1. More weather
There’s more weather.
2. More stadium
Reporter Francis Campbell has the second in his series looking at the prospects for a CFL team in Halifax, this time focusing on the economics of a stadium.
As I wrote yesterday, the goal of stadium promoters seems to be to confuse the public:
And the financing will be complex enough to dupe at least some people into thinking the government isn’t actually paying for the stadium — a long term lease to the team to cover loan payments on a bond secured by blah blah blah — but in the end, the public will be left holding the bag.
Campbell gets into the weeds about the stadium financing hocus pocus:
“From a municipal government point of view, we are saying, if you can come back with a plan that allows us to contribute but to contribute in a way that doesn’t drain the resources of the municipality, in other words, do some kind of development around the stadium that brings in tax revenue which could then be used to offset our contribution, then that is the kind of thing that I think there would be an appetite for,” [Mayor Mike] Savage said.
This is the same “increased property tax revenue from nearby properties will pay for it” magic that was used to justify the city’s expenditure on the convention centre. But this logic is foundationally, fundamentally, wrong — it’s redefining the purpose of property taxes. In the case of the convention centre, I explained:
While the city is separating out the Nova Centre and the couple of blocks surrounding it to look at revenue received from property taxes versus costs of the convention centre, that’s not the purpose of property taxes. Rather, we have property taxes to pay for all city services across the municipality — policing, firefighting, parks and recreation, road costs, etc.
In general, residential property taxes don’t “pay for themselves.” That is, the taxes I pay on my house don’t cover the services I receive. Nor should they. And, again generally speaking, commercial property taxes “overpay” for the city services delivered directly to the property, and again, that’s how it should be. We can’t have a functioning city by delineating out costs per property parcel. We have all sorts of collective costs that make it possible for us each to work and live and operate businesses in the city, and so everyone pays into the whole.
Look at it this way: Before the Nova Centre was built, back when the site contained the old Chronicle Herald building and Argyle Street bars were still hip, the area generated a lot more in property taxes than the city spent on services directly for those businesses. But now we’re suddenly saying that all that’s required is the Nova Centre and surrounding blocks generate enough in property taxes just to cover the expense of the convention centre, and nothing else.
It’s doubtful that those property taxes will actually cover the convention centre costs, at least for the first few years, but even if and when they do, it’ll still be a net loss to the city.
Campbell goes on to interview Darren Fisher, the former city councillor and current MP who fancies himself a “sports guy,” and so is therefore in favour of a stadium, even though the building of a stadium has almost nothing to do with people actually playing sports — at least not regular people. Arguably, the stadium risks pulling resources away from already underfunded city rec programs that are the entry point for young people coming to sport.
Anyway, Fisher envisions a Halifax stadium being built on the “Lansdowne model”:
Lansdowne Park, located in the heart of Ottawa near the Rideau Canal, encompasses the 24,000-seat TD Place Stadium where the Redblacks play, shopping, restaurants and entertainment venues, a farmers market, courtyards, a playground, heritage buildings and green space.
“I have really fallen in love with the model that is in Ottawa around Lansdowne,” the Liberal MP said. “It’s the model that uses private money and leverages the surrounding areas around the stadium in order to help fund the capital costs.
“I hadn’t really even contemplated the ability to build something with no public dollars,” Fisher said. “I kind of envisioned some public dollars and some private dollars and some leveraging of surrounding lands. I’ve also thought of where you could use the growth in tax dollars around the area just to help support it and that would be the public contribution.”
That is in line with Savage’s vision, too.
“You have the complete experience of hotels, restaurants and shops that would be a natural complement to a stadium,” Savage said. “People come in, say, from out of town, they want to shop at the same time as they want to have their football game and do their tailgating. The old idea of building a stadium outside of town where nobody lives and nobody can get to is not attractive. There has to be almost a village like you see in Ottawa with Lansdowne.
Details matter, of course — Ottawa has a completely different geography, a different set of historical circumstances, financing options, and so forth, and in fact, Ottawa is not Halifax, so it’s comparing an orange with a kangaroo. But I guess Landsdowne is the supposed stadium success story that is going to be trotted out to justify the public expense for a stadium in every other Canadian city, so we have to deal with it.
Here’s how Ottawa Citizen reporter Matthew Pearson (who somehow still has a job after the latest PostMedia cuts) views Landsdowne:
Only skeptics, with their heels firmly dug in, would say the finished product is worse than what was there before — an underused island of asphalt in the heart of the city.
It’s true some of the pieces haven’t lived up to their early promise. Lansdowne is less ambitious or unique than many hoped; less civic crown jewel and more cubic zirconia.
There are other black eyes and bruises as well — a mess of lawsuits from subcontractors, including one from the now-bankrupt company that built the stadium’s iconic wooden veil; a retail mix that, in the words of the area’s city councillor, is “predictably disappointing,” and a shaky start for the venerable Ottawa Farmer’s Market, which has seen its foot traffic decline dramatically since returning to Lansdowne from Brewer Park in Old Ottawa South.
