Halifax council okays $20m for CFL stadium for ex-Coyotes owner, but says not a penny more

In a bit of a surprise because everyone in local government seemed to hate the idea, the Halifax regional council voted 10-7 yesterday to provide $20 million in public money toward a new CFL stadium in the city. There are a few caveats, though:

  • Would-be Halifax Schooners owner Anthony LeBlanc (yes, that guy) wanted as much as $79 million, but is getting only a little more than a quarter of that.
  • LeBlanc will have to agree to pay full property taxes on the stadium.
  • The government won’t be on the hook for any construction loans or ongoing capital or maintenance costs.

This is not the worst deal in the world for the public, and certainly a lot better than what LeBlanc was proposing. On the other hand, $20 million is $20 million, and there are lots of other things that Halifax could be spending it on instead: One councillor who voted against the proposal said he’d rather see the money go toward a new police station, a new library, or traffic and transit improvements.

Of course, LeBlanc now still needs to raise the rest of the money for a $110 million stadium, and the CFL has to approve a new franchise, though the league did make appreciative noises following yesterday’s vote. Part of me kind of hopes this stadium does happen, if only to see if they really build something that looks anything like the surreal renderings.


10 comments on “Halifax council okays $20m for CFL stadium for ex-Coyotes owner, but says not a penny more

  1. A giant Larry the Clobster (not Larry the Lobster) mascot statue would be huge civic boost and a worthy use of that $20M.

    The Atlantic Canada game in Moncton (where they are proposing to start the Schooners until a Halifax stadium is built) had only 10,000 people this summer. That is pretty hard to spin into a worthy region for CFL games (the CFL still has a team in Shreveport right?) as they stopped playing a game there when attendance dropped to 15,000. Although the league has suffered already suffered 8 declining years of attendance, particularly in the east, so maybe that makes any willing city an option.

  2. If I were a sports franchise owner (even a CFL one…), this is the kind of contribution I would be seeking. A one time upfront payment to offset construction costs that might/would otherwise be an unconquerable barrier.

    Should LeBlanc go forward from here (likely with a scaled down, 18-20k seat stadium – which is all that is really necessary for this league’s smaller markets), he will have to dig into his own pocket to build the facility, pay to operate it and pay some form of property taxes (which might be less onerous than you might think given the facility’s limited income streams. It will be a money losing commercial property, after all).

    My guess is he will pull the plug. It’s not about getting “help” from the city or RM. It’s about having someone else guarantee his break even point on being a sports franchise owner – just as it was in Glendale.

    That said, he has the money to go ahead with this if he really wants to do so. So it’s up to he and his partners to decide. In or out.

    While I’m sure some Haligonians will complain that there are better uses for the $20m (and there are, obviously, just as there were for the money spent on countless other municipal projects), this limits the taxpayer’s liability for the project. That’s a good thing.

  3. Here’s the HRC CAO’s report on the stadium proposal. It makes for interesting reading. No expert on these things, obviously, but it appears as though Mr. Dube was “quite thorough” in his analysis of the taxpayer exposure in the proposal.

    https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/191210rc1514.pdf

    • Thanks for the link. The CAO seems to be saying that even the $20M is conditional about getting a better site. They are saying that the Sherman site, to become viable (like Moncton) have a serious transportation/parking problem. The stadium at that site would need significant road improvements and a new ferry dock (actually, as you said, the CAO talked about a lot of potential hidden costs that the proposal would have on the city that is ignored by the team proposal) that the CAO is leery about. I did like the part about rejecting the team’s finance requests because they assumed unreasonable attendance (great attendance is possible but there is no reason to model this unlikely scenario for dozens of reasons).

    • That’s the way I read it (council gave a “no” to Shannon Park… the money only comes if they find a more suitable site and meet all other city requirements).

      There seemed to be some confusion about the proposed capacity too. The CAO indicated that 96% fill rate would be 21,600… which doesn’t work on a 24,000 seat stadium (that’s 96% of 22,500).

      Although I’d love to see a Maritime team, I am pleased that HRC rejected this deal as constituted. I guess there’s always a possibility that the proponents come back with a different location, plan and funding formula. Maybe Council would be disposed to increase their upfront contribution (a little) if a more modest stadium was proposed in a different location… I really don’t see this franchise drawing over 20,000 on a regular basis. An 18k stadium might be a better bet all round. It keeps artificial demand in play. You can always add temp (or permanent) seating in one endzone once you know demand is there.

    • Thank you John! Great read (not normal, I know)!

      Great HRC Report by CAO Jacques Dube!

      Here’s what an elected official looks for.

      • This staff recommendation aligns with Council’s position in 2011 to provide $20M of funding toward a community stadium in the $60M range, which HRM would own and operate, and did not have a professional sports franchise as an anchor tenant. A current $20M investment on a $100M – $110M community stadium, with no ownership, no operating and capital costs, and a CFL team on its face is a much better deal for HRM than in 2011.
      • Although the CAO is not recommending sharing in the ticket surcharge revenues, we are proposing full taxation on the stadium, which will provide a revenue source that can be considered as an ROI as noted in the financial section of this report. From a risk point of view, the amount of economic obsolescence placed on the community stadium by the assessment authority would be a factor in the amount of annual taxes levied and received on the stadium.

      Many significant aspects to the report. Won’t hi-light them all for fear of boring FoS readers. However, especially loved this portion.

