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COUNCIL RECAP: Talks move forward on CFL stadium, full financial analysis to be complete

Council approved further scrutiny of a proposed CFL stadium in Shannon Park during its meeting Tuesday, but negotiations will continue
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Halifax City Hall (Meghan Groff/HalifaxToday.ca)

Halifax regional council has voted to continue negotiations with a group looking to secure a CFL franchise, but its stadium proposal for Shannon Park will come further under the microscope.

An updated staff report at council Tuesday outlined Shannon Park as a preferred destination for a stadium by Maritime Football Ltd., who says the cost to build it would be roughly $190 million.

Council unanimously accepted a staff recommendation to complete a full business case analysis on the group’s proposal, which has tax revenue from the site used to pay future debt servicing costs.

Debt servicing costs on the stadium are expected to be in the neighbourhood of $10 million per year and staff note other sources of revenue will need to be found to cover such costs, in consultation with the provincial government. 

A number of councillors made it clear during Tuesday’s meeting they did not want the municipality contributing to operating costs or the physical build of a stadium.

Beaverbank councillor Lisa Blackburn supported a full fiscal look at the proposal because she’s “pro-information,” but wanted it more clear HRM will not pay for construction or operations.

"We're not interested in getting involved of the operations or paying for the facility going forward," CAO Jacques Dube responded during his presentation.

Maritime Football is in talks with federal crown corporation Canada Lands to buy up to 20 acres of land in Shannon Park, with a number of hurdles still to clear before that deal could be completed.

North-end Dartmouth councillor Tony Mancini, whose district includes Shannon Park, supported a deeper look at the proposal but wanted an affordable housing piece included in any development.

“Obviously traffic and parking, those are questions,” Mancini said. “But what access will the community have to the stadium?”

Anthony LeBlanc, founding partner of Maritime Football, also attended Tuesday’s meeting and said a lot of work was still left to be completed, but the group felt good about progress.

“We’ve been working on this for…well over a year. These types of projects take time and you have to be thoughtful,” LeBlanc told reporters after council approved staff's recommendations, noting some concerns raised at the meeting were not previously discussed.

He said there were a number of partners included any discussions including the province, municipality, Canada Lands, Millbrook First Nation and others. 

"There's optimism that we can do this as long as everyone is at the table understanding what the shared risk is and we'll move the ball down the field," LeBlanc said. 

While he re-iterated the point a public partnership would be essential, he wanted to make it clear “we’re not holding a gun to anyone’s head.”

“If at the end of the day the decision is made that people don’t want to move forward with this, no harm, no foul,” LeBlanc said. “We knew that getting into this.”

He couldn't say at this point any potential source of money for a new stadium build, through private investment, loan, or a combination of each but said he the group planned on being "the sole group at risk in regards to the operations to the facility." 

"The conversation about how the money will flow, who will sign up for it, those are to be determined. We don't have answers for you right now."

LeBlanc said the group intends to start public information sessions on its stadium plan and begin a season ticket drive next month.  

Dube said during the meeting the full analysis of the proposal would take about six months to complete before it returns to council, and will include a recommendation whether HRM should proceed or not.

Cornwallis Committee governance request deferred 

Council on Tuesday agreed to a request for more independence from a committee exploring how to commemorate Halifax’s controversial founder Edward Cornwallis and Indigenous history.

The Special Advisory Committee on the Commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and the Recognition and Commemoration of Indigenous History has asked to be more of a partnership between HRM and Mi'kmaq leaders.

Spryfield councillor Stephen Adams was not happy about the request, wondering how the request was even made during its meeting noting it would have the power to go in-camera.

“That is not appropriate, we don’t make up our own rules,” Adams said. “That’s wrong.”

City solicitor John Traves made clear the committee would still provide recommendations to council.

"If we want real reconciliation and if we only do things the way we've always done then, we'll only have the status quo," Councillor Shawn Cleary said. 

"This is our opportunity to reach out and make a real partnership." 

During its first meeting, the committee voted to ask to fall out of the purview of HRM, with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs also splitting the funding to make it more objective.

The committee was struck to try to address concerns from the Mi'kmaq community given Cornwallis’ actions against Indigenous Peoples, including a bounty issued on scalps in 1749.

A statue of Cornwallis was removed from the south-end in January after the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs threatened to pull out of the committee.

A second committee meeting has not been scheduled.

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