Beyond the Headlines

Stadium deadline looming

Posted: Mar 22, 2012 1:32 PM ET Last Updated: Mar 22, 2012 1:32 PM ET
UPDATE FRIDAY 3:25pm: City staff report recommends the city not go ahead with a new stadium at this time. Here's a link to the report

It looks like Halifax is leaving the decision on a new stadium to the last minute.
City staff was supposed to present its feasibility study to council last Tuesday, but it wasn't ready. That means they must bring it to next Tuesday's council meeting if the city is to meet the March 31st deadline imposed by Soccer Canada.
Halifax missed the first deadline of December 31st, but Soccer Canada agreed to a three month extension. It's all but certain it won't agree to another.
The question is - should the city be making such a monumental decision based on an arbitrary deadline. It's clear Soccer Canada needs an answer - it needs to know which cities are in the running for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Most agree Halifax needs a new stadium. The only stadium of note, at Saint Mary's University, is an eyesore in need of significant renovations. But there is widespread disagreement on what kind of stadium we need.
Do we really need one that can be expanded to seat 20,000 people - the minimum required by Soccer Canada and FIFA? How often would Halifax host events that would attract that many people? Would a smaller, less expensive stadium better suit our everyday needs? What about a partnership with Saint Mary's to expand and renovate their stadium? And, the most important question of all - who is going to pay for it?
The early feasibility studies suggest a cost of anywhere from $54 million to $71 million to build a stadium big enough to handle the World Cup soccer games. The city has committed $20 million towards the cost, but the provincial government continues to say it's not interested in helping out. That leaves the private sector. We should find out next week whether sponsors are ready to step up and pick up the remaining cost. But even if they do, taxpayers will most likely be on the hook for the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year it will take to run and maintain the facility.
Councillors should get the final feasibility report in time for Tuesday's council meeting,  just days before the March 31st deadline imposed by Soccer Canada.
There will, no doubt, be a lot of complex issues to grapple with in that report.  But perhaps the biggest issue is simply this - is it worth rushing in to a multi-million dollar decision just so Halifax can enter the lottery to host a handful of preliminary round soccer games?
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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