CFL commissioner lands in Halifax as football boosters rally for Atlantic team

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie issued a news statement noting the league has made Halifax the sole non-franchise city on his national CFL tour. He'll be holding a public town hall in the city's downtown at noon on Friday.

Halifax is the final stop — and only non-franchise city — on Randy Ambrosie's cross-country road trip

Randy Ambrosie tosses a football as he speaks in Toronto in this 2017 file photo. The CFL commissioner will be in Halifax Friday, the last stop on his cross-country road trip. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The Canadian Football League's commissioner will be in Halifax Friday for what's expected to be a morale booster to those hoping the city will gain a professional team.

Randy Ambrosie issued a news statement Thursday, noting the league has made Halifax the sole non-franchise city on his national tour. He'll be holding a public town hall in the city's downtown at noon on Friday.

The league has confirmed it has been in talks with a "professional, enthusiastic and impressive" group of prospective owners rallying for a Halifax franchise.

No spokesperson for the league was available Thursday, but a statement stated that Maritime Football Limited "has sparked the imagination of having a 10-team league."

"There is still lots to do, but the group is working hard to make the dream a reality. I'm here because I want our fans in Halifax and across Atlantic Canada to know they are an important part of the CFL family," Ambrosie said in a statement.

One economist who studies the Canadian sport industry said Halifax's major hurdle remains the issue of who will pay for a stadium that can house over 30,000 fans.

Moshe Lander, of Concordia University, said a solid plan for a stadium that includes taxpayers' support will need to be in place before a professional team can set up in Halifax.

"Where are you going to put a CFL team if you don't have a stadium?" he said. "A stadium is critical."

Fans display an Atlantic Schooners banner in this 2010 file photo. The team was to join the CFL in the 1980s but never played a game because funding could not be secured for a stadium. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Bruce Bowser, a businessman backing the bid, said during a CTV interview last week that Lansdowne Park in Ottawa is one model for the Halifax bid. The concept would entail a mixture of apartments, restaurants, shops and other real estate developments mixed in with the stadium, he said.

"All of our discussions have been around building not just a stadium, but a development that incorporates a stadium. … All of our discussions have been around, how do you bring a team, a stadium and a development to a city like Halifax." 

He also said public money will be required, possibly from "all three levels of government," but didn't provide a specific figure other than to note stadium price ranges can go from $50 million to $250 million.

Lander said recent trends have seen most football stadiums built or redeveloped in the centre of cities, and it's unclear what suitable land is available on the Halifax peninsula.

Close access to a large population base and public transit are both desirable, he said.

Lander said part of the consortium's strategy will likely be to pressure governments into agreeing to some form of capital financing and future tax rebates.

"Part of this is a public relations game … You trial-balloon it and let the number [for public financing] cycle through newspapers, television and talk shows and gauge what the public feels about it," Lander said.

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