The plan to build a stadium on the site of a former military housing complex in Dartmouth, N.S., is one step closer to reality.
But local residents who took part in a series of public engagement sessions with the owners of the property say they have been left blindsided by what was announced over the weekend by Schooners Sports Entertainment, the group intent on bringing a CFL franchise to Halifax.
In 2015, the Canada Lands Company hosted the first of many public engagement sessions at which community members were asked to give their feedback on what they wanted to see from a Shannon Park development.
According to some of the people who attended those meetings, including former MLA Joanne Bernard, a stadium was never part of the design concept or discussions.
“Quite clearly in the consultations that were held over a number of months with residents of Dartmouth North and also other residents of Dartmouth, the stadium was well below what anyone had wanted,” said Bernard, a Dartmouth north resident.
“There were talks of affordable housing, of green space, of an arts centre, all kinds of other uses of that public land but a stadium was not the priority.”
But this weekend, that plan went out the window after SSE announced that they’ve signed a letter of intent with Canada Lands Company, outlining a potential deal that would see a multi-use sports and entertainment hub built on the Dartmouth side of Halifax harbour.
Chris Millier, a spokesperson with Canada Lands Company, says the letter outlines parameters and guidelines for SSE to follow in order for the company to move forward with detailed negotiations and business transactions.
One thing Millier emphasizes is that all of the community consultation efforts will not be lost.
“I really think that there’s an opportunity for people to be heard and I think that all of the work we do is always better with strong community engagement,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to those people having a continued opportunity to have their interests recognized and heard and participate in the process that’s still ongoing.”
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Tony Mancini, councillor for Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East, says while some people have expressed concerns to him over a stadium being built in Shannon Park, it has nothing to do with Canada Lands selling the land for that purpose.
“The biggest opposition to the stadium is not necessarily Canada Lands. It’s more are, ‘we going to use taxpayer money to go towards the stadium?’ When I hear opposition, that’s what I hear as the opposition, less on Shannon Park,” Mancini said.
Millier says it is now up to SSE to reengage the public and Millbrook First Nation, who have land rights to Shannon Park.
He feels that re-engagement process will give SSE the opportunity to finalize their business report that still needs to be presented to the municipality for further consultation. He added that that the preferred concept plan that was developed through community consultation won’t be ‘scrapped’, just modified.
“I wouldn’t suggest and wouldn’t’ want to say that we need to come up with a brand new plan. We have some excellent underlying, urban design and development principals that certainly are applicable whether a stadium is part of the plan or not,” he said.
Some residents of Dartmouth North remain skeptical that will be the case.
“Nowhere in any report that I’ve ever seen or certainly any meeting I went to was the suggestion of having a stadium on that piece of land,” said Bernard.