Published on April 1, 2012 12:11 AM by dbo.
As reported, Halifax Regional Council voted 22-1 to shelve a stadium project that would have allowed the city to bid for games in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
That has not ended the discussion, however. The mayor is pushing for a stadium sooner rather than later. While staff recommended the stadium project not go forward, they did recommend the city secure the Shannon Park land for a future stadium location. It appears the debate and questions about where, what size, when and whether to build may stay in the forefront in Halifax.
This is important. The process to decide to build, pick a site, design and cost a structure, seek financial partners, prepare the site and build the actual stadium is long. The initial part of the process cannot be done under the pressures of a short deadline with some one-time events as the impetus to build. There is no leadership there. The mayor has it correct in this regard, whether a legacy project for his exit or not, the city needs to think forward, not just about the present.
Today, Halifax has no CFL team, no FIFA World Cup games awarded to it, no Commonwealth Games, no Pan-Am Games, nor any concerts or other events coming with a need of a 25,000 seat stadium. Therefore, there is no need for a stadium. That is not how cities develop this type of infrastructure. Once a city gets to a certain size, and at 400,000 Halifax is a substantial metropolitan area, the entertainment needs of the community grows. Some may feel the city’s size doesn’t justify a stadium yet, but what growth is expected of the city? Such projects will take 4-6 years minimum and up to 10 years potentially. Will it be too late to start then?
The acquisition of the Shannon Park land is a good start. It or the Dartmouth Crossing location seem the most ideal. If examination of the site later determines it not to be suitable for servicing and access concerns, it can be developed for other uses. The alternative is leaving the site as is, a blemish on the community.
The debate about the stadium purpose and size also needs to be settled. There may be a push for a smaller, simpler stadium for small regional soccer events and other uses. Simplify the structure as a shell with seats and reduce the cost. This ensures the investment will never be leveraged in the future, however. When the city is of the size that Halifax decides to compete on a national stage, they will be starting from the ground up again.
The argument will be made the CFL is not coming to Halifax, so there is no need to build to their needs. These doubting Thomases need the CFL to place a franchise at the city’s feet before they will believe. That is fair, the city has been burned once and a stadium is a large investment without any guarantees. However, anyone should be able to see the CFL is eager to expand once Ottawa joins the league in 2014, and the first city with a stadium and requisite owner will get a franchise. This process in Halifax should bring out partners for the stadium, a solid use case to bring the level of governments onside and interest potential owners with a serious project.
No major expense needs to be committed to as the plan is being developed. If no private interest steps forward as a CFL franchise tenant, the idea can be abandoned. Engage the development community on combining commercial development around a stadium. If interest is lukewarm, the city should certainly consider a phased construction of a modular stadium with an initial phase to suit current seating needs with a design that can be completed to add additional seating. The city has options, and an open discussion is the healthiest way to decide what is right for the city.
Do the homework, engage the CFL and private business leaders, encourage private citizens to form a stadium organization, hold public consultations, hold a referendum, but take the time to work the issue out properly. Economic studies that show the stadium will pay for itself are not needed. A plan for utilizing the stadium and the value it will bring over its lifetime doesn’t need to be just dollars and cents, but will include community pride and a change in attitude. If the decision is no, then let it be after the future of Halifax is considered, not just based on the right now.