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Halifax council delays stadium decision to next week

Did mayor Peter Kelly hold an illegal meeting?

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Talk of a new stadium in Halifax has been around for years, but council only took action when it decided earlier this year that a stadium could be used to chase a bid for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament, even though Trade Centre Limited had advised against pursuing the bid. In February council created a Stadium Steering Committee and agreed to pay $97,000 for a “Phase 1 Study” conducted by consulting firm Sierra Planning and Development; that study came back to council Tuesday with a recommendation for a Phase 2 Study costing $275,000 and hopes of getting a firm commitment to a stadium by FIFA’s December bid deadline.

The Phase 1 study is, frankly, underwhelming. At 113 pages and two appendixes, the text is often repetitive, contains numerous typos and much of the information was garnered apparently by using Google searches. The Steering Committee did, however, conduct interviews with 17 groups that might use a stadium, and boasts in the report that “the Halifax Stadium Facebook Page had a total of 154 monthly active users and the Halifax Stadium Twitter Page had a total of 94 followers.”

Councillors appeared evenly split on the issue, with doubters saying there are too many capital projects in play currently, but with stadium enthusiasts citing the big promises of economic return. Clear supporters of at least moving to the Phase 2 study included Darren Fisher, Dawn Sloane, Barry Dalrymple, Bill Karsten (Edit, August 5, see below), Jim Smith, Jerry Blumenthal, Sue Uteck, Russell Walker, Debbie Hum, Tim Outhit and mayor Peter Kelly. The other councillors were either clearly in opposition, with councillors MGloria McCluskey, Jennifer Watts and Steve Streatch leading that pack, or non-commital.

A couple of points were brought out in the debate: the proposed stadium with 10,000 permanent seats and room for 10,000 more temporary seats would be too small for a CFL franchise, would not contain a track and would have an annual operating deficit of about a half million dollars.

During a break in the meeting, mayor Peter Kelly polled councillors individually about whether to continue the debate Tuesday night or postpone it to next week. This “serial meeting” of councillors was not agendized and was not open to the public; the vote was not taken in public, nor was it recorded. Some would maintain this violated public meeting laws, but in any event all we have is Kelly’s word that the majority of councillors decided to postpone the discussion until next week, and so it was.

Note, August 5: Bill Karsten writes to say he hasn't made up his mind on the proposal.

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