Yesterday, I flippantly thought that the Halifax team would be branded with the name of a bank. It turns out, my fears were realized in Ottawa:
The large green TD logo on the veil, however, was never in the plans and caught many, including those on the design panel, by surprise.
“I don’t think any of us actually envisioned that you’d be able to put a big sign like that,” says Peter Hume, a former city councillor who oversaw the redevelopment as chair of the planning committee. “Had we thought about that, I think we would have protected the integrity of the veil as it was envisioned in the renderings.”
Just as the Nova Centre and Metro Centre have become giant billboards for banks, the stadium will undoubtedly likewise serve as a billboard for a bank. I’ve never been a particularly religious person, but I have an appreciation for Medieval architecture that celebrates the glory of god without plastering “Jehovah, Inc.” all over the cathedral. I suppose high finance has replaced salvation as the religious order of our time, but the bank-branding thing is simply crass.
What of that shopping thing that is supposed to make these projects work? Pearson continues:
Yet the retail component is, perhaps, Lansdowne’s biggest letdown.
Four years ago, before construction had begun, there were suggestions that the type of stores that could come to Lansdowne included H&M, Crate & Barrel, J. Crew, Nike, Brooks Brothers, Lululemon and Future Shop.
None of these materialized. In their place, there’s Whole Foods Market, lifestyle retailer Sporting Life, furniture outlet Structube, discount store Winners and a range of chain restaurants, some of which are new to Ottawa. Efforts to coax popular small businesses to move from Bank Street locations to Lansdowne also proved unsuccessful.
It’s not the “unique urban village” it was pitched as and many expect a fair bit of turnover in the first couple of years.
“If you’re going to draw people from far and wide, then what is here has to be interesting for them to come from far and wide,” says Gilbert Russell. He owns Brio Bodywear, a shop in the Glebe, and formerly oversaw the Lansdowne file for the network of neighbourhood businesses.
“It was always a stretch they were going to get these great retailers.”
Getting retailers to move their operations from Bank Street to Landsdowne may improve the Landsdowne area, but only at the expense of Bank Street, and it certainly doesn’t create any new retail sales or jobs — it just shifts around existing sales and jobs. That doesn’t miraculously increase city revenue to pay for the project.
And 21 games a year can’t support a retail district.
Campbell interviewed Moshe Lander, a sports economist at Concordia University, as did I. Lander dislikes spending public money on stadiums, but is more upbeat about the possibility of a CFL team in Halifax than am I. You can listen to my interview with Lander here:
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Lander said a stadium close to downtown would be preferable.
“If you put it right downtown where everybody is, everybody can walk down to Spring Garden or the harbour front,” said Lander, who has become familiar with Halifax while teaching a course at Dalhousie University every May and June.
“You are inviting people down there. It will be part of their day or they will make a day of it. It is much more likely to create a lasting impact than putting it out in the middle of nowhere.”
Lander suggested a property like the Halifax Commons as an ideal site.
There has been speculation about properties at Dartmouth Crossing, back of the Kent Building Supplies store in Bayers Lake Business Park and even the Shannon Park military site, although both Savage and Lander dismissed Shannon Park as an inappropriate location.
“We’re talking to a number of landowners right now,” LeBlanc said. “It’s intriguing. We have some opportunities in and around Bedford.”
Oh boy. “Back of the Kent Building Supplies store in Bayers Lake” is the leftover 173 acres Besim Halef owns after the province bought 15 acres from his 178-acre parcel for the new outpatient centre. Halef obviously has pull, and maybe the province and city can hide the expense of roads and such connecting to the stadium by saying it’s really for the outpatient centre. But who wants to go to Bayers Lake for a football game? Is this the kind of “shopping experience” we’re selling?
And yes, we’ve spent $6 million or so in public money studying various stadium proposals for Shannon Park, but now suddenly everyone rightly acknowledges that’s a ridiculous idea. Good, I guess, but it doesn’t really speak to the public sense or stewardship of the public’s money by all those politicians and bureaucrats who pushed for a Shannon Park stadium, does it? And we should listen to the same people now because, er, why?
LeBlanc says he’s looking at Bedford. That probably means the Bedford Commons, which incidentally is also developed by Halef. Does Halef have some mojo or what? But the Bedford Common is even a more soulless shopping experience than is Bayers Lake.
That leaves somewhere downtown, and that elephant in the room: the Halifax Common. How would that work, exactly? Looking around on the internet, I find that most of the 25,000-seat stadiums in existence sit on about 40 acres. The Halifax Common is now 30 acres. Are we seriously considering using the entire Common for a stadium?
Perhaps a scaled-down stadium without sprawling parking lots could be squeezed onto the Wanderer’s Grounds. I’m not opposed to the (supposedly) temporary 7,000-seat soccer stadium proposed for the site, but a 25,000-seat stadium is an entirely different kettle of fish. I don’t think it’d fit there anyway, not without tearing down the Natural History Museum or plowing up the Public Gardens.
We’ll see where this all goes. But it’s clear that the goal is to use public money for a stadium. All that’s left is to figure out how to cover that expenditure with a fig leaf.
