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Walling: Halifax can't afford to drop ball on stadium

Alex J. Walling
8/7/2011 9:02:59 PM
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I've heard it since 1972 and that is the CFL is coming to Halifax.  And, we're getting a CFL or major-sized stadium. Ya, right.

Yes, rumour, innuendo, even a projection map as per former CFL Commissioner Larry Smith that had Saskatoon out west and Halifax out east as "sure bets" for CFL expansion. That was in the early 90's.

Why even on a Sunday morning around 1991,  I got a call from the TSN assignment desk in Toronto saying "get the story about the Tiger-Cats moving to Halifax." It seems some Hamilton radio station was blaring the fact that the Tabbies were eastbound. I remember my conversation with the assignment editor telling him, "You're dreaming. There is no way any CFL team is coming to Halifax because we do not have a stadium."

The only thing that resembles a stadium is the old and rundown Saint Mary's Huskies stadium that is almost condemned. The washrooms are not working and the press box is closed down. It isn't a pretty sight. And, it can seat maybe 8,000 with the bulk of those with temporary college seats.

The Tiger-Cats weren't going anywhere and they stayed in Hamilton.

Over the last 25–30 years, a rumour here and there would pop up stating Halifax was getting a CFL team or stadium. But over the last few months, one major factor has sprung up that I've never seen since I arrived here and that is there seems to be a will by city council to build a stadium. All the other years and decades, it was rumored that private money along with provincial or federal funding would come through but this is the first time the city mothers and fathers are at least discussing it.

The reason for a stadium is clear and that is the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. Canada is hosting the event and looking for cites to play games in. Halifax wants to hold a game or two or more and, to join the list, must have a stadium.  Hence, the hurry to build one in this part of Atlantic Canada. Why they even have a committee called the Strategic Stadium Steering Committee.

"We've completed phase one of the deal, said committee vice chair Peter Spurway. "This sets up the kind of stadium and other parameters that are needed."

So far so good but the next step is the biggie; to determine exactly what kid of stadium and where it should be located at a cost of $275,000. There's already infighting among city council as to where it should be built. Some want to keep it downtown or renovate and expand Huskies stadium.

But, Brian Warshick a former councillor and a football fan, who has presented a brief to interesting parties says build it outside the city.

"It should be in Burnside," Warshick said. "Burnside (on the other side of Halifax) is next to the highways which would bring out-of-towners from New Brunswick, PEI and elsewhere to the stadium."

Phase I cost $100,000. Phase II will cost another $275,000. "Ouch," said some members of council and so later this week will decide if they go forward.

"Things like size, and location will be discussed if Phase II is a go. Right now, we are looking at a stadium with 10-15,000 seating for the soccer matches but location and expansion seating are items to be dealt with," said Spurway.

To build a stadium for soccer only is hardly worth it. It must be done to have a CFL team and hold 25,000. If Halifax gets Women's World Cup games but the stadium is not suitable for anything else, then it may be a white elephant if it only holds 10-15,000.

Halifax should look at what Moncton has done. They got funding for a 10,000-seat stadium to host an international track and field event and built it on land that made it possible for expansion to hold over 20,000 with temporary seating. As a result, the CFL played their first regular season game in a non-CFL city there last fall as Moncton hosted the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos. It was an overwhelming success.

This year, Touchdown Atlantic Two will take place in September when Hamilton plays Calgary. In both cases tickets sold out in hours.

Halifax almost had a stadium on a few occasions. In the early 80's, the Halifax Schooners almost happened under the guidance of ex-CFL man, the late J. I. Albrecht. The Schooners had an office and were almost selling season tickets when the stadium deal with the federal government fell through. The team had paid the $25,000 application fee but did not meet the deadline for the $250,000 franchise fee.

"We had it," J. I. told me, "before the feds changed their minds on a stadium."

This time, city council is taking the lead and, in round one, many were on board. But the thought of coughing up $275,000 while not having many answers is causing second thoughts. That and an election being only 15 months away may be a negative at this time.

The other time Halifax almost had a stadium is when they went for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. A 45,000-seat stadium was proposed for the event but Halifax backed out.

Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary and all CFL cities have a stadium. Regina wants a new one, Hamilton is building a new one, BC is revamping theirs for the Grey Cup and Halifax sits out of the loop. This city is supposed to be the economic, banking and business centre in Atlantic Canada; it has nearly 400,000 people but has a city council that waffles.

One thing is for sure and that is, if Halifax misses the boat on the 2015 Women's World Cup, then forget about a stadium for a long, long time. And, without a stadium, bring the CFL east to Moncton because they deserve the chance simply on their initiative.

For TSN.ca, I'm Alex J. Walling.

Alex J.can be reached via email at:  ajw@eastlink.ca

 




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