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Game on: Halifax votes to advance negotiations on potential CFL stadium

Randy Ambrosie holds a football as he speaks during a press conference in Toronto, Wednesday July 5, .
Randy Ambrosie holds a football as he speaks during a press conference in Toronto, Wednesday July 5, . The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn

Halifax regional council has voted to advance negotiations on a proposed 24,000-seat stadium, pushing a bid to land a Canadian Football League team for the East Coast’s largest city one step closer to reality.

In a unanimous 15 to 0 vote, council has directed staff to conduct a “thorough” business case analysis on the proposed stadium, while engaging with the province and other partners such as the Millbrook First Nation on how to proceed with a possible stadium.

Maritime Football Limited Partnership, an organization composed of business executives and former owners of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, is in the final stages of securing a conditional CFL expansion franchise.

The group has been negotiating with municipal staff for nearly two months about the topic and issues eventually presented to Halifax council in a report on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Maritime Football Ltd. eyeing Shannon Park for CFL stadium, planning season ticket drive

A trio of senior staff members — Chief Administrative Officer Jacques Dubé, director of planning and development Kelly Denty and municipal solicitor John Traves — led the presentation and took questions from councillors.

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The report indicated that Maritime Football has proposed Shannon Park, a 38-hectare swath of land on the east side of Halifax harbour formerly used by the Department of Defence for housing, as the preferred location for the multi-purpose stadium.

The group is in talks with Canada Lands Company to buy up to eight hectares of land for the stadium, a parking structure and “associated uses,” the staff report says.

The new football team would be the anchor tenant of the stadium, which comes with an estimated price tag of up to $190 million.

Dubé said on Tuesday that the municipality is not interested in helping with the operating and maintenance costs of a potential stadium.

It was a statement echoed by many councillors, who said they would vote down any proposal that saw operating and maintenance costs be footed by the municipality.

Instead, staff said that they are recommending the use of a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) model.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Mike Jones (12) can not get his hands on the ball while defended by Ottawa Redblacks Sherrod Baltimore during second half CFL Football game action in Hamilton, Ont. on Saturday, October 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Mike Jones (12) can not get his hands on the ball while defended by Ottawa Redblacks Sherrod Baltimore during second half CFL Football game action in Hamilton, Ont. on Saturday, October 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power The Canadian Press/Peter Power

Tax Incremental Financing

Essentially, the TIF proposal would reallocate funds from property taxes to pay for the stadium, with the property taxes being redirected from Shannon Park in whole or in part.

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Additionally, staff will work with the province to increase the hotel marketing levy tax and and creating a brand new tax on car rentals in order to offset costs.

Halifax has admitted that using a TIF model would require the Nova Scotia government to make a legislative change to the HRM Charter.

Although the report does not say how much funding council will be asking for, it does call the participation of the provincial government as a capital financing partner “essential.”

The premier has previously said the province is not planning to cut a cheque for capital funding of a stadium.

“I am not going to be reaching into general revenue to build a football stadium,” Stephen McNeil told reporters in July.

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Concerns raised

Many councillors expressed doubt on Tuesday, but said that they did want more information about the possible stadium.

Tony Mancini, councillor for Dartmouth Centre, which includes Shannon Park, said he supported the recommendation in front of council.

“I’m hoping that my colleagues agree,” said Mancini.

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Bill Karsten, councillor for Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage, who voted in favour of the motion, stressed that they are not giving permission to build a stadium but are looking at all of the options.

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“This is truly council, doing in my mind, the due process that we’re here to follow,” said Karsten.

Mayor Savage said he would support a potential stadium but expressed some level of caution.

“If you have a stadium, there is some cost. This may be our best chance,” he said.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia premier says the province will not use general revenue to build a CFL stadium in Halifax

Dubé stressed that nothing is set in stone and that the business case analysis would provide many of the answers asked by councillors on Tuesday.

The CAO also revealed that Maritime Football have been talking to SMU and Dal and are looking at making the stadium a full-time ice surface in the winter as well as other partnership possibilities.

Dubé also mentioned that staff expect the CFL to award a conditional franchise to the Maritime Footbal Ltd., within the next month.

An announcement during Grey Cup week (Nov. 21 to Nov. 25) in Edmonton would fit that timetable.

Anthony LeBlanc, founding partner of Maritime Football, has previously told Global News  that the organization is likely to hold a press conference next week, joined by Randy Ambrosie, commissioner of the CFL. 

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At that point, he says, they would hope to kick off a season ticket drive and a “name the team” contest.

Steve Streatch, councillor for Waverley Fall River, said it was time for council to put faith in their staff.

“Sometimes I vote with my gut. This is the right thing to do,” he said.

“Absolutely I want a stadium. It doesn’t mean at any cost but quite frankly… where there is a will, there is a way.”

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With files from Sarah Ritchie and The Canadian Press