Posts Tagged ‘Halifax Nova Scotia’

Anthony LeBlanc has tempered his enthusiasm.

LeBlanc said Friday the expectation now is for the CFL’s Atlantic Schooners to be ready to play in 2021 in Moncton, N.B., while a new stadium is being built in Halifax. This past winter, LeBlanc contended if all went well, the expansion franchise could begin play in 2020.

“We want to get started as soon as possible but we have to be cognizant of the work that goes into this,” LeBlanc said in a telephone interview. “It’s not a surprise it’s taking longer than we expected . . . and we just need to be realistic.

“I don’t think it’s realistic at this point to even consider 2020. Look, nobody’s more frustrated with the timing than I am but the last thing we want to do is rush this. We’ve got to ensure we’re good partners and whatever we provide we want it to be fully baked and give us the best shot at this working.”

LeBlanc is co-founder of Schooners Sports and Entertainment (formerly Maritime Football Limited), which is the group looking to secure a CFL franchise for Halifax. Also on Friday, LeBlanc announced SSE has lowered ticket prices for the Aug. 25 Touchdown Atlantic game in Moncton between the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts.

Admission now will be as low as $29. When the game was confirmed in March, tickets started at $65.

“Whenever it’s a single event versus season tickets or nine regular-season games, there’s always going to be some level of uptick,” LeBlanc said. “But I think we were way too aggressive when we first went out.

“Admittedly when the prices were suggested to me, my initial thought was, ‘Those seem high.’ It’s one of those cases that I wish I would’ve said something then but we still have two months to go so I think it’s fine.”

LeBlanc said early ticket sales were solid, especially with the higher-end ones, before fans in the region began voicing their concerns. The $29 tickets are in a general-admission area in one of the end zones at Croix-Bleue Medavie Stadium while those in the other end zone, also general admission, are $45.

“We started hearing from many people throughout the region that the ticket prices were just not accessible, in particular, for families and students,” he said. “So we decided to create a family zone so people could bring their kids.

“That allowed us to put together a much more fan-friendly price point. Then many key sponsors who we’re working with on this game put their hands up to help be a part of the ticketing package to kind of cushion the blow and it was their support that allowed us to come out and kind of re-launch.”

The cheapest grandstand ticket is $65. The stadium has 10,000 permanent seats and can be expanded to a capacity of 20,725.

The Ticketmaster seating map for the game Friday had large chunks of unsold seats on the sidelines.

Original ticket prices for the game — which will be the fourth CFL regular-season contest in Moncton — were significantly higher than what both the Argos ($21) and Alouettes ($26) have as their cheapest seats for their next home games.

Fans who purchased tickets at higher prices will be offered credit towards additional tickets, season tickets for the Atlantic Schooners inaugural season or a refund for the difference between the price points.

However, the biggest hurdle facing SSE is the construction of a suitable stadium for the CFL franchise.

The initial proposal called for a facility to be built at Shannon Park for between $170 and $190 million. In April, SSE unveiled a proposal for a scaled-back stadium that could be built for $130 million but expanded in the future.

SSE has signed a letter of intent with Canada Lands Company, the federal Crown corporation that owns Shannon Park.

“We’re basically hunkered down with Canada Lands Company,” LeBlanc said. “What we’ve done jointly is hire two or three best-of-breed consultants to come in and assist us with the business plan that we’re putting together for HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality).

“Basically when we present this to Halifax, it will have independent third-party analysis of what that site can support along with other things like traffic studies and environmental studies. We still feel confident we’ll be able to present and have Halifax senior staff review and hopefully get a recommendation to council by the end of the calendar year.”

Halifax’s proposed CFL franchise now has a name — the Atlantic Schooners.

“I’m happy to announce that the 10th team in the CFL will be known as the Atlantic Schooners,” John Ryerson announced to thunderous cheers from hundreds of fans Friday night.

Ryerson spoke at the annual Grey Cup East Coast Kitchen Party. He is the organizer of this longtime Grey Cup social, designed to bring an East Coast flavour to Canada’s big game.

Schooners beat out other suggestions such as Atlantic Convoy, Storm, and Admirals.

