Mayor, CFL boss talks dollars and sense for Halifax stadium, business leaders weigh in

Published on February 11, 2014
CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon, right, and Mayor Mike Savage take questions from the media.
Metro Halifax/Jeff Harper

HALIFAX - The mayor of Halifax and commissioner of the Canadian Football League are urging business and community leaders to think of a stadium in Halifax as more than just a home for a football team.

“Don’t just think about CFL, think about, is this a catalyst for bigger opportunity,” said CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon Monday in Halifax.  “Could it be a center for sports excellence? How do you think about concerts? How do you think about other elements that put Halifax on the stage.”

Cohon and Mayor Mike Savage hosted several private meetings Monday with representatives of local and national businesses to discuss the prospects and gauge interest in a multi-use stadium.

Halifax regional council turned down a stadium proposal in 2012 that was linked to a potential bid to host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but Savage noted that was because no funding partners came to the table.

He said the question remains of whether Halifax could afford – and benefit from – a stadium with the right mix of private and public funding.

“A city our size, the center of the Atlantic provinces…we should have a stadium,” he said. “At the very least, we owe it to people to have that conversation.”

Savage said success would hinge on finding the right business model for Halifax, but noted there’s enough fan base in the Atlantic region to support a team.

“Halifax has over 400,000 people, Regina has just over 200,000,” he said, referring to the immensely popular Saskatchewan Roughriders. “Saskatoon is just over four hours away, Moncton is less than three hours away. So do we have the fan base? I think we have the fan base.”

Cohon said the CFL can bring a variety of business models – including community ownership – to the table that didn’t exist as recently as 10 years ago.

He cited the 40-acre Lansdowne Park project in Ottawa – which includes condos, retail and parklands as well as the home stadium of the Ottawa Redblacks – as a prime example of a sustainable public-private enterprise.

“I’m confident when we look at Ottawa today with the number of season ticket holders they had…separate from all the retail and other elements, that franchise will be a profitable franchise out of the gate,” he said.

Business leaders: show us the plan

Two business leaders in Halifax say the prospects for private investment in a multi-use are good – as long as the business case makes sense.

“I think we’ve got credible business leaders here that, when there’s a good business opportunity, they will put their money into it,” said Greater Halifax Partnership president Paul Kent.

HRM Mayor Mike Savage and CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon met with business and community leaders on Monday to discuss the possibility of a stadium and CFL franchise in Halifax.

Chamber of Commerce president Valerie Payn attended one of the meetings, and said there’s certainly interest in a stadium that would provide recreation and entertainment opportunities for the broader community.

“When the CFL, who have a pretty successful franchise, show an interest in us, we should be interested,” she said. “How could this work for us if there’s an opportunity here?”

Kent said the discussion is complex, noting the merits of a stadium can’t be evaluated by looking solely at tax revenues.

“The stadium…supports economic development, but it doesn’t drive it,” he said. “It’s really all about the other revenue streams, the revenue that comes from hotels and restaurants and other entertainment facilities…so we all have to have a look at the bigger picture.”

Payn said the time is right for the discussion, citing a new sense of optimism among HRM’s business community.

“I think there’s different leadership, different vision,” she said. “The mood has changed and I think there’s a…feeling of confidence that we can look at this together.”