CFL

Halifax mayor: stadium coming, with or without CFL expansion

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The Canadian Press
3/19/2011 9:25:14 AM
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HALIFAX -- Halifax is about to engage in a debate over building a new stadium that several Canadian cities are wrestling with, some finding a resolution to questions about their needs for stadiums while others are still undecided in a time of fiscal restraint.

Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina and Hamilton have all struggled recently to find ways to finance stadium projects in a climate where taxpayers seem to be leery about taking on more debt.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear that there will be no money from the federal government for such projects, saying most Canadians agree that funding professional sports venues is a bad idea.

Halifax regional council recently approved $100,000 for a stadium feasibility study and has named a committee to determine if a municipality without a professional sports franchise can fill the stands.

Mayor Peter Kelly has already staked out his position.

"It's not a matter of if, but when this will be built. We need to move forward," said Kelly. "But we have to be clear on size, seating and potential operational uses. It has to be multi-use."

He says a modest stadium of maybe 25,000 seats would not be contingent on the city once again being awarded a Canadian Football League franchise.

"It may happen at some time but I don't think you can push this project on that one issue. It must be used by many stakeholders," said Kelly.

Hopes of CFL expansion into Atlantic Canada died in the mid-1980s when financing fell through for a 30,000-seat stadium for a team that was going to be called the Atlantic Schooners.

The current debate might not be taking place at all had the city been successful in its pursuit of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which included plans for a 20,000-seat stadium.

Despite pledges of federal and provincial support, Kelly said the bid was scrapped because of sticker shock.

"We were looking at all inclusive costs of anywhere from $1.5 billion to $2 billion to host those Games, while the federal government was only willing to provide support up to $400 million."

For Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina, there's no question about what Halifax should do.

"Any city worth a name has had a stadium since time immemorial," he said. "If you do it right, it's a place that will get used a lot."

Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium is about to undergo a $150-million facelift, $55 million of which will fall on city taxpayers.

The balance will be covered by the Ontario and federal governments as Hamilton gets ready to host the 2015 Pan American Games.

For Bratina, a new stadium is clearly worthwhile, not only because it guarantees the CFL Ticats stay put, but for the sense of community it creates.

"There's about 240 days a year that something is happening in that stadium," said Bratina. "It's a busy place and lots of Hamiltonians go through it every year."

Bratina said if Halifax has ambitions for a stadium, pursuing a CFL franchise couldn't hurt.

"We figure the Ticat franchise is worth anywhere from $60 million to $160 million to this city, in spending and marketing," he said.

In Winnipeg, the concrete is already being poured for a new 33,000-seat football stadium, while Ottawa's plan to renovate Lansdowne Park and welcome back a CFL team in 2012 is bogged down in court challenges.

Regina's ambitious $430-million domed stadium plan remains in limbo since the federal government turned down a request for funding help.

However, Mayor Pat Fiacco remains strong on the idea of building it as he pursues private investors.

Kelly said Halifax has already had expressions of corporate interest in a stadium beyond naming rights, but he wouldn't elaborate.

The study committee is to report back to council no later than the end of June.

Moncton CFL Fans (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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