Nova Scotia premier says ‘we should all be excited’ CFL is considering Halifax expansion

Argos fans celebrate their new home at BMO Field during the kickoff for CFL action against the Ti-Cats in Toronto on Thursday, June 23, 2016. CFL PHOTO / Dave Chidley

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says he’s open to considering new revenue sources for a CFL stadium in Halifax, including new taxes.

“I think, first of all, it’s exciting the fact that a major sports league is looking at Halifax and looking at Nova Scotia as the right place on the east coast,” McNeil said Thursday. “I’ve also said that we would not be looking at taking money out of general revenue to support a stadium.”

A staff report presented to Halifax Regional Council on Tuesday suggested that a new tax on car rentals or an increase to the hotel marketing tax could be considered to fund a stadium development. McNeil says that’s what has been done in other parts of the world.

“But we have made no commitment, because the project hasn’t come to us yet,” he said.

“What we’ll look at as we look at all things that come to government — where does it fit into the economic future of our province, what role do we play in it, does our commitment and role in that balance out?”

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READ MORE: CFL commissioner says stadium critical for Halifax expansion bid

But NDP leader Gary Burrill says it isn’t the right time for the province to get involved.

“At a time in Nova Scotia where we, the citizens, need to be paying for a $2-billion redevelopment of our major hospital, in our party, we’re not interested in the citizens of Nova Scotia having any public money spent on a project of this sort,” Burrill said.

It’s been nearly a year since news broke that a group of proponents had brought a credible proposal to Halifax council for a CFL expansion into the city. The major hurdle remains the lack of a suitable place to play.

This week, council has directed staff to review the business case for a 24,000-seat stadium in Shannon Park, which is currently empty land on the Dartmouth side of the harbour. The estimated cost is between $170 and $190 million, and Maritime Football Ltd. — the company behind the expansion proposal — is asking both levels of government to chip in.

READ MORE: Halifax votes to advance negotiations on potential CFL stadium

The province is not interested in tapping into its capital budget to build a stadium, McNeil said, although he didn’t rule out possible capital expenditures on infrastructure for the development in Shannon Park.

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Neither level of government has committed a dollar figure to the project or a method of funding. The premier says if the municipality decides not to participate, the province won’t step in.

“I think if it’s going to happen this is probably the group that could make it happen,” McNeil said of Maritime Football Ltd.

READ MORE: CFL in talks regarding expansion to Halifax

Maritime Football Ltd. is headed up by Anthony LeBlanc and Gary Drummond, both former executives of the Phoenix Coyotes, as well as local business owner Bruce Bowser. They have said the stadium development needs to include housing, retail and restaurants, citing Ottawa’s Lansdowne Stadium as an example of what the group is aiming to create.

LeBlanc says he wants to start a season ticket drive and possibly a name-the-team contest this month. He tells Global News Maritime Football is aiming to begin construction of a stadium development by next summer.

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