HALIFAX, N.S. — A community stadium in Shannon Park is a no-go, according to Halifax Regional Municipality staff.
The staff report, to be presented to regional council Tuesday, recommends that the municipality contribute only $20 million toward a stadium, but not in Shannon Park.
“The offsite infrastructure cost of Shannon Park is one of the key drivers,” of the staff recommendation, said Coun. Sam Austin (Dartmouth Centre)
“There is no development plan and the staff identified that, but those off-site costs have always been one of my main concerns about Shannon Park. … There is enough there that staff said no, we don’t think that’s a good spot given that it will cost us a bundle.”
The staff report is its updated response to the proposal and business plan from Schooner Sports and Entertainment.
Staff will recommend that Jacques Dube, the chief administrative officer for the municipality, negotiate an agreement for a one-time $20-million contribution toward the cost of building a community stadium, payable upon substantial completion of construction.
That contribution would be subject to the selection of a different site with optimal access to major transportation routes and the necessary infrastructure acceptable to regional council.
SSE had proposed a stadium with an initial 12,000 permanent seats that would be expanded to accommodate 24,000 spectators to watch a Canadian Football League expansion team play. SSE has estimated stadium construction, purchase of a six- to eight-hectare piece of surplus military property at Shannon Park in the north end of Dartmouth and professional fees to run in the range of $130 million.
The staff report pegs SSE’s investment at $30 million.
The recent staff analysis identifies several knocks against the Shannon Park site, including: it is encumbered by a CN rail line and the MacKay Bridge to the point that it would require extensive public transportation infrastructure investment; the business case did not include a developer and consequently lacks a storm water and wastewater analysis; and it might require a new ferry terminal and services that would cost in the range of $20 million.
SSE, which had previously explored stadium sites near Dartmouth Crossing and Bayers Lake, said in a statement Friday that it welcomes the recommendations from municipal staff.
“We appreciate the due diligence HRM staff have exercised in this process and support the considerations raised regarding site selection for this important community project,” the SSE statement said.
“We look forward to receiving HRM council’s decision on whether to approve this recommendation and we stand ready to work diligently with staff and the community to ensure the success of this game-changing community development.”
Austin said he doesn’t know what will transpire Tuesday afternoon when the staff report goes to council.
“I couldn’t speculate,” Austin said. “This is the report coming to council Tuesday asking us if we want to carry on this discussion with the caveat that our offer is $20 million and you have to come up with a different location.”
If council endorses the staff recommendation, SSE would be left with the option of finding a different site after months of negotiations with Canada Lands, the Crown corporation that manages surplus military properties, or walking away from the project.
Austin has long voiced dissent on the stadium proposal, even making a motion in October that council scuttle the stadium plan outright instead of waiting for staff to prepare a detailed analysis of the SSE business plan as had been directed by council in October 2018. Austin’s motion failed in a 9-8 vote.
The Dartmouth councillor said that before the scheduled afternoon council meeting convenes, he and his council colleagues will spend Tuesday morning going through the capital budget, featuring key items like libraries, splash pads, transportation plans and the transit system.
“We don’t have any of that core stuff funded so there are a lot of ways that we can spend $20 million and there will be plenty of ideas in the morning.”
The staff report concluded that the municipality would be on the hook for $47 million to $79 million over 30 years for the stadium under the various financial options suggested by SSE.
“While a stadium would add a valuable piece of infrastructure to Halifax, the financial options proposed by SSE for the stadium require a considerable amount of public funds and all are dependent upon the success of an untested Halifax CFL franchise and Halifax market,” the report says.
“As such, the options proposed present considerable risk to the municipal taxpayer. At the same time, partnership with a private-sector sponsor offers the chance for the community to acquire this infrastructure with the private partner carrying the majority of the cost and risk.”