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FHC Letter to Mayor: Private Permanent Stadium on Public Land is Foul Play

FHC call on you to confirm to developer Derek Martin that his request to make his private “temporary” pop-up stadium on the public Wanderers Grounds permanent and for $20 million of public money are both not going to happen. Mr. Martin needs to purchase his own venue with his own money, not continue to make a profit by privatizing the public field. No level of government should be considering giving him public money for his private stadium. Here’s why:

The Wanderers Grounds was used to full capacity by amateur players (1) until HRM Mayor & Council gave it over to a developer for his private profit @ $2400/game.

Amateur Players: A 2017 HRM staff report states that the Wanderers Grounds was used to full capacity by amateur players (football, lacrosse, rugby, touch football, ultimate frisbee and soccer) averaging 325 hours/year and near its limit. [1] These players book the field and pay HRM for its use. Any limitation in the amateur player use was simply due to the field not being well maintained. The Wanderers Grounds is one of the few remaining amateur playing fields on the Halifax Common. HRM intends to add 35,000 residents to the Centre Plan area. Less than 20% of the Halifax Common is public space. It is not appropriate to privatize the Wanderers Grounds for a for-profit private business deal.

Private Use for Private Profit: HRM Mayor & Council contracted the Wanderers Grounds to the developer for his private profit initially for $1200 and then for $2400/game, without any public consultation. This contract has never factored in the value of the land itself. As an example, around the same time as the privatization began a similar city-owned central property, the former St Pat’s High School sold for ~$32 million.

Better Options: FHC wrote to you when the developer put forward his business plans suggesting HRM use a better process to determine both the location and the developer. For example, an RFP with specific criteria to be evaluated. https://www.halifaxcommon.ca/tag/wanderers-grounds/page/2/

FHC also met with the developer Derek Martin in 2016 to suggest better options than privatizing the Wanderers Grounds including: partnering with the Universities to improve their sports field venues; finding central locations with available land: ie Burnside, Dartmouth Crossing, Exhibition Park or the Stanfield Airport.

Misleading the Public: Mr. Martin stated at the meeting with FHC that he intended to take over the Grounds as a permanent location. He named his professional team the Wanderers Club. The pretext of a “pop-up” stadium to be removed seasonally fell apart after one season. HRM revised the contract taking out this requirement. Martin’s recent public claims that his proposed use is consistent with historic uses of the property is simply not accurate This is not just from the professional/amateur point of view but also from an exclusive use point of view. Mr. Martin’s denial that his use has been exclusive are also not accurate. Two FOIPOP’s done by FHC show that Sports Atlantic has almost entirely excluded amateur players other than a very few sponsored events. [5]

HRM Public Consultation: The 2017 HRM staff report confirmed HRM’s commitment to include questions on the eventual desired use of the Wanderers Grounds as part of the Halifax Common Master Plan public consultation [2]. Just ahead of any public consultation HRM permitted the temporary pop-up stadium by contract. That was just as HRM closed the field in 2017 for improvements spending ~$1 million of public money. During the Master Plan public consultation both HRM staff and facilitators at the public consultation refused requests to include the field as part of the consultation. [3] All of the decisions regarding the Wanderers Grounds lease arrangements with Martin have taken place without public consultation and outside of the Halifax Common Master Plan process.

HRM Staff Report-Larger Permanent Stadium Would be Located Elsewhere: The 2017 HRM staff report also noted that hosting a professional soccer team at the Wanderers Grounds is not consistent with the more general use as the field must be maintained to a higher standard and overuse can impact the field.[4] HRM’s 2017 staff report stated that a “temporary stadium on the Wanderers Grounds will also help indicate the viability of a larger permanent stadium in the region, which would have to be located elsewhere in an appropriate non-parkland context, and where more land is available.” [6].

Poor Location: The inappropriateness of the location is already notable. There is negative impact from noise and traffic in a densely populated area next to hospitals, the Public Gardens and the Halifax Lancers. The Lancer horses have to have ear plugs during games. The organization needs more space. Where is HRM’s consideration for their needs? They are strictly non-profit and do tremendous public service with their many programmes, especially for other-abled. There is also the negative visual impact of an oversized structure with a lot of clutter and 60 portapotties that is already significant, from all views. 10,000 spectators would only add to the harm.

