Pirate treasure, Swedish furniture or a Canadian Football League (CFL) franchise?
Every five or so years, someone pitches the idea that Halifax needs a professional sports team. After all, what’s a city without blood, sweat and tights? The most recent pitch is for the establishment of a CFL team in Nova Scotia’s capital city.
This requires more than shoulder pads and hotdog vendors. A stadium would have to be built, and there’s widespread acknowledgement that Halifax taxpayers don’t have the appetite to pay for infrastructure that always seems to end up costing more than estimated.
Even in the absence of anything concrete, Mike Savage, Halifax’s savvy mayor, is aware of the pushback and has stated publicly his reluctance to foist the cost of a stadium onto an unwilling public. He has said, though, that he’s willing to consider putting in place a reserve fund to offset costs.
That was the approach used to help finance the city’s bright new crown jewel: the Nova Centre. To support the building of the $500-million convention centre, hotel and office building complex, the city established a reserve fund that collects commercial property taxes from the controversial project and uses that money to help pay the costs of running the convention centre.
Savage may be more comfortable with this approach to providing funds for a CFL team, and he has the support of the trio of bidders pushing for the franchise. But the bid still is unlikely to play well in the public arena. This was the municipal government that only a few years ago couldn’t figure out how to get ice off city streets; and despite the Nova Centre’s ultimate arrival, that project was over budget and more than two years late in opening its doors.
Still, Haligonians like the allure of being a big city. (At roughly 415,000 people, we are anything but.) An IKEA store opened in nearby Dartmouth last year and 4,000 people lined up for the grand opening. Because, apparently, they couldn’t buy chairs elsewhere. All of which is to say, we can be swayed. And if you were to open an IKEA inside a football stadium, there’s no doubt the CFL deal would be inked.
What’s being proposed, though, is an East Coast version of Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park, complete with condominiums, bars and restaurants. Included in the sales pitch are arguments highlighting the economic impact of a having a professional sports team in your backyard.
Nova Scotians typically yawn when the economic arguments are trotted out. We’ve heard these before and have come to learn that reality rarely matches the advertising. We’re also savvier about buying into such arguments. Some economists, widely quoted in the local media, dismiss these assumptions as flawed. Economic nirvana will not arrive, they caution, just because the Atlantic Schooners (yes, the name is trademarked already) drive home a field goal.
Proponents want to break ground on the new stadium this year. It’s safe to say most Haligonians don’t. But we are willing to be persuaded. After all, many of us still watch the TV show Curse of Oak Island, holding out hope that pirate treasure really is buried on Nova Scotia’s south shore.
Of course, most of us realize the real treasure can be unearthed a few kilometres away at a Swedish furniture store.