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CFL team for Halifax a good idea but still years away: commissioner

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HALIFAX - The mayor of Halifax says the city should have its own mixed-use stadium and he likes the idea of having a CFL team as an anchor tenant, but Mike Savage says discussions with the league and potential investors are just starting.

Savage, who met Monday in Halifax with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, declined to discuss timelines or the degree of interest from the private sector or other levels of government — the lack of which has sunk previous bids.

"We don't have a stadium and I don't have a model for a stadium," the mayor told a news conference at a downtown hotel.

"I have a belief that we should have a stadium in this municipality and it would be great if the CFL was part of that... . This is the year we have to figure out how serious we are about having a stadium."

Savage said city council voted two years ago to contribute $20 million toward construction of a 20,000-seat stadium for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup of soccer, but there weren't enough partners to make the proposal a reality.

At the time, the provincial government said it wasn't interested in contributing, which left private investors reluctant to sign on.

"There is an atmosphere in this city that says we can do some things that we couldn't do before," Savage said. "In terms of a stadium, the private sector will always say, 'Where's government on this?' "

Cohon said establishing a CFL team in Halifax is part of the league's long-term plan. But he declined to name any of the national or local business leaders that he and the mayor are talking to.

"It's Day 1, guys," he said. "It's our first meeting."

The commissioner repeatedly pointed to the new CFL franchise in Ottawa, the RedBlacks, as a potential model for Halifax. But he stressed that the talks that led to that team's rebirth took seven years to come to fruition.

Cohon said the new, mixed-use stadium in Ottawa, the result of a public-private partnership, features a large retail space, condominiums, parkland and office space. The total cost for the project was $290 million, with $173 million coming from the city, the project's website says.

"We have a proven model that is working right now in Ottawa," Cohon said. "We have to think big. Don't just think about CFL. Think about this as a catalyst for a bigger opportunity."

No one in the sports community was expecting a big announcement Monday, considering Cohon had said last week the Halifax meetings were just exploratory.

Still, Cohon suggested that Halifax is the next logical location for a CFL franchise, even though there has been significant interest expressed in Moncton.

"I think the challenge in Moncton, it's a bit of a smaller community with a smaller business community," he said.

CFL teams last played an exhibition game in Halifax in 2005, and there have been three Touchdown Atlantic games in Moncton.

Cohon said all CFL teams except one is either making a profit or breaking even. Staying in the black requires annual revenue between $17 million and $20 million, he said.

Despite Cohon's optimism, plans to build a stadium in Halifax have gone off the rails three times in the past 30 years.

In the mid-1980s, financing fell through for a 30,000-seat stadium that was supposed to be used by a CFL team called the Atlantic Schooners.

In March 2007, the city and the province pulled out of a bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games when cost estimates jumped from $785 million to almost $1.7 billion. Plans for a 20,000-seat stadium died along with the bid.

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