Public Health: During COVID, it was again confirmed that public open space is critical for mental and physical health. Paying to watch professional soccer at the expense of shutting out amateur players is not sensible, practical or affordable. Asking for $20 million of public money shows how out of touch the developer is with what our society needs at a time where almost 600 citizens are homeless.

On-going Halifax Common Master Plan Public Consultation: In a Feb 8, 2022 directive HRM staff was instructed to “undertake public consultation and a review of the Master Plan and return to Regional Council within 18 months with the results of the consultation and any recommended amendments, along with implementation plans as may be advised.”

HRM has enabled the Wanderers Club to grow a huge fan base, garner corporate sponsorships and use connections and PR to cultivate the notion that the permanent location of the Wanderers Club on the Wanderers Grounds is the next logical step. Evidently there is the same presumption for $20 million public money. At the same time all amateur players have been locked out of play since 2016 and no longer have a cohesive voice. It would be inappropriate for the on- going public consultation to engage on the issue of the permanent stadium.

What HRM should do is acknowledge the importance of on-going public access to public space on the Halifax Common and its critical role in public health. Please remember HRM’s initial commitment was for a temporary removeable stadium. As per the HRM staff report the “temporary stadium on the Wanderers Grounds was to indicate the viability of a larger permanent stadium in the region, which would have to be located elsewhere in an appropriate non-parkland context, and where more land is available.

According to the 1994 Halifax Common Master Plan the city committed to plan for the entire Halifax Common granted “to and for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Halifax as Common, forever” in 1763. To date almost all aspirational plans laid out for the Halifax Common by HRM have been ignored, contravened, dropped or still just aspirational.

Less than 20% of the Halifax Common remains as public open space. We ask that there is a firm end to this misappropriation of a public venue. We encourage HRM to work with the developer to find a suitable location. We are not opposed to a professional soccer league but we are opposed to the process that has led us to this place and we are opposed to the continued use of public land for private profit.

Regards, FHC Directors

Peggy Cameron, Howard Epstein, Judith Fingard, David Garrett, Peggy Smith, William Breckenridge, Lawrence McEachern, Beverly Miller, Alan Ruffman,

  1. p. 5, HRM Staff Report, June 20, 2017
    https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional- council/170620rc14113.pdf

  2. Ibid, p. 9

  3. FHC raised this at the HRM public consultation facilitated by Co-Lab and was told this was not part of the consultation.

  4. p. 5, HRM Staff Report, June 20, 2017
    https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional- council/170620rc14113.pdf

  5. FHC conducted two FOIPOPs asking for a record of games and events.

  6. p. 6, HRM Staff Report, June 20, 2017
    https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional- council/170620rc14113.pdf


Todd Veinotte- Why Halifax Common Pool Needs a Better Location

Halifax Central Common Pool re-do — good idea bad location.

News 97.5 Todd Veinotte explores FHC’s concerns and better ideas for where / how HRM could locate the $16 million dollar pool. (Hint: not next to a traffic corridor & 1500 cars worth of pollution)

Halifax Common Pool – HRM Dives into the Wrong End of Planning Process

(Ki’jupuk / Halifax) HRM’s ad hoc planning (get it done) vs long term (do it right) once again drowns potential for the best outcome — in this case for the Halifax Common’s new aquatic centre.

Your car, my lungs –a powerful mural by Marta Frej, via @WarszawaBezSmog)

While always supportive of and recognizing the need for a new public outdoor aquatic centre, Friends of Halifax Common continue to be disappointed with a process that now has HRM diving into an unsuitable location with an unknown building design for the Central Common swimming pool re-design. 

Ahead of any public consultation HRM established a new aquatic centre as a top objective of the 2017 Halifax Common Master Plan. On-going disregard for public consultation now lands the $16 million-dollar project ahead of a final Halifax Common Master Plan.

This predetermined outcome ignores considering other locations that would increase public open green space and save money with rationalized facility use. It also ignores the Feb 8, 2022 directive HRM staff received to “undertake public consultation and a review of the Master Plan and return to Regional Council within 18 months with the results of the consultation and any recommended amendments, along with implementation plans as may be advised.”

Most importantly better location choices would avoid the well-known harmful health impact of traffic pollution, noise and accidents that will result from the addition of at least 1500 cars using the QEII hospital’s two new $100 million dollar parking garages directly across the street. That the parkades are associated with the hospital redevelopment will not alleviate the grave and known impact that traffic emissions have on children’s health.

