HRM council votes unanimously in favour of considering a proposed CFL stadium in Dartmouth’s Shannon Park
But many councillors still have questions about the financial details thestar.com
A football franchise and stadium is a step closer to reality, but serious questions remain about the financial risk involved for the municipality.
Halifax regional council voted unanimously in favour of a staff report on a business case analysis of the Shannon Park stadium proposal on Tuesday. The motion passed will also see municipal staff work with the provincial government on a long list of necessary legislative amendments and potential funding sources.
It also means the proponents, Maritime Football Limited Partnership (MFLP), will start consulting the public on their plans for a 24,000-seat stadium in Shannon Park in Dartmouth to host a CFL expansion team for the 2021 season.
“There’s a lot of players at the table, but I think ultimately there’s optimism that we can do this, as long as everybody is at the table understanding what the shared risk is,” Anthony Leblanc, founding partner of MFLP, told reporters after the vote.
“We’ll move the ball down the field.”
Building the stadium would cost between $170 million and $190 million, but it’s still unclear who’s footing that bill.
Leblanc said MFLP would take on the operational risk of the stadium, meaning the ongoing costs once it’s built. He pegged those at $3 million annually or more.
“We plan on being the sole group at risk in regard to the operations of the facility,” he said.
He wouldn’t say whether MFLP would need either the municipal or provincial government to guarantee the loan.
“We would need government involved at the table in some fashion in regards to how the
loan structure is put together. I don’t have an answer for you on that,” he said.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé told councillors that the municipality wouldn’t own the stadium or the debt.
“We’re not looking to take construction risk. We’re not looking to take financial risk on the project,” he said.
Dubé’s plan to pay for the stadium is a controversial financing model called Tax Increment Financing (TIF). The municipality would create a TIF district around the stadium, and the property taxes from the commercial development planned in that area would ostensibly pay for the debt financing costs — $9 million to $10 million annually.
It’s a similar model to one used for the Nova Centre in downtown Halifax, where council planned to pay for its share of the convention centre using the property taxes from the project as a whole. That’s not working out, but Dubé said it’ll be different this time.
“The main difference is, the TIF model would be, whatever the TIF generates is what would be returned,” he said.
“There would be no financial risk to HRM under a TIF model as compared to the other model. That’s the major difference here.”
Mayor Mike Savage said the math didn’t add up for him, but he wants more information.
“I don’t really yet have my head around how the TIF works. It doesn’t make sense to me, ‘Well if we don’t collect it, we don’t pay it.’ That seems like,
there’s gotta be more to it than that,” he said during debate.
But Savage doesn’t have any doubts about the location — “I think a stadium at Shannon Park would be completely awesome” — or the viability of a CFL team — “I have absolutely no doubt that football will be successful if it comes to Halifax. I know that in my heart.”
Leblanc is going to set out to prove that in the coming months with a season-ticket drive and a team-naming contest.
“We feel very good about the potential, but we need to go out and see if it’s real,” he said. “If there’s no season ticket holder base, quite candidly, I don’t think anybody wants to proceed.”
“THERE’S OPTIMISM WE CAN DO THIS.” Anthony Leblanc, Maritime Football Limited partner
Shannon Park, the proposed site of a mixed-use stadium in Dartmouth, was used for military housing from the 1950s until the early 2000s.