Nova Scotia

CFL stadium proposal 'considerable risk' to taxpayers, Halifax officials warn

A report from Halifax CAO Jacques Dubé says municipal council should not support a proposed CFL-friendly stadium in Shannon Park, but could consider a one-time $20-million payment for a facility if a better location is found.

Council report rejects Shannon Park location, but suggests $20M payment if adequate site found

On Tuesday, council in Halifax will consider a staff report on a proposal by Schooner Sports and Entertainment to build a $110-million, 24,000-seat stadium at a site in Shannon Park. (Schooners Sports and Entertainment)

Halifax's top official says council should not support a proposed CFL-friendly stadium in Shannon Park, but could make a one-time payment of $20 million for a facility built somewhere with better access to transportation. 

The report from chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé and his staff was posted online Friday and will be discussed at council Tuesday afternoon.

It said Dubé and his team "do not recommend" the Halifax Regional Municipality give money to a stadium built in Shannon Park, a former military housing park in Dartmouth, N.S. 

The report said the site is "severely encumbered" by a CN rail line and the MacKay Bridge and "would require an extensive public transportation infrastructure investment."

Schooner Sports and Entertainment, the consortium that wants to bring a Canadian Football League team to the Halifax area, is seeking municipal and provincial funding to build a complex in Shannon Park by 2022.

The stadium would be a 24,000-seat facility with an inflatable winter sports dome that could be used for professional football and community sports. SSE said the stadium could host one to two major concerts a year and a minimum of one Grey Cup every 10 years.

Exposes city to risk

Coun. Sam Austin said Friday the report echoed the concerns he shared in October. He stopped short of saying the report killed the Shannon Park stadium.

"That's for council to decide. To me, it's been off the table for a little while now," he said. 

He said the proposal would mean "exposing HRM to the full risk of the team not being successful."

"Instead, our staff have taken that and said no, we would rather pay up front, which turns that risk piece on its head and puts it back in the court of the Schooners."

He said even that $20 million would be better spent on other civic infrastructure, like libraries and buses. 

Mayor Mike Savage has supported the idea of a Halifax stadium. The mayor's spokesperson said Friday that he wouldn't comment on the CAO's report before it goes to council. 

SSE said it welcomed the report. "We look forward to receiving HRM council's decision on whether to approve this recommendation and we stand ready to work diligently with staff and the community to ensure the success of this game-changing community development," spokesperson Sean Lewis said in an email. 

New ferry terminal, ferries

The CAO report said Schooner Sports and Entertainment's proposal doesn't give a "proper analysis" of what infrastructure would be needed for storm and waste water, or for transportation.

A stadium on that site could also force Halifax to invest in a new ferry terminal at the site, as well as new ferries, which would cost tens of millions of dollars, according to the report.

"While a stadium would add a valuable piece of infrastructure to Halifax, the financial options proposed by SSE for the stadium require a considerable amount of public funds and all are dependent upon the success of an untested Halifax CFL franchise and Halifax market," the report finds. "As such, the options proposed present considerable risk to the municipal taxpayer."

Because of that, the CAO recommended a one-time payment of $20 million "upon substantial completion of the stadium."

Schooner Sports and Entertainment had asked for $41 million to $79 million, according to the report. It also recommends the company pay full property taxes on the stadium and the land. 

It said Halifax should take no ownership of the stadium, make no loan guarantee, and not participate in ongoing capital or maintenance costs.

Plan relies on selling 96% of CFL tickets

Dubé noted SSE's proposal assumes the stadium would sell 21,600 tickets to each game every year, relying on Halifax to draw the second-biggest per capita crowds in the league.

The CAO said assuming the team would sell 96 per cent of tickets is "aggressive" and noted it would have to sell 70 per cent of tickets per game to break even. 

The report said if SSE comes back with another site, it must support that with a "full community concept plan" laying out streets and land uses, plus a master site-servicing plan. 

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