Halifax council stops short of quashing review of stadium proposal

Halifax council defeated a motion Tuesday that would have ended talks for a proposed CFL stadium in Dartmouth.

Council voted 9-8 against Coun. Sam Austin's motion to nix a months-long staff review of the stadium proposal from Schooners Sports and Entertainment.

Austin would have needed two thirds of councillors to vote in favour of the motion for it to have passed.

Schooners Sports and Entertainment's proposal, released last month, contained various ways the municipality could fund the stadium and community sports complex.

That included an upfront cash payment of 15-20 per cent of the cost and annual payments of $2 million with the expectation of getting money back through ticket sales.

At council on Tuesday, Austin said the city is being asked to assume risk without getting a big enough share in profits.

Schooners Sports and Entertainment

"We're going to pay to build the stadium, help with the ongoing costs, assume the risk, fix the transportation needs, but not own anything and leave the profits to Schooners," he said.

"This is quite the business proposal and not what I would have characterized as private sector-driven."

Some of Austin's colleagues agreed, with Coun. Shawn Cleary saying he doesn't know if Halifax even needs a stadium and pointed out that CFL attendance is trending downward.

He also criticized the proposal itself, saying it failed to adequately lay out the stadium's impact on the city's economy, development and climate change plans.

"If they wanted to come back with something different, fine, let them fill their boots," said Austin.

"But I can't imagine we would let staff waste their precious time when they have other things to do on something that's going to come back and we're going to vote against anyway."

'What message does it send?' 

But other councillors said they needed to have all the information to make a decision on the stadium.

Coun. Bill Karsten said that shutting down the project without allowing staff to analyze the risks would amount to "reputational harm." 

"If you just boil it down to the sheer aspect of future business dealings with the municipality, what message does it send to anybody that may at one point or another want to engage into a conversation?" he said.

"Why would you trust us to look at any other kind of proposal in the future?"

He proposed that staff come back with an analysis in December, earlier than the original six-month deadline set when the proposal first came out.

Coun. Lisa Blackburn agreed, saying that while she didn't like the options in the proposal on first sight, staff needed to break them down for councillors.

Report coming in December

Mayor Mike Savage said he couldn't support Austin's motion, but he thought it was reasonable to ask for a staff report in December.

Councillors Austin, Cleary, Waye Mason, Lindell Smith, Matt Whitman, Tim Outhit, and Paul Russell ended up voting in favour of Austin's motion.

Savage, Deputy Mayor Tony Mancini, and councillors Blackburn, David Hendsbee, Steve Streatch, Lorelei Nicoll, Bill Karsten, Russell Walker, and Steve Adams all voted against the motion.

Council then voted in favour of having staff analyze the proposal and have them return with a report in December.