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Mar 4 , 2018

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Hold on to your wallets, taxpayers!

by Paul Hutchings
Hold on to your wallets, taxpayers!
It’s insane that only one person raised the issue of municipal or provincial taxes potentially being used in Halifax’s CFL bid. 
As you know, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie brought his road trip Down East to speak with a group of about 300 football fans about the Halifax Schooners/Seahawks/ Explosions/Whatever potentially setting up shop in the province. 
Ambrosie said the CFL wants it to complete the league and fully represent all parts of Canada. He said local support is there, with a built-in fan base already calling Eastern Canada home, and a local group, Maritime Football Ltd., doing a great job of getting all the loose ends together. 
But there’s the issue of the stadium. It’s always the stadium. 
The closest we have to a football stadium that could be used (Huskies Stadium at St. Mary’s University) only seats 11,000. A viable CFL structure would have to seat close to double that. 
The proponents insist they don’t want any taxpayers’ money, but it’s difficult to take them at their word.
One of those fellows is Anthony LeBlanc, who up until 2017 was the general manager of the Arizona Coyotes, the NHL’s American Southwest team. And while he held that role, he and his management team were very vocal about the need for local and state funds to be used to subsidize the hapless Coyotes.
The Arizona Republic reported the year after LeBlanc took over as the Coyotes’ CEO that the team proposed the creation of a new sales and excise tax district around the arena to help generate $350-$700 million for a new arena. 
LeBlanc and the rest of his management team would later confirm that they wanted taxes paid by any hotel in an arena project to help pay for the arena. All the while, mind you, still insisting to local media that taxpayer dollars would not be used. 
The same paper also reported that to offset any payments from public coffers, a deal was struck with the municipality for a percentage of the concession stands and other sales at the arena. In exchange for that deal the City of Glendale offered a 15-year lease on the building, on which they reneged after two seasons because officials felt the city was not getting the amounts to which it was entitled. 
Currently operating on what is called an “evergreen lease,” meaning they can renew it every year, at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, last March LeBlanc and his mteam, along with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, threatened to move the franchise if the Arizona Legislature did not approve $225 million in public financing for a new arena in downtown Phoenix or in the nearby East Valley. 
The legislature didn’t pass the bill and the team’s lobbyist, Jim Norton, was indicted on bribery allegations involving the state Corporation Commission. 
Of course there’s no suggestion that Le- Blanc was involved in those shenanigans, but he nevertheless has been in the middle of some pretty serious begging and demanding. 
He was particularly quiet when the conversation at the CFL event turned to that very subject. Ambrosie told the crowd that he would rather talk about all the good that a sports team can do for a local area and although he did gloss over the financial aspect, this was really too much of a feelgood event to even bring it up. 
One gentleman by the name of Travis Crowell, I believe, got up to offer a view that didn’t go over very well with the cologne- soaked crowd. Studies have shown, he said, that pro sports haven’t proven to be a good investment for taxpayers, with the returns just not being nearly as big as people projected. 
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage has stated for the record several times that his city is not interested in getting into the pro football game or supporting a new arena. 
Maybe Maritime Football Ltd. will do this with no municipal or provincial funds; they claim they want to. But this bid involves LeBlanc, who was part of a team that tried to create a whole new tax district in a very Republican state. Imagine if they decide to build in Dartmouth and the neighbouring residents suddenly find out they’re paying more in taxes to support it whether they want it or not. 
If you think it can’t happen, think about how much goes on in City Hall that is incamera, no plebes or reporters allowed. 
Even the most ardent fans would not be thrilled about that.
 

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