Much of the recent talk around potential Atlantic expansion of the CFL has revolved around a franchise in Moncton, thanks to the success of the first Touchdown Atlantic game there and the plans for a second one this year. However, Halifax was originally the first option most talked about for Atlantic expansion, and the city came very close to actually landing a CFL team in the 1980s; the city was given a conditional franchise called the Atlantic Schooners (which many Atlantic fans still remember, like those carrying the Schooners banner at last year's Touchdown Atlantic game), but they weren't able to get a stadium built quickly enough and never played a down.
Even just a few years ago, there was still more discussion of Halifax's CFL potential than Moncton. That discussion quickly moved to the backburner when the Moncton series of games began, but it may gain new life thanks to Halifax's plans to build a new, large stadium that could potentially be used for the CFL. Those plans certainly aren't in any finished form yet, but the comments from Halifax mayor Peter Kelly in the above CP story are quite interesting:
Mayor Peter Kelly has already staked out his position.
"It's not a matter of if, but when this will be built. We need to move forward," said Kelly. "But we have to be clear on size, seating and potential operational uses. It has to be multi-use."
Kelly goes on to say that the stadium proposal isn't contingent on picking up a CFL team, and it's designed to be used by a variety of stakeholders. However, it's tough to think of much else that would require around 25,000 seats; sure, they could probably attract a few big concerts, but even events like the PanAm Games or Canada Summer or Winter Games (none of which happen all that frequently) don't need something of that size. Community uses are all well and good, but a building of that size is generally intended for a primary professional tenant, and the CFL is about the only feasible one. Halifax isn't getting a MLS team any time soon, and even if they did land a Division II soccer franchise, 25,000 seats would be vast overkill for that. That seems to leave the CFL.
Of course, having a stadium alone doesn't guarantee you'll get a CFL franchise, as you also need a pile of money, a committed owner and the approval of the league. Moreover, at this point, the chances that both Moncton and Halifax could get CFL franchises seem extremely low; Atlantic expansion of some sort seems reasonably probable (if still a ways off), but all the discussion to date has been about how an Atlantic franchise would need to attract fans and corporate sponsorship from across the entire region, not just whichever city it's in. At the moment, it seems quite possible that there's enough fan and business interest to support one Atlantic team, but very unlikely there's enough for two.
That could lead to a battle between Halifax and Moncton for a CFL franchise, and that might be unfortunate. For one thing, if there is a drawn-out public slugfest to see which city walks away with the team, that could significantly alienate fan and business interest in whichever city doesn't get the franchise (and has the potential to turn the new team into a Halifax or Moncton team, rather than a truly Atlantic franchise). However, competition isn't necessarily a bad thing, and Halifax's entrance into the game might motivate Moncton to make a serious bid for a CFL franchise sooner than they might if left to their own devices; Moncton's progress with the Touchdown Atlantic events might also motivate Halifax to get something done more quickly than they would otherwise. We'll see how things turn out, but Halifax's stadium talks certainly should add some fuel to the Atlantic expansion debate.