Halifax council to discuss proposed stadium for potential new CFL team
New CFL balls are photographed at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium in Winnipeg Thursday, May 24, 2018. The company hoping to bring a CFL team to the Maritimes has proposed Halifax harbour's Shannon Park as the site for a 24,000-seat stadium. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 30, 2018 6:20AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 30, 2018 4:48PM EDT
Halifax council has voted to take a closer look at a proposed 24,000-seat stadium, the pivotal component of a bid to land a Canadian Football League team for the East Coast's largest city.
In a unanimous decision, council has directed municipal staff to complete a thorough review of the business case put forward by Maritime Football Limited Partnership, in the final stages of securing a conditional CFL expansion franchise.
City staff are also expected to seek changes to the city's charter that would potentially allow for a special tax arrangement and assist with debt financing of the massive project -- pending the outcome of the business case analysis.
The group has proposed Shannon Park, a 38-hectare swath of land on the east side of Halifax harbour formerly used by the Department of Defence for housing, as the preferred location for the stadium.
Halifax's top bureaucrat told council the proposal is more than a football stadium.
"This project is an estimated half-a-billion-dollar real estate development that includes a stadium," said Jacques Dube, chief administrative officer of Halifax Regional Municipality.
Although a new Canadian Football League franchise is expected to be the stadium's anchor tenant, Dube said it would host a variety of sporting events, concerts and cultural celebrations.
He said Maritime Football is analyzing winter options for the stadium as well, including a full-time outdoor skating rink or an air-inflated sports dome.
Yet Dube admitted that the biggest question is whether the project is feasible and will be supported by the community.
A report to council laid out a handful of possible funding options for the city and the province, including a public financing model called tax increment financing.
Owners of the Shannon Park development would pay property taxes on the real estate, but that money would be set aside by the municipality and returned as a payment against the stadium's debt.
"If the development generates $5 million a year in property tax, that would be applied against the debt of the facility," Dube explained.
However, he said the property tax funding would provide only a portion of the cash necessary for the stadium.
Dube suggested council direct municipal staff to examine other options as well, including an increase to the hotel marketing levy and a new car rental tax.
Tony Mancini, a Halifax councillor for the area that includes Shannon Park, said he would like to see a residential component to the development.
"It's a vulnerable community," he said, noting that redevelopment of the Shannon Park lands -- formerly used by the military for housing -- is an opportunity to build affordable housing.
An urban planning expert said the discussion is bound to be polarizing for the community, with costly stadium projects often generating vigorous public debate.
Maritime Football is in talks with Canada Lands Company to buy up to eight hectares of land for the stadium, a parking structure and "associated uses," the staff report says.
The new football team would be the anchor tenant of the stadium, which comes with an estimated price tag of up to $190 million.
However, some of that cost is expected to be covered by public dollars, with the city staff report calling the province's participation as a funding partner "essential."
The report recommends a thorough review of Maritime Football's business case, as well as changes to the city's charter to potentially allow for a special tax arrangement and assist with debt financing of the project, pending the outcome of the business case analysis.
The report also recommends engaging with the province on "new and incremental sources of revenue," such as increasing the hotel marketing levy or creating a new car rental tax.
Jino Distasio, director of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg, says large projects like stadiums are often polarizing.
"They draw a tremendous amount of public interest and often that interest can be polarizing with either very big supporters or those who are vehemently against any kind of public dollars flowing into what's seen as the pockets of rich and wealthy owners," he said.
"It's not uncommon to have a vigorous debate."
He pointed to controversy in Winnipeg over the Investors Group Field stadium. Earlier this year, the University of Manitoba said it will likely not recover more than $100 million owed from a loan to build the project, leaving the province to cover the shortfall.
"The outcome here is still mixed," Distasio said of Winnipeg's stadium. "I think the vast majority of people still appreciate that we have a wonderful new stadium but it has come with a price tag that we weren't necessarily prepared for from the beginning."
He added: "Careful financial planning and oversight is absolutely critical."