Mayor, CFL boss talks dollars and sense for Halifax stadium, business leaders weigh in

Ruth Davenport, Metro Halifax
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HALIFAX - The mayor of Halifax and commissioner of the Canadian Football League are urging business and community leaders to think of a stadium in Halifax as more than just a home for a football team.

CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon, right, and Mayor Mike Savage take questions from the media.

“Don’t just think about CFL, think about, is this a catalyst for bigger opportunity,” said CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon Monday in Halifax.  “Could it be a center for sports excellence? How do you think about concerts? How do you think about other elements that put Halifax on the stage.”

Cohon and Mayor Mike Savage hosted several private meetings Monday with representatives of local and national businesses to discuss the prospects and gauge interest in a multi-use stadium.

Halifax regional council turned down a stadium proposal in 2012 that was linked to a potential bid to host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but Savage noted that was because no funding partners came to the table.

He said the question remains of whether Halifax could afford – and benefit from – a stadium with the right mix of private and public funding.

“A city our size, the center of the Atlantic provinces…we should have a stadium,” he said. “At the very least, we owe it to people to have that conversation.”

Savage said success would hinge on finding the right business model for Halifax, but noted there’s enough fan base in the Atlantic region to support a team.

“Halifax has over 400,000 people, Regina has just over 200,000,” he said, referring to the immensely popular Saskatchewan Roughriders. “Saskatoon is just over four hours away, Moncton is less than three hours away. So do we have the fan base? I think we have the fan base.”

Cohon said the CFL can bring a variety of business models – including community ownership – to the table that didn’t exist as recently as 10 years ago.

He cited the 40-acre Lansdowne Park project in Ottawa – which includes condos, retail and parklands as well as the home stadium of the Ottawa Redblacks – as a prime example of a sustainable public-private enterprise.

“I’m confident when we look at Ottawa today with the number of season ticket holders they had…separate from all the retail and other elements, that franchise will be a profitable franchise out of the gate,” he said.

Business leaders: show us the plan

Two business leaders in Halifax say the prospects for private investment in a multi-use are good – as long as the business case makes sense.

“I think we’ve got credible business leaders here that, when there’s a good business opportunity, they will put their money into it,” said Greater Halifax Partnership president Paul Kent.

HRM Mayor Mike Savage and CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon met with business and community leaders on Monday to discuss the possibility of a stadium and CFL franchise in Halifax.

Chamber of Commerce president Valerie Payn attended one of the meetings, and said there’s certainly interest in a stadium that would provide recreation and entertainment opportunities for the broader community.

“When the CFL, who have a pretty successful franchise, show an interest in us, we should be interested,” she said. “How could this work for us if there’s an opportunity here?”

Kent said the discussion is complex, noting the merits of a stadium can’t be evaluated by looking solely at tax revenues.

“The stadium…supports economic development, but it doesn’t drive it,” he said. “It’s really all about the other revenue streams, the revenue that comes from hotels and restaurants and other entertainment facilities…so we all have to have a look at the bigger picture.”

Payn said the time is right for the discussion, citing a new sense of optimism among HRM’s business community.

“I think there’s different leadership, different vision,” she said. “The mood has changed and I think there’s a…feeling of confidence that we can look at this together.”

Organizations: CFL, Halifax regional council, Greater Halifax Partnership

Geographic location: Halifax stadium, Ottawa, Atlantic Saskatoon Moncton Lansdowne Park

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  • Duelfuel
    February 20, 2014 - 12:48

    You're right Jake... High taxes, (I like this one) Negative Population Growth (why go anywhere in the Maritimes - you have nothing), high unemployment, an Zero Economic Growth (No one once to go there). Our four Atlantic Provinces... They're winners alright.

  • Jake
    February 13, 2014 - 08:24

    Dim Witted? Narrow minded? This is a province that is bankrupt. High taxes, negative population growth, record deficit, highest unemployment rate in Canada and zero economic growth. And you want the tax payers to pay for a stadium just to watch pro football that probably can't compete against the NCAA talent let alone the NFL? This is almost as incredulous as the Wolfcrap football team wanting a brand new turf stadium built in Amherst just to play a few months every year, meanwhile Amherst is fading away big time. You people need to be realistic and accept that basic needs is more important than a CFL game that a lo of families cant afford anyway.

    • tom
      February 13, 2014 - 10:22

      if Halifax uses the model created in Ottawa, there will be many stores, condos, etc surrounding the stadium. don't forget, the Grey Cup generates $150M in economic activity for the host city - thus, the jobs and economic growth you seek and the taxes generated from that. Vancouver hosted 2005, 2011 and 2014. why do you think they are always so eager to host? if creating a CFL stadium is such backwards thinking, why are Ottawa and Hamilton both opening new CFL stadiums this upcoming season, while Saskatchewan opens one in 2017 ( lets not forget BC place's $500M renovation, Edmonton's recent reno, Montreal's recent expansion/reno, Winnipeg's brand new stadium )? CFL can't compete with NCAA talent, yet most CFL players were in the NCAA before turning pro - Montreal's QB is a former Heisman winner. you've exposed yourself as an uninformed or just ignorant.

  • tom
    February 12, 2014 - 20:45

    Why not let those who use the Librarys pay for the librarys? how 'bout, those who use the bus pay for the bus? that kind of mentality is for the dimwitted. it's about time Halifax joins the rest of the country's sporting landscape. many people travel all over the country visiting various CFL stadiums, and Halifax should be one of those destinations. let Halifax get showcased on TSN every other week and their team featured on sportscentre every morning. having the rest of the country hear 'Halifax' all the time has to be worth something. it creates awareness of an area not commonly discussed by those of us west of Quebec, who tend to forget the country doesn't end at Montreal.

  • Wingman
    February 11, 2014 - 11:35

    If Halifax wants a Stadium let Halifax pay for it and leave the taxpayers of this Province out of the equation. Nobody watches the CFL anyway they didn't even sell out Moncton this year.

    • TheDude
      February 12, 2014 - 17:34

      Did Truro pay for its own hospital ? You are narrow minded and hopeless.