards a new stadium, but that may be put on the back burner.

“We have got to look at all of our priorities differently now,” Blackburn said. “That’s the one thing that COVID has meant. We have to put a different lens on it.”

For supporters of the CFL expansion project, the unpredictable obstacle of a global pandemic has been a disappointing end to a surge of recent momentum. The CFL’s Touchdown Atlantic Game, intended to be played at Saint Mary’s University, was sold out and both municipal and provincial levels of government seemed to be inching towards support of the project. That game was cancelled, along with every other CFL game, and government has had to focus on funding the bare essentials. For lovers of football, it was all so close but now seems too far.

“I believe it has been the closest we ever got to the goal line,” HRM councillor and stadium supporter David Hendsbee said.

Schooner Sports and Entertainment, the prospective owners of a Maritime CFL franchise, aren’t planning to back down though. It may take a bit more time and a revised strategy, but SSE partner Bruce Bowser believes their undertaking is still worthwhile.

“The fundamentals of why football made sense for Atlantic Canada have not changed as a result of COVID,” he said.

With the 2020 CFL season officially cancelled and both the league and governments scrambling in the wake of unprecedented financial challenges, it looks like the hopes of Schooners games in 2021 are unlikely to materialize. Still, the dreams of Atlantic football fans having a team of their own will not soon dissipate.