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CFL chief confident in Halifax franchise plan — as long as $170M stadium is built

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CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie remains bullish on Halifax becoming the league’s 10th franchise, but says it’s all contingent on a suitable stadium being built in the Maritimes’ largest city.

Halifax regional council voted 15-0 on Tuesday to direct municipal staff to complete a review of a business case for a 24,000-seat facility to be built at Shannon Park.

Ambrosie said while that was « another positive step in the direction that we were hoping for, » he added the stadium issue is pivotal to Maritime Football Limited Partnership’s bid for a CFL expansion franchise to begin play in Halifax in 2021.

« To make a pro sports franchise work you must have a place to play, it’s just that simple, » Ambrosie said. « We put in place a very clear set of steps that we would go through with Maritime Football and we’ve been knocking those off at a good pace.

« When all of that work is done you’re left with the same fundamental question and that is, ‘What’s the status of the stadium,’ and (Tuesday) was very encouraging on that front. »

Stadium could cost $170 to $190 million

The plan of the partnership — which consists of former Arizona Coyotes co-owners Anthony LeBlanc and Gary Drummond and AMJ Campbell Van Lines president Bruce Bowser — is to build a 24,000-seat multi-purpose stadium in Shannon Park. That’s a 38-hectare parcel of land in Dartmouth on the east side of Halifax harbour formerly used for military housing.

Shannon Park, a 38-hectare parcel of land in Dartmouth, was formerly used for military housing and is now being pitched as a potential site for a 24,000-seat multi-purpose stadium. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

The stadium would reportedly cost between $170