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Council will give $20 million for CFL stadium, just not at Shannon Park

After more than two hours of discussion Tuesday, council passed the motion with a vote of 10-7
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Halifax Regional Council has decided they will contribute $20 million to a new CFL stadium in the city, but not at the originally suggested Shannon Park location.

After more than two hours of discussion Tuesday, council passed a motion to negotiate a Contribution Agreement with Schooner Sports and Entertainment (SSE), with a vote of 10-7.

Although not the originally proposed $2 million annually, the group is still happy with their funds.

“We’re very comfortable. This is a very real contribution from HRM and it works very well with our plans,” says Anthony LeBlanc, CEO of SSE.

Voting against the motion were councillors Austin, Mason, Smith, Cleary, Zurawski, Whitman, and Outhit.

The vote followed a presentation from HRM staff, based on a report evaluating the amended stadium proposal from SSE last month.

The $20 million is conditional, and will only be awarded once SSE has completed “substantial construction” at a site that HRM deems worthy.

“There is going to be a very aggressive next three to six months,” says LeBlanc.

The CEO says that within that time frame, SSE will consider a variety of sites that were in the running originally, as well as several that have been suggested recently.

“It’s a process that we’ve been working on for years before we chose Shannon Park as our preferred site,” adds LeBlanc.

During Tuesday’s meeting, alternate locations that were suggested included land in Woodside or in Dartmouth Crossing.

“I think what’s most important is to ensure the site is easily accessible from a 100-series highway,” LeBlanc explained.

One of the main reasons that the Shannon Park location was not acceptable, according to HRM staff, is the lack of access.

But councillors had various other reasons for why they did not vote for the stadium.

“Quite frankly, I have better things to do with $20 million dollars,” said District 12 Councillor Richard Zurawski.

Councillors were concerned that funding, which would come out of the Capital Reserve Fund and is earmarked for special projects, could go towards much needed improvements in their own districts.

“To me that is not what I feel we should be prioritizing,” said District 8 Councillor Lindell Smith.

Several councillors were concerned that although the CFL stadium is marketed as a “community” stadium, many local groups would not benefit from access.

“A couple of concerts a year would be nice, but I do not view this as a community stadium. This is for professional sports and entertainment,” says Bedford Councillor Tim Outhit.

Council did acknowledge how much SSE was willing to compromise for the funding.

“This is a much stripped down version of what we were originally presented,” says Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn.

But the majority of councillors did support the motion in the end.

District 1 Councillor Steve Streatch told council that the stadium was about HRM as a whole, and said the opportunity might not come again.

“The iron’s hot right now, he said. “I want to show that we are greater than the sum of our parts. This is about all of us, not our individual districts”

HRM’s newest councillor, Lower Sackville’s Paul Russell called the future stadium a “shining star” over the city, and Councillor Bill Karsten said it was an “amazing opportunity.”

But even though the vote was passed, the stadium is still in the future. SSE will need to secure funding from the province and other lenders or investors to reach the total $110 million budget.

“We’ve got a fair amount of work that needs to be done, but there is significant light at the end of the tunnel,” says LeBlanc.

Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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