      Following approval of site selection by Regional Council, SSE would be required to undertake public engagement. This would encompass, but not be limited to, stadium and site design, site amenities and community impacts (e.g. construction). Working with HRM, SSE would be required to conduct the public engagement and submit a report to the CAO.
      Depending on the location of an approved site, a Municipal Planning Strategy amendment process will also be required along with public engagement.
      Canada Lands Corporation (CLC) has completed significant public consultation regarding the Shannon Park Lands and developed a master plan for a residential development. If a stadium were to be constructed at Shannon Park, CLC would require SSE to conduct public engagement (working with HRM) to confirm community support for the incorporation of a stadium into the current Shannon Park redevelopment plan. CLC and SSE would also need to coordinate efforts with the Millbrook First Nation and their neighboring development plans.

      Many points being made here, however, one of significance was made by Neil. SSE’s “vaportecture” of stadium at Shannon Park is “scheisse.”

      Going to miss not seeing Linda or Steve.

    • Having a business card with “Halifax Schooners” printed on it, is not a successful business model.

      Halifax Schooners. Seriously. Sounds more like a sailboat manufacturer than a professional football team (you couldn’t come up with anything better or more relatable to Halifax’s maritime / military history ….. Halifax Fighting Halibut).

      Despite this, the CAO’s report states “That said, SSE has received 6,000 deposits from perspective fans on their season ticket campaign, which is a very positive sign of the interest in a CFL team in Halifax.” Not that SSE or Anthony LeBlanc are to be trusted, as any statements made are clearly self-serving, especially given the following.

      Per USA Today (not a source I usually reference – https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/coyotes/2013/08/12/phoenix-coyotes-new-owners/2643445/ ), “LeBlanc is a classic front man. He picks out familiar faces in a crowd, leads with an extended hand, and is comfortable speaking in front of a bouquet of microphones.”

      However, the CAO’s report further states, “For the proposal to breakeven and produce positive cashflow it requires just over 70% attendance or 16,000 people per game. For purposes of financial modelling, we assumed the more conservative approach that the team would not consistently make its breakeven and hence not provide the annual rent payment of $1M under Options 1, 3 and 3A.”

      I suspect a CFL Halifax average attendance figure is somewhere in between (2019 average attendance for CFL bottom 3 markets: BC Lions 17,567; Montreal Alouettes 17,275; Toronto Argonauts 13,370).

      Halifax is home to the Canadian Premier League HFX Wanderers FC, a professional soccer club and the Thunderbirds, a professional lacrosse team. These would both add value, amount might be questionable, to a stadium for a CFL team.

      Being a fan of a balanced league, it would be nice to see CFL Maritime team, two CFL divisions of 5 teams each. However, I find John’s argument compelling, an 18,000 seat stadium (18,000 at 70% is 12,600). Lastly, the CAO reports states, “In 2011 Council was willing to invest $20M in a $60M, 14,000 permanent seating capacity (expandable to 20,000) community stadium as part of the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup bid, predicated on investment from the Province, Federal government and the public sector and that HRM would own and operate.”

      That means Anthony, get off your backside and find investors for this project, that is if you want to see it come to fruition. Oh, and change Schooner Sports and Entertainment LLC (SSE) to something more exciting, marketable and relatable to Halifax’s residents.

    • Lastly, an 18,000 seat stadium for $60 million is possible.

      https://www.monolithic.org/sports/more/monolithic-megasphere-affordable-state-of-the-art-indoor-stadium

      https://www.monolithic.org/domes

      https://www.monolithic.org/sports/more/the-monolithic-crenosphere-dome

      I am in no way connected with this company nor do I receive any benefits from them. I am simply attempting to make a point.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geodesic_dome

      A geodesic dome is old technology.

      The number one benefit of the geodesic dome structure is the strength of the dome. They are much stronger than rectangular buildings and have been known to survive hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. No internal supports are needed because the weight is distributed evenly throughout the structure.

      Geodesic domes are also impervious to the strongest winds. Because there are no large surface areas for the wind to push against, air just flows around and over the dome.

      In a region that gets a lot of snow in the winter, the snow just slides off the dome.

      Another advantage of geodesic dome is their energy efficiency. A building’s heat loss is directly proportionate to the surface area of the building. The dome shape has 30-40 per cent less surface area for the floor space enclosed than a rectangular shape. They also circulate air more efficiently than rectangular structures.

      A dome receives consistent sun and heat throughout the day because the sun follows the shape of the dome.

      Thirty to 40 per cent less surface area also means 30-40 per cent fewer materials used in construction. Geodesic domes are relatively less expensive to construct than rectangular structures, dependent upon the design and materials used.

      Have always wondered why there are only 4 geodesic dome sports arenas in the US: Round Valley Ensphere, Superior Dome, Tacoma Dome, Walkup Skydome.

  4. There are many companies that specialize in the creation of short term or temporary stadia. I’ve seen the work of this one up front… and it’s pretty good.

    https://www.nussli.com/en/project/#/?sectors=Sports

    You won’t be fooled into thinking you are in a permanent $300m palace… but you won’t feel like you have bought a ticket on a cheesy 1960s era amusement park ride that hasn’t been inspected since it was built either.

    There’s certainly some ongoing costs to consider in maintaining and recertifying a temporary stadium annually, but it’s considerably lower than just the carrying costs on a (similar sized) permanent stadium that gets used 10-15 times per year.

    • Once again, John, thank you! Great site / read!

      Philosophy has always been, “Education is a choice. Ignorance is a choice. What choice you make is always up to you.”