Sport Makes A Difference

Op Ed - Stadium: What's it worth
Published in the Chronicle on December 16, 2011

On December 6, HRM Council approved a recommendation to direct staff to request a six month extension from the Canadian Soccer Association before confirming their intent to construct a multi-use sport stadium.  The extension would allow for final determination on site, design and cost, as well as confirmation of potential funding partners.  An HRM appointed citizen steering committee, (of which I was a member), worked extensively with HRM staff and consultants over a ten month period in order to determine a business case for the facility.

From a pure sport lens, it’s easy to support this type of facility. It’s a missing piece of sport infrastructure and helps address our current sport and recreation infrastructure deficit.  It’s also an opportunity to raise the profile of sport in HRM and Nova Scotia, not to mention a chance to raise our profile nationally and internationally as well.

However, sport lovers pay taxes too.  That’s why we have been calling for exactly this kind of study for years now. We wanted to see a dedicated effort to complete background work and examine all the facts.  This allows for informed, educated discussion and consideration.

We’re very pleased that this work has now been completed.  The recommendation that went to Council is for a multipurpose facility that would be the centre of a sport campus, meaning additional sport facilities would be located around the stadium to take advantage of obvious synergies.  This would create a sport and recreation destination that could see multiple sports such as soccer, football, rugby, field hockey and others gathering for practices, tournaments and community programs in addition to the sport and cultural events this facility would host.  Construction of this facility could create a sport hub in the province, and the co-location of facilities helps reduce operating costs as well.

It’s important to note that like similar facilities across the country, the stadium itself is not expected to generate a profit, although it is sure to help generate economic activity in the municipality and the province. However, we think the most important question is: “Is this a good investment?”.  In fact, it’s worthwhile to broaden that question to ask if investment in sport and recreation infrastructure is a good investment.

For years sport participants have been paying fees in efforts to have our sport facilities generate income, whether they are fields, gyms or rinks. Discussion on new facilities has always included the question of economic sustainability.  However, there has been very little discussion about the value of these types of facilities and the opportunities and benefits they create.
If constructed, this new sport facility and sport campus will create economic spin offs, however, there are other spin offs that may be more important.  We know that children taking part in sport are more likely to be healthy, more likely to do well in school, and less likely to break the law.  And if you think that doesn’t have an economic impact, imagine if we were discussing how to sell off surplus hospital beds today instead of how many new ones we may need, and imagine if we were arguing about which jails to close instead of where to build new ones.

In an interesting comparison, there was little concern with the costs that will be borne by taxpayers for the new library being built in HRM, and no call for economic sustainability for a facility with capital and operational costs that are almost completely subsidized by taxpayers.  We understand this, and in fact we agree.  Libraries are an important part of the fabric of our community.  We know sport facilities are too.

In a telephone survey conducted by CRA as part of the public consultation process on this proposed new facility and sport campus, seventy-five percent of respondents indicated it was important that municipal governments invest in sport and recreation facilities.  We know it’s important too, it encourages positive social development in our youth, improves our health, and stimulates our economies.

So when we’re considering a new multipurpose sport facility, we think the relevant question is not only “what will it cost?” we must also consider what it’s worth.

Respectfully submitted,
Jamie Ferguson
CEO, Sport Nova Scotia

5516 Spring Garden Rd., 4th Floor, Halifax, NS B3J 1G6