It was picked in a contest and already has a history. The Schooners was to be the name for a proposed CFL team in the 1980s, but that dream never materialized.

Fans at the Kitchen Party said it was the right choice.

“I love the name. I was hoping it was going to stay Schooners,” said Daryl Shipman from Winnipeg, clad in a blue Schooners jersey.

“It epitomizes the East Coast, sailing ships, and the Maritime aspect of it.”

Leslie-Anne McKenzie of Calgary, also in Schooner Blue, agreed

“(It’s) absolutely the right name. This is excellent news for the league,” she said.

“The Schooners only makes sense because it’s history.”

Next up is getting a place to play.

The Maritime Football Partnership, which is pursuing the bid, is eyeing a parcel of land on the east side of Halifax harbour for a 24,000-seat facility. The cost is estimated at $170 million to $190 million and the group has said it will need public help with the financing.

So far more than 5,000 fans have put down season ticket deposits.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the CFL is keen to have Halifax become its 10th franchise.

Earlier Friday, speaking to reporters, Ambrosie said the league has signed a step-by-step agreement of what needs to be accomplished to get the franchise launched.

“Ultimately, the big hurdle is the stadium,” said Ambrosie.

But he stressed the willingness is there.

“We’re totally committed to their efforts get that 10th team,” he said.

“For many of us, that’s been a dream now for decades the idea of this truly coast to coast Canadian football league.”

Storied Halifax nevertheless will likely send CFL players running to their atlases, according to a random, unscientific poll of Grey Cup participants in Edmonton.

“(It’s the) first time I heard about Halifax to be honest with you,” said Ottawa Redlbacks receiver R.J. Harris.

“I don’t know anything about it.”

Ottawa slotback Dominique Rhymes, from Miami, had heard good things about the entertainment scene.

“I heard the night life is pretty good,” he said. “I’ve never been, but I think I might go in the coming months.”

Calgary Stampeders linebacker Jamar Wall, from Texas, said “I don’t know anything about Halifax.

“I’ll probably be long gone before that (franchise) happens, but good luck to the guys who could potentially be there.”

The optimism surrounding yet another attempt at CFL expansion to Atlantic Canada has been extremely cautious. Besides, many have said they’ve been here before only to have the conversation fall flat.

But since Anthony Leblanc and his business team, Maritime Football, made serious their intention to bring a team to Nova Scotia during Grey Cup week last November, it’s felt different.

Even CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has fanned the football expansion flames, saying “it’s the unfulfilled part of our national dream to have the Maritimes have a football team,” and that it would be a “defining moment” to have a team in the Maritimes.

They’ve all been saying the right things.

Now though, the dream of having a 10th CFL team has reached a pivotal point in the process, one Leblanc says will determine whether or not this will actually happen.

On Tuesday, Halifax regional council approved a motion to begin discussions with Leblanc’s group and the province about the viability of a team and a stadium.

“I think everybody should continue to have the optimism we’ve had all along,” Leblanc told CBC Sports ahead of the vote. “We wouldn’t be getting into a phase of public discussion if we felt we didn’t have good chances of making this happen.”

Leblanc said his team has had a number of conversations with elected officials over the last number of weeks and believes there’s enough support to continue this venture and feels comfortable they’ll be able to move forward.

He said his hope is that administration moves quickly while looking over their proposal to bring a team to Halifax.

“People will say you can’t put deadlines on this, but candidly, we can because we’re the group that’s planning to do this and if we don’t feel we’re moving the ball down the field, we need to look at what our next steps are.”

The deadline Leblanc has suggested is four to six weeks — they want this done by Labour Day. The reason? If they’re able to move forward with the project ahead of Labour Day, they want to start a season-ticket drive for football fans in the region to support a team.

It would be right around this same time — if everything goes as planned — that Leblanc also hopes to have the CFL award Maritime Football a conditional franchise.

But what about the stadium?

Leblanc knows building a stadium and its location are the most important parts of this expansion puzzle. Last week it was reported Maritime Football had narrowed the choice down to two spots. However, that’s since changed.

