If we build it, will they come?

The stadium that refuses to die has returned. Last week, HRM released most of its private sector proposer’s pitch for public sector funding to make its dream of a CFL team reality. But it’s worth asking ourselves: what else could/should we spend that $180 million over the next 30 years on?

The new Shannon Park stadium as its proposers visualize it.

“Premier Stephen McNeil reiterated Thursday that no money from general revenue will go toward a stadium.”Uh-oh. Not “uh-oh” that our premier told the Chronicle Herald he didn’t intend to pluck any money out of our general revenue and dump it into the latest $110-million stadium-in-the-sky scheme, but “uh-oh” that he qualified his no with the caveat that he was only talking about general revenue.

Which means?

“We’ll look at the economic benefit for the province,” the premier continued, “and what is the community benefit from this.”

The fact a major sports team that doesn’t exist beyond the registry of joint stocks would consider asking taxpayers to pony up in the neighbourhood of six million dollars a year for the next 30 years to make their dreams come true should make us all proud, the premier said… or words to that effect. “That tells you that the growth of our city and the growth of our province in population is being recognized.”

That tells me… Uh-oh.

I won’t even attempt to parse all the actual made-up numbers in last week’s 35-page Schooner Sports and Entertainment Multi-Purpose Community Stadium Facility: Play. Watch. Grow proposal, let alone sift through the mind-numbing 430 additional pages of bafflegab appendices — from Schedule A, “Shannon Park Real Estate Market and Stadium Impact Analysis” to Schedule O “Indicative Residential and Commercial Mix by Phase.” Or check out the redacted pages if and when they are made public.

I will leave that mathematical heavy-lifting, bullshit-detecting and truth-calling to my younger and wiser colleague, Examiner editor Tim Bousquet, who waded through the tallest weeds of the latest proposal Friday, previously wrote about the lie that the stadium will pay for itself, explained how, if you use crap inputs, you’ll get crap outputs, and is almost certain to dig deeper into the mucky-muck of it all in Monday’s Morning File, or in Morning Files yet to be written. (The truth is there will be no driving a final wooden stake through the heart of this vampire anytime soon.)

Instead, let me ask a simple question. Where would you rather your governments spend $5–6-million (almost certainly more) of your tax dollars every year for the next 30 years (and likely the next forever after that)?

Would you prefer they spend that $180 million (interest included, over-runs not included) on a shiny new stadium built for 24,000 that we won’t own at the end of the day in order to have — and this is the raison d’etre for all of this — a Halifax-based CFL team that will play nine games every 365 days for as long at the team shall last (which might not be nearly 30 years)?

Or would you rather spend it on… anything else? Reducing surgical wait times? Building fun-and-games fields in local communities where young people actually live and need facilities? Developing new collaborative care centres, or funding long-term seniors’ housing? How about just putting enough money back into the province’s education budget so teachers aren’t forced to buy school supplies out of their own pockets?

Or what if we — let’s go all to hell with ourselves and think outside the stadium — turned that Shannon Park property into an exemplar, exemplary environmentally conscious, sustainable neighbourhood of the future for all the world to see and emulate? What if…?

The more likely outcome: A woman hails a cab from the middle of the empty stadium.

Perhaps I am being unfair. We should always be fair. The stadium’s supporters claim it — a.k.a. the community complex they refer to when they talk community benefits — will bring in revenue by hosting other events from time to time during the 356 days when it is not acting as home to a CFL football team.

Maybe. But with the possible exception of the Halifax Wanderers, our new Canadian Premier League soccer franchise, it is impossible to imagine any regularly scheduled event coming close to filling even the permanent 12,000 seats the stadium backers plan to install. (The Wanderers’ season-high attendance so far is just over 6,000 fans. And the Wanderers, just to be clear, also play only nine home games a season. So that’s 18 dates accounted for; 347 to go. )

Well then…? How about concerts, also fluffed up in the Schooner Sports dreamweaver document?

Before there was a Halifax Examiner, there was The Coast. In 2011, The Coast’s then-news editor, that selfsame Tim Bousquet, dissected what is now known as the Great Halifax Concert scandal.

Let me offer just one pointed reminder today from that scandal of councils past. Despite the organizer’s hype and the city’s connivance, “only 26,564 people bought tickets for Paul McCartney, a former Beatle and one of the biggest-drawing performers on the planet…”

Ouch.

On the eve of yet another ticket-sales bust for yet another over-hyped, under-ticketed big-ticket concert the next year, the city’s then-deputy CAO, Wayne Anstey, wrote in a plaintive email: “More and more, I am coming to the conclusion that [Halifax] is just not a good concert community.”

So… the new stadium will hold 24,000 people. Quick now: how many big-name acts will actually fill the stadium?

Even I can do that math.

If we build it, they may not come…

And taxpayers will lose. Sound familiar? Haven’t we meandered down this yellow-brick-anchor of a road before? The Halifax convention centre? The Yarmouth ferry? Weren’t those also supposed to be chock-a-block with what the premier calls economic and community benefits too?

Uh-oh indeed.

This column first appeared in the Halifax Examiner September 30, 2019.

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Copyright 2019 Stephen Kimber, Website
  1. How about spending that money for affordable housing, we have a crises when it comes to affordable housing in every city in Canada and you want to bring in a CFL team that the ordinary person will never afford to attend. Time to get your priorities in order. Most Major League Baseball teams now only have half full stadiums unless they make it into the World Series. Do you money people not realize what is happening in our cities? Even NASCAR in the USA which was experiencing sell out crowds of everyday people in the 90’s is now down to half full stands and they are tearing out stands so it doesn’t look so obvious! Politicians can claim we have good employment numbers all they want like Trump but ask the average person how well off they feel.

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