Nova Scotia premier likes CFL, but non-committal on provincial help for stadium

HALIFAX — One of the key players in determining the ultimate success of a bid to bring a CFL franchise to Halifax is remaining non-committal on help to build a stadium.

Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters Wednesday that the issue has not been on the "front burner" for his government, although it is willing to consider ways it might be able to help.

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"There is a proposal for us to have a look at," McNeil said. "Whether or not we want to be involved in this project ... that has not been decided at all."

The premier said that although the stadium proposal has been submitted to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, he hasn't seen it and isn't aware of the details.

McNeil's comments came a day after Halifax Regional Council gave conditional approval to a one-time, $20-million contribution toward the construction of a stadium.

The decision after months of uncertainty, gave a lifeline to Schooner Sports and Entertainment's (SSE) ambitions, but with conditions.

SSE is now required to find a stadium site with suitable public transportation links and must substantially complete construction of the stadium before the money is paid out.

Anthony LeBlanc, SSE's founding partner, acknowledged following Tuesday's meeting that there is still a lot of work to do, including finding new land, securing financing, and getting the province to buy in.

McNeil said while the CFL is an important part of Canada's heritage, the question he needs answered is whether a team — and a stadium — are economically viable in Halifax. He said he won't make a snap judgment on that.

"I think it would be irresponsible for me to say no. We have a Canadian league looking at our city, our province, and we need to look at this from all sides and is there a way for the province to participate?"

Jacques Dube, the municipality's chief administrative officer, told council Tuesday that SSE faces an uphill struggle over the next three to six months or more. Dube said the viability of the stadium will be determined by its financiers.

"Whoever the bank is will determine whether that (stadium) is bankable or not. I want it make it very clear that this deal will only be bankable if there is support from Halifax Regional Municipality and there is support from the province."

He added that a $20-million contribution to a $110-million stadium would probably be insufficient to attract private financing whether "from a bank or a consortium of banks."

Dube also warned that the city's contribution would require a change in provincial legislation in order for it to go to a private business group instead of a not-for-profit entity. He said that would depend on the eventual ownership structure of the stadium.

The Halifax Charter currently prohibits the municipality from giving a tax concession or other form of direct financial assistance to a business or an industry.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2019.

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