I heard the news while driving down Trollope Street by Citadel High. I had to pay especially careful attention, because crater-like potholes were everywhere. I had just driven from Barrington Street and the downtown zone was somewhat reminiscent of war-torn Beirut. There were more empty storefronts than I can recall in a lifetime.
Meanwhile the talk radio station suggested a CFL team and an all-purpose stadium were what we really need. A poll had just been released that declared it practically an urban necessity. How else could we become the "world-class" city they demanded? I nearly drove into the ditch as I listened. It occurred to me that we were getting our wants and our needs discombobulated.
I like my sports as much as the next guy. I could be convinced that Halifax can fill a 25,000-seat stadium for eight home games a year. After all, we would have the whole of Atlantic Canada to draw from. Everybody likes to come to Halifax. And CFL fans are nutty in a very good way.
But the cost of a stadium would be a financial drag on this region for a lifetime. We can't generate an annual revenue stream that would make it feasible, much less sustainable. Five rock acts and a football team do not a business make. In fact, they don't come within a Hail Mary pass of success. What's more, $250 million could do so much good in other areas---we all have a preferential list.
Truth to tell, there are so many opinions floating around right now like an errant forward pass. One of the more compelling suggestions is that a plebiscite might instead be held. Educate people on the pros and cons and then put it to a specific vote. That way the process would be transparent and embrace all points of view. It would also take politicians (somewhat) off the hook. But we should be careful what we collectively wish for. Plebiscites in most jurisdictions are a last ditch mechanism, only selected for the rarest decisions. If we turn to a plebiscite to answer this particular quandary, what will we use it for next? It is a dreadfully slippery slope. Speaking of which, I have a gravel road which I would love to see paved as soon as possible. But it is slightly controversial. Could we put this one to the people in a plebiscite also, and see what ultimately sticks?
I think the numbers will speak for themselves. But precisely who will crunch these controversial figures properly?
How about our recently retired auditor general, Jacques Lapointe? If he can make it work, then I am in. Put me down for season tickets at the 40-yard line. But if Lapointe can't do what I can't do, then let's get back to reality. Fill the potholes first. Fill the vacant real estate on Barrington and elsewhere. Then take another look at this dreamer's scheme in 10 years or so.
Meanwhile, if the key to an all-purpose stadium is ownership of a CFL team in Halifax, we need to know the details. We need someone or many folks to step forward. The sooner the better. Would our model be Regina where the team is community owned? Or would we look for someone in the private sector to put up the cash? We have heard no specifics to date.
And is there actually commercial and promotional value in a professional football franchise in Halifax in 2014? Could we sell the corporate boxes that the model inevitably requires? Could we use the stadium more than a handful of days per year? Mr. Bragg and Mr. Sobey, you are highly respected business folks, what exactly do you think? If you are willing to embrace the risk of a stadium and a team, then I am in.
Perhaps the private sector sees a benefit here and a opportunity that the rest of us are rightly afraid of. I acknowledge football would be exciting and undoubtedly popular. What's more, I am certain many of us would support the Halifax Cable Ties if we didn't have to pay for the stadium.
Stewart Lamont is managing director, at Tangier Lobster Company on the Eastern Shore, an hour and ten minute drive from downtown lots and lots of potholes.