Published on November 4, 2018 5:25 PM by dbo.
On Tuesday, October 30th, Halifax Regional Municipality council voted unanimously for a staff report on a stadium at Shannon Park in conjunction with Maritime Football Ltd., who wishes to bring a CFL franchise to the region. The result of this report and business case detailing the funding and benefits from a stadium will culminate with a vote to proceed or not with a stadium project.
In a wide ranging interview with Tim Baines of the Ottawa Sun, Commissioner Ambrosie discussed the Oct. 30th vote, a pending announcement for a conditional franchise and the possibility of a 2021 or earlier launch date.
An op-ed reviewed the history of Halifax stadium project false starts, and expressed convincing the public with facts is more important than getting politicians on board with another infrastructure project. Premier Stephen McNeil made it clear that private money must be involved in the stadium project and the province awaits a formal request from the region. The Millbrook First Nation expressed no concerns with the Shannon Park stadium location, providing it does not impact or restrict their own plans, and a spokesperson described additional development as complementary.
The unanimous vote to direct region staff to conduct a full business case review of the proposal put forward by Maritime Football Ltd. Partnership (recap), including stadium management, sources of funding through taxes, and many other details of the project. The report is expected to take six months to complete before it is brought before council for debate. The unanimous vote was seen not as support of the stadium, but due diligence on determining the details before deciding on the project. Some councillors expressed doubts about the project financing, location and need.
With a report to council pending, the prospective ownership group are preparing a season ticket campaign to gauge interest and provide some metrics in the final report. Commissioner Ambrosie declared a Halifax stadium pivotal to a CFL expansion franchise being awarded to the region. He will be in Halifax when the group kicks off their season ticket campaign Nov. 7th.
Maritime Football principle Anthony LeBlanc defended the Shannon Park site in the face of criticism and revealed additional details of the ticket campaign and costs.
Debate ranged from the wait-and-see, to take a pass now, to not on my dime. The people’s voices willing to vocalize is 4-1 against. However, the premier believes Nova Scotians should be excited the CFL is considering Halifax.
A decision to move forward to obtain greater detail was a trigger for greater debate. Many minds, for or against, are set based on principle, not based on the merits of this specific case. The use of generalization, misinformation and retrospective determinism in arguments without waiting for the facts of the proposal condition us to act emotionally and not on data. Assumptions about what is good or bad about this proposal will mean if those conditions are changed, one will not know and be able to adjust their position. If the response is my opinion does not change, I am always for or against and nothing can change that, then decisions are fully determined by dogma, not facts. This is truly what puts society and democracy at risk, as we can only evaluate to two conditions, and will never learn, change and develop new solutions that advance ourselves.
It is clear is Haligonians (and people of the region) will be able to show their support with a deposit on tickets this week (refundable if the franchise is not awarded, non-refundable I would expect if it is awarded). This will provide some metric of support for the CFL in the region, but it won’t stop those who want to use this will fail as an objection to any project. With an idea of support, and a full business case on the partnership and financing to build a stadium, council will be able to debate the merits, and decide if they wish to engage the people.
Per the CFL Stadium Proposal Update to regional council, development of the Shannon Park lands in Dartmouth will require a development planning process with public engagement, which expedited would take six months. During this time, objections to a stadium and other development on the site could be heard, and alternative sites sought, or alternative sites sought if the process was determined to be too involved. While changing a preferred location can be hard, if alternatives show advantages in time to proceed and location, and similar or less acquisition cost, the choice should be easy.
There is very little solid detail on the capital cost sharing aspect of the project; that will need to come out in the final report. MFLP shows interest in managing the stadium, including all operating cost and risk. Tax Incremental Funding is indicated as a way for the region to service the debt on the capital cost, indicating the region is bearing the construction cost, at least in terms of financing. The 10-year capital project forecast for the region includes $105 million for a stadium, with $70 million of that expected to come externally (I assume this means through loans, bonds or some other debt instrument). The 10-year plan figures are not approved by council as an official budget.
The report will also provide details on the cost-benefit, economic impact, partnerships and cost estimates. Construction of a stadium is expected to contribute $171 million to Nova Scotia’s GDP and provide jobs for 1,951 FTE positions in the province. More diligence on these numbers will be required in the final report, as well as firmer construction costs and a framework on who will pay for any cost overruns.
In addition, economic opportunities that a stadium and franchise bring should be explored and made clear. Events such as the Grey Cup and CFL Week can lead to other national and international events as the planning and volunteer bases get established. Rather than travelling for major sports, will some Maritime discretionary income be spent locally instead? How will tourism be impacted, not just by big events, but by attracting the discretionary income of fans in nine other Canadian cities who will scratch the Maritimes off their bucket list (or come annually) while watching their favourite team. It is a real thing, but is it enough to make a substantial impact? There is no need to decide now, but many factors will be in play and it is not a simple choice. There is no right or wrong answer; no one can see the future as to what the result will be, nor can anyone see the alternate path once one path is chosen.
What is certain is no one is going to show up with the money to build a stadium. Those philanthropists don’t exist and suitcases of money don’t show up unexpectedly. The economics of the CFL and a member team owner don’t allow it. It would be great if it did, if Canada’s league generated revenues that allowed $200 million on a stadium to be paid back in 10 years. Our country’s scale doesn’t provide that. Across the country, what we have always done is use the power of public funds to develop our shared infrastructure including roads, hospitals, parks, schools, libraries and, yes, stadiums and arenas. Finding uses for and utilizing these assets for as much good to the community as possible has always been key, and as public assets, available and affordable access to all. This is unlike the American examples thrown out in warning, where dedicated, sole-purpose assets not for public use are financed with public funds rather than team revenue.
Currently, no one gets rich off the CFL, which is in everyone’s interest. Ticket prices are affordable, and salaries are reasonable. This may be changing, and a 10th team in Halifax may be a part of that growth. New leadership is looking for outside revenue streams that could increase team profitability, providing stability and additional economic impact on their cities. This might be the last chance to get in on the ground floor, before the league changes and evolves in a new direction. Being part of a Canadian tradition, which has brought so much joy to Canadians over the past 60 years and before, is something many Canadians want Halifax and the Maritimes to be a part of. Halifax will have to decide if they want to be part of that too, or if they see a future where such a move will make their lives worse.
Stadium projects in Canada involve public money and should be evaluated on the greater good to the community. Improperly done, the model will collapse and repayment will need to be forgiven. This does not eliminate the social and economic benefits delivered. Analyzing the risk, the projections and the cost against the opportunity needs to be done. Will a stadium and what it will bring expand the tax base/population in the long term? Will it be a catalyst for the convention centre and tourism in the region? Are the risks minimized and the right framework in place for this to be successful? Are we willing to invest in gains that will be seen long term in our growth, opportunity and pride or will we chance those will come eventually anyway?
Haligonians will review and understand the choice, and make the correct decision for Halifax.
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