Atlantic Schooners group closer to land deal
The proposed Atlantic Schooners CFL franchise has taken another step towards becoming a reality, although many questions still remain.
CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie visited Dartmouth on Saturday as part of his ‘Randy’s Road Trip’ tour across Canada, where he joined the partners of Maritime Football Limited to update fans on the progress of the potential Atlantic Schooners franchise.
Anthony LeBlanc of Maritime Football Ltd. announced the group has formally signed a letter of intent with federally owned Canada Lands Company to discuss the development of a stadium in Shannon Park.
“What that letter of intent basically has is a list of things that need to be knocked off before we move to the next phase,” says LeBlanc. “First and foremost they want us to go back to the community and gage the interest, because they spent a better part of two years talking to the community to ensure that their plans as they had them were acceptable. They also want us to ensure that we are communicating and working with our friends at Millbrook First Nation.”
The group also announced a partnership with Sport Nova Scotia, a non-profit organization made up of more than 50 provincial sport organizations, which will allow the stadium to be used by community groups up to 300 days a year.
“This facility will be used over 300 days by community organizations, be it Sport Nova Scotia and their members or High Schools and Universities, and while we will be the group that operates the facility and takes on the financial risk, the usage will be more so from the community side of things,” explains LeBlanc.
The proposed Dartmouth facility, which would include a sports dome for the winter months, would also be made available to local schools and community groups for daytime weekday use.
"The inclusion of Sport Nova Scotia is a powerful added concept to this project," adds Ambrosie. "The letter of intent with Canada Lands is another big piece, I think they've made tremendous progress."
LeBlanc says they have also scaled back their plans, and with it the amount of money they are asking from the three levels of government.
“I put out a guidance that went from that $170-$190 million estimate down to $130 million. I feel very confident in saying it would not exceed $130 million, all-in,” says LeBlanc. “We’re looking for public sector support to help build the 12,000 seat permanent structure, but as a potential CFL team we will need roughly 24,000, so we will take up on the financial requirements to put up 10,000 more temporary, less robust seats.”
LeBlanc had previously stated that they would like to get final approval for the stadium by the end of June. On Saturday, he said he wasn’t sure they would meet that deadline, but still hoped to have a clearer picture by the summer.
“The slowdown has really been because we haven’t been able to get things done as quickly as we wanted to,” says LeBlanc. “But at the same time, I think that summer 2019 is the point where at least should determine if this thing has the legs to keep going.”
“I am optimistic,” adds Ambrosie. “The exact time frame I can’t comment on because we don’t know, but I think what we are seeing is the Schooner Sports and Entertainment Group are very excited and committed to this project."
With Friday’s news that this year’s Touchdown Atlantic regular season CFL game will be held in Moncton, there was also discussion on Saturday that the Schooners could play a season or two in Moncton while the stadium is being constructed in Shannon Park.
“I think having a game or a season of football in Moncton is a great way to make sure that New Brunswick and all of the Atlantic region are a part of this franchise,” said Ambrosie. “Look at what’s happened in Saskatchewan, it’s not the Regina Roughriders, it’s the Saskatchewan Roughriders and they have a presence in every small town and city.”
The Toronto Argonauts will play the Montréal Alouettes at Stade Croix-Bleue Medavie Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 25.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Allan April.