The dream of a community stadium and a CFL franchise for Halifax is still alive.
“I’m not afraid to say when I don’t have enough information to make a good decision and in this case, I don’t have enough information,” Coun. Lisa Blackburn (Middle and Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank) said at a regional council meeting Tuesday in an effort to head off a motion that would have directed staff to abandon its analysis of a stadium business plan.
Schooner Sports and Entertainment (SSE) delivered a long-awaited proposal to municipal staff more than a month ago and Jacques Dube, chief administrative officer of the municipality, has said it would take six months for staff to analyze the proposal.
Coun. Sam Austin (Dartmouth Centre) moved Tuesday that council rescind its motion of October 2018 that directed staff to bring a detailed analysis of the SSE business plan back to council, and instead, scuttle the stadium plan outright.
Austin said the private-sector driven proposal promised by SSE is not what he’s seen.
“We are being asked to build the stadium, we are being asked to contribute to the ongoing capital cost, we are being asked to share the tax revenue for not just the stadium but for development at Shannon Park, development that will happen anyway, with or without a stadium,” Austin said.
“We’re going to pay to build the stadium, help with the ongoing costs, assume the risks, fix the off-site transportation needs but not own anything and leave the profit to Schooner Sports. This is quite the business proposal and not what I would have characterized as private-sector driven.”
The proposal would have SSE borrow money to build the stadium -- with the municipality, provincial and/or federal governments providing a guarantee -- and have SSE pay back the lender $5 million to $6 million a year over a 30-year period. The company’s proposal included five options for municipal funding, including a plan that would have HRM commit $2 million annually to the lender and SSE repaying $1 million to the municipality each year on ticket fees.
The stadium, land purchase at Shannon Park and other professional fees would run in the range of $130 million, Anthony LeBlanc, one of three founding SSE partners, has said. The stadium would have 12,000 permanent seats, 10,575 semi-permanent bleacher and temporary seats and standing room for 2,000. The group’s projected timeline is for a construction start date of February 2020 and a completed stadium by October 2022.
The Austin motion required the approval of two-thirds of councillors because it was a motion of recission. After a nearly two-hour debate, the motion failed by a 9-8 vote against.
Councillors, including Blackburn, who voted against Austin’s motion, argued that staff should be given the opportunity to do the job that council requested last October.
Blackburn said the vote shouldn’t be looked at as pro- or anti-stadium.
“This is about process,” Blackburn said.
“It’s the analysis that we need. What we have before us is a package of information with five options and I agree that not a single one of them on its own is palatable. But what we need is our staff experts to break it all down. Challenge the numbers, challenge why there are no numbers there. Is one better than the other. Is one better for our game here at HRM, is the final recommendation a combination of options or maybe staff has some alternatives that we are not seeing right now in front of us. Or maybe this whole thing is a pipe dream that can’t be supported by the numbers. That’s what I need staff to do and I want to give them time to do their job.”
Austin said the municipality is already experiencing a capital deficiency and has deferred maintenance costs.
“Since there is no money tree at city hall, if we choose the stadium project, we are choosing not to do other projects,” he said.
“We should end this now rather than sink six months of time in this.”
Coun. Bill Karsten (Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage) said abandoning the process without waiting for staff analysis would send a terrible message to businesses who want to engage with the municipality.
“Why would you trust us to look at any other proposal in the future,” Karsten said.
Austin said the message sent would be that if you want to work with the municipality, deliver on what you promised.
“Around the room here, I didn’t hear one person say this is a great proposal,” Austin said.
“If I was a resident sitting in the audience, watching TV, reviewing this later, the message I would be taking away from this is council is willing to spend time on fools’ errands chasing pipe dreams.”
Council eventually passed an alternative motion from Karsten asking Dube to return to council on one of their December meeting dates with a staff report that would address the SSE plan’s financial options and transportation and infrastructure requirements.
Dube said a staff update could be provided in December although the analysis would be far from complete at that time.
Reached for comment Tuesday, LeBlanc said “we look forward to continue working with HRM staff to assist in their process of analysis and eventual recommendation to council.”.