Locating the pool near the Citadel High School could have budgeted financial support for the completion of the upper floor(s) of the HRM recreational space inside the school. HRM has paid 7% of the building’s operational fee since 2007 but the upper ~10,500 ft2  remains unfinished and unused. 

Or locating the pool on the Centennial Pool parking lot could have expanded public green space by landscaping/naturalizing that area. And use or expansion of the Centennial’s staff offices, change rooms and washroom facilities could have reduced overall building requirements and facility costs.

HRM staff’s record of public comments at the December 2017 consultation raised concerns about predeterming the prioritization of the pool and many asked that HRM “Wait for Master Plan.” That public consultation did not find that there should be a new building. The design for the aquatic centre area from that time did not show an increase in the building footprint which evidently is now two buildings. 

There has been no public consultation on the present building design- an architectural black box – even though citizens will presumably be users of the year-round community room, kitchenette and performance space. Limiting public consultation can only curtail the imagination and creativity that might lead us to one day design and approve a natural, wild-space play area.

For the future FHC looks forward to a complete, approved and registered Halifax Common Master Plan. That final Plan should reflect proper and fully engaged public consultation and be informed by the 1994 Halifax Common Plan, not the desires of HRM staff. A Plan that protects and plans for the entire Halifax Common granted “to and for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Halifax as Common, forever” in 1763. And a Plan that is in place before beginning to implement, build, renovate or achieve any agreed-upon new elements to the Halifax Common. 

FHC Submission to HRM Review of Regional Plan

We are deeply concerned about recent incursions into the Halifax Common…

The Halifax Common grant in 1763 was for 235 acres ” to and for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Halifax as Common, forever.” This entire area was to be considered for planning purposes in the 1994 Halifax Common Plan.

…from proposed multiple high rises (16-, 28-, 29- and 30-storey and ~900 cars – similar in mass to the Nova Centre) at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Robie Street; the expansion of major QE2 facilities onto parkland adjacent to the Natural History Museum and along Bell Road with two parking garages; the exclusive use of the Wanderer’s Grounds by a professional soccer team; the overwhelming use of the remaining open space of the Common of organized sports and programmed uses; the eviction of the Common Roots Urban Farm from the area and the slow progress of the Halifax Common Master Plan by HRM Staff begun in 2017 and that has been without significant public input for nearly two years. Continue reading

FHC to Premier-Don’t Approve a Pool Building Before Public Consultation and a Plan

FHC are asking the Nova Scotia Legislature not to approve legislation to permit new building on the Central Common for HRM’s proposed Aquatic Centre. A public consultation process for the Common Master Plan begun in Dec 2017 has never come back to the citizens for final input or approval.

This map shows a synthesis of what was agreed on for the favoured elements-with no change to the building footprint

Despite there being no final Plan, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Brendan McGuire, has introduced Bill 103 to amend HRM’s Charter and give permission for a building and fencing for an aquatic centre on the Central Common.

“It is very concerning that HRM staff has not communicated with residents about the Halifax Common Master Plan since the summer of 2019,” says FHC director and long-time Halifax resident Alan Ruffman. “Public consultation is an obligation that HRM owes its citizens under the HRM Charter.” Continue reading

2020 – FHC Centre Plan Submission

Dear Centre Plan Staff,

Please find included in this email two previous submissions from Friends of Halifax Common

In return for the School for the Blind park, the public was promised a fully landscaped Park within a Park (200 trees & 200 parking places), a scented garden and a land-scaped path along the block of Tower Road the public reluctantly agreed to give to the VG. Maybe the VG Parking lot can be a new urban farm?

(2018 & 2016) . Our suggestions seem even more relevant in this time so we ask that you will please take the time to re-read these.

Green Space: As the Centre Plan intends to add 15-30,000 new residents to the area it is imperative that there be greater attention given to protecting existing green space and to increase it. This is for all the benefits known — human mental and physical health, safe social distancing, improved walkability and active transportation, habitat, gardening, coping with climate change etc.

Health Benefits: A 2016 World Health Organization[i] report suggests sizes of and distance from green space. ie 5 minutes from 1ha is one standard. It also emphasizes connectivity as well as buffer zones for green space – these should be adopted as goals of the Centre Plan. Continue reading