“That’s speculation,” Leblanc said. “We haven’t publicly confirmed which sites we’re looking at.”

Those two reported sites were Dartmouth Crossing and a property behind the Kent store in Bayers Lake business park. Leblanc says they’ve brought in a new group to help them look more closely at a number of different spots that would be best suited for a multi-purpose development.

“They’ve been working with us for the last several months and I think it’s fair to say we’re somewhat back to the drawing board because they want to understand all the sites.”

Leblanc said they’ve looked at seven locations a stadium could be built.

“What we’re doing over the next two weeks is reaffirming the sites we’ve narrowed down are the right sites. We’re being incredibly thoughtful on this.”

He added the only way they’ll be able to make a stadium situation work is that if it includes the multi-purpose model.

Premier says taxpayers won’t pay for stadium

Last week Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil made it clear taxpayers won’t be on the hook for a CFL stadium in Halifax.

“General revenue is not part of our conversation. I’m not reaching into general revenue to build a football stadium,” he told CBC News.

McNeil said he will wait for the formal ask to discuss how the government might contribute to the stadium, but was clear it wouldn’t come from general revenue.

“If you have another option, you have a new idea of how I can help, feel free to come and ask,” he said. “But don’t come in and expect I’m going to write you a cheque.”

Leblanc says that was never their expectation and interprets the premier’s message this way.

“What he means by that, from what we’ve been told, is they don’t want to see provincial dollars that have already been designated being utilized. We’ve never contemplated that,” Leblanc said.

Leblanc feels new money can be generated from the project and can be put toward building a new stadium.

“We understand as the private sector we have to participate this in a very healthy manner,” Leblanc said.

 

A group of businessmen with ties to Eastern Canada would like to make the Canadian Football League’s dream of a tenth franchise come true in Halifax.

The group made a presentation to the league’s board of governors several weeks ago in Toronto. Meetings have since taken place with various levels of government in Nova Scotia, including an in-camera session with Halifax city council this week that was attended by CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

“We have had discussions with the CFL’s board of governors and ongoing discussions with commissioner Ambrosie,” said Anthony LeBlanc, a partner in the group and former president and CEO of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.

“The conversations have all been very productive. Chief among all we have discussed, we have a clear understanding of the CFL’s requirements for an expansion franchise, and this clarity is allowing us to move our project forward in a thoughtful way.”

Along with LeBlanc, whose family is from New Brunswick and who began his business career in the province, the group includes Bruce Bowser, a Halifax native who is currently president of AMJ Campbell Van Lines, and Gary Drummond, a businessman from Regina who was president of hockey operations for the Coyotes.

A league spokesman confirmed it had received an expression of interest for a Halifax franchise but said that a process and timetable for awarding a team has yet to be established.

One CFL source described the group’s presentation as “very credible.”

The Halifax group is modelling its plan on that of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which received a conditional franchise from the CFL in 2008 and then redeveloped Frank Clair Stadium and the land surrounding it.

It’s believed the Halifax group would like to have a conditional franchise granted before the start of the 2018 CFL season, with a goal of beginning play as soon as 2020.

The potential owners want to brand the franchise to identity not just with Halifax but all of Atlantic Canada.

Halifax mayor Mike Savage has been on record as saying he would like to see his city host a CFL franchise. Sources say discussions with Savage and members of his council have been very positive over the past few months.

Central to the idea is the construction of a multi-purpose stadium, at one of several locations currently being explored – one of which is the Shannon Park, located next to the A. Murray MacKay Bridge.

Commissioner Ambrosie is expected to update the league’s board of governors on the state of the Halifax proposal when they meet the day before Grey Cup Sunday.

Besides expanding the league’s television footprint into Atlantic Canada, a Halifax-based franchise would allow the league to create two five-team divisions and avoid the number of bye weeks required with a nine-team league.

The CFL awarded a conditional franchise to a Halifax group in 1982 under the name Atlantic Schooners but the financing to build a suitable stadium never materialized.

Dating back to the mid-1980s, the CFL has staged exhibition games in Halifax. In 2010, 2011 and 2013 it played three regular-season games in Moncton, N.B.