CFL stadium for Halifax could be another casualty of COVID-19
HALIFAX -- Another casualty of the pandemic might very well be Halifax's hopes for a Canadian Football League franchise in a new stadium.
It all seemed like a done deal a few short months ago, but spending priorities have shifted dramatically since then.
The dream of a CFL team in Halifax will have to wait for football fans like Jay Cameron, who'd been enthusiastically following developments indicating Halifax was on track to join the CFL.
"I think the CFL is a Canadian institution," Cameron said. "There are headlines about how it, as an organization, is also struggling, collectively, but I think Halifax had been on the rise. There's no reason why it shouldn't continue to rise."
The league itself is struggling, asking for tens of millions of dollars in federal support.
TSN's Dave Naylor, who covers the CFL, says pandemic restrictions have shattered the business model.
"The CFL operates based on fans in the stands," Naylor said. "Food and beverage, parking, suites … those kinds of things. Can you run a professional football league in Canada without those things? There are some real questions about that, and the CFL is going to have to work through those things to see whether or not they can be economically viable, never mind this fall, but next spring if COVID-19 is still around."
Naylor says the future is up in the air for the entire league -- not just a Halifax franchise.
"Until we get a clearer picture about the future of the CFL and its economic viability, it's very tough to go forward projecting the future of a team or a stadium in Halifax," Naylor said.
It's tough, but not impossible.
The group behind the initiative says it remains committed to the project, and is continuing to work on site selection, albeit with extended timelines.
Others are more blunt.
"No, the stadium is a long ways from being decided upon," said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.
Halifax Regional Council is scrambling to cut tens of millions from the municipal budget, the mayor says a future stadium faces more hurdles than ever – and plenty of questions.
"Is the province going to support? Are the feds going to support? Are they going to be able to get the money? What's happening with the CFL? Is the CFL going to play this year? What are the revenue implications going forward?" Savage said. "So, there's a lot more questions than answers."
As Halifax Regional Council looks for $85 million in spending cuts this year, the mayor warns future budgets will also be tough because commercial tax assessments will likely be down.
The province is offering loans to help municipalities, but Savage points out the money's got to be paid back within three years, so while it helps with immediate concerns, it does little to address major revenue losses.