It’s third down and long. the crowd is growing restless and the cheerleaders are looking a little dishevelled. While plans for a Halifax-based Canadian Football League (CFL) team with its own stadium are still being trotted out and talked about, there are delays and infractions that may ultimately end the game.
The most recent penalty flag came in the form of a 430-page proposal to city council put forward by Schooners Sports and Entertainment (SSE), the triumvirate that wants to bring a CFL team to Canada’s East Coast. SSE’s myriad numbers and nuances could cost the city and taxpayers more than they bargained for.
The proposal goes something like this: we won’t ask for a high-end stadium at this juncture; $110 million will suffice to launch the construction of a 24,000-seat stadium. The city, the province and the CFL franchise would all kick in funding. And here’s where the proposal gets interesting: SSE states it will commit to a 30-year loan from a commercial lender – but, in large part, loan payments would fall to the government. The provincial government in particular.
That may be a savvy play by SSE. When the company first tossed around the idea of putting a CFL team in Halifax, local taxpayers expressed concern about the cost and the ever- looming possibility of increased taxes to meet expenses. At the time, Mayor Mike Savage applauded the “reputational benefit of being a big-league, professional sports town,” but acknowledged his electoral base weren’t fans, the CBC reported. “Right now, I don’t think there’s an appetite to put a lot of capital money in. We have other things we want to look at that are capital-intensive projects, and that’s over and above the usual things that we have to do, like investing in streets and recreation.”
Now, here is a plan that calls for government to kick in up to $6 million a year in loan payments. Up to 20% of that is expected to come from the municipality, despite apparent assurances to the contrary. The rest of the funding would come from the province in the form of an increased hotel levy and the establishment of a car rental levy – to the delight of those sectors, no doubt.
The SSE is cleverly positioning the stadium as more than a football venue; it would be an “epicentre for world-class entertainment and cultural events.” Haligonians thought they had one, if not two of those already.
There is the new Halifax Convention Centre, officially opened in 2017, with 120,000 square feet of event space. The 11,000-square-foot Scotiabank Centre is home to the Halifax Mooseheads hockey team and other sporting events, as well as concerts; it even served as the venue for a “Conversation with [former U.S.] president Barack Obama.”
The CFL dream lives on – barely. On Oct. 22, Halifax’s city council defeated a motion to pass altogether on the SSE proposal. The vote was nine to eight. Now, the proposal has been passed back to city-hall staff for analysis. They are to report back in December. Just after football season ends.