HALIFAX -- A few short months ago, there was plenty of optimism surrounding a new stadium and CFL team for Halifax.

The municipality had pledged $20 million to help build a new venue and a regular-season CFL game was to be played at Saint Mary's University. Tickets for the game sold out in days.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The CFL season has been cancelled, and now, the stadium project that seemed close to becoming a reality appears to be on hold for the foreseeable future.

For those wondering if a new stadium and CFL team for Halifax are high priorities for Premier Stephen McNeil, he could not have been more blunt.

"It's not at the top of my list," McNeil said during a news conference in Halifax on Thursday.

Prior to the pandemic, the premier seemed willing to consider creative ways to support a stadium project without pledging tax dollars.

But that's all changed with COVID-19.

There's a similar vibe at City Hall.

"COVID has meant that we have to relook at everything that we do," said Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn.

Blackburn says, in a pandemic world, being careful and selective when it comes to spending municipal dollars trumps projects like funding a stadium.

"We have got to look at all of our priorities differently now," Blackburn said. "That's the one thing that COVID has meant. We have to put a different lens on it."

Even football fans like Richard MacLean realize, in this pandemic-induced economic climate, there are bigger priorities to consider.

"How to improve health care. How to improve education and how to get our citizens and people back to work," said MacLean, who is the president of the International Federation of American Football.

Bruce Bowser from Schooner Sports and Entertainment says the CFL season being cancelled and the economic hardship being felt across the country are obvious setbacks, but he believes the overall stadium strategy should still be pursued in the future.

"The fundamentals of why football made sense for Atlantic Canada have not changed as a result of COVID," Bowser said.

All that's changed is the timing of it.

For HRM Coun. David Hendsbee, who was in favour of building a new stadium, it all adds up to a painful near-miss.

"I believe it has been the closest we ever got to the goal-line," Hendsbee said.

Just several months ago, Hendsbee felt a new stadium and a CFL team for Halifax were finally close to becoming a reality after being publicly debated for decades.