If we’re going to use public money to build a stadium, I’d want two things: First, I’d want the expense to be clearly stated to the public and not hidden behind a bunch of shifting and debatable financing schemes involving increased future tax revenues, forgivable loans, and the like. Just put it on the ballot: Should the city incur $300 million in debt in order to build a stadium? If a majority of the people are for it, who am I to complain? But I want the people to be fully informed.
Second, if we’re financing the stadium, we should have an ownership stake in the CFL team proportional to total investment. Right now, I can only see a few thousand dollars put up by LeBlanc and his co-investors. Let’s be generous and call it $100,000. Maybe it’ll rise up to $1 million, or even $10 million. But why are we seriously considering a $300 million public investment to leverage such a comparatively tiny private investment? We should just own the team outright. Sell stock to citizens. Brand the stadium with the toucan flag or the city logo instead of a bank’s logo. Celebrate the public purse for once.
Stephen Archibald stops by the Urban Sketches exhibition on the 5th floor of the Halifax Central Library, which consists of sketches of Halifax and Lunenburg streetscapes. Along the way, Archibald gets philosophical:
It’s sad to realize that since I’ve gotten a phone camera there is no longer the same impetus to draw each course of a fine meal in a French restaurant, and the label from the bottle of wine too! [shown above]
So in the new year try drawing little bits of where you are. And don’t be like “I can’t draw.” You are not trying to be Michelangelo, but just keeping a little visual diary. The act of drawing helps you remember the moment and really see your surroundings. You could draw on your phone but a little notebook and a nice pen will just make the experience that much better.
2. New Year’s Eve
English prof-turned-lawyer Barbara Darby has a fun blog in which she occasionally looks up various terms in the CanLII court database. Today, she turns her attention to “New Year’s Eve,” and as a former English prof would, writes a lyrical essay on her findings. I can’t really do it justice with an excerpt, so read the whole thing.
But I particularly like this part:
In the case of Doyle and Lang v. Petrolia, 2003 CanLII 6577, Petrolia, a town 275 km and 50 years away from Grantham, invited its residents out to ring in the new millenium in grand style. There was a “Gala dance at Victoria Hall,” which ended at 11 p.m. in time for fireworks at Victoria Park. Everyone in the town of 4,500 was invited. Petrolia is Canada’s Victorian Oil Town.
This was a major town event. At the Gala dance, alcohol was served and one can infer that on New Year’s Eve Petrolia residents were undoubtedly going to consume alcoholic beverages. Petrolia is not a dry town in the County of Lambton.
The Plaintiff, Mrs. Doyle, sat down on a park bench that evening, and the bench flipped over and she was hurt.
What Mrs. Doyle did not realize was that shortly before she sat down, an unidentified “youth,” who is described in the case as a “hurdler,” was observed by a town councillor to have jumped on that same bench, damaging it. As the Court notes, “the resulting tensions and stresses of the hurdler onto the bench caused the bench to break.” The councillor did not tell anyone about what he had seen until some weeks later. Mrs. Doyle sued the town. She hired an engineer to give expert evidence about how the bench was secured to the ground. Apparently, it was secured by only two bolts. As the Court was informed, in Windsor, the benches are secured by four bolts, which is more of a Shelbyville way to do things, I guess. Had there been four bolts, the bench would not have been damaged by said exuberant hurdler.
The Court is taken down the park path of whether the town was obligated to secure the bench with four bolts and not two. The town’s obligation is to do neither, in fact, because the two or four bolt holes are in benches to permit bolting to deter bench thievery and not to protect citizens from bench hurdlers. Any additional strength the bolts could have offered to prevent the damage “as a result of the individual’s hurtling movement on the evening in question” is evident only in hindsight.
Citizens cannot rely on towns to securely bolt benches. The engineer’s evidence was for naught. However, the Court was also asked to consider whether the town owed a duty of inspection vis à vis broken benches. In this the Court also determined the town did not breach any duty, given that the bench was damaged shortly and even within an hour before Mrs. Doyle was hurt. However, the town was liable for failing to have security at the park, particularly when a councillor had observed the damage to the bench without telling anyone, and worse, without having anyone to tell.
However, the issue of park security is a different matter. The municipality could have foreseen that inviting the entire town to a small park on New Year’s Eve had the potential of attracting those who may be under the influence of alcohol or other individuals who might engage in, or be party to inappropriate acts. Misbehaviour on the part of some individuals would be clearly in the minds of any reasonable prudent town official. While the exact misbehaviour may not be known, or the form of any inappropriate conduct may only be speculation, the likelihood of something untoward happening was and is well within the scope of foreseeability.
Damages awarded to the Plaintiff.
No public meetings.
No public events.
In the harbour
5:30am: Viking Queen, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
10am: Singelgracht, cargo ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
11am: Malleco, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
11:30am: Fritz Reuter, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Mariel, Cuba
9pm: Malleco, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
10pm: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
11pm: Viking Queen, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
Maybe El tomorrow, and then we’re back to regular business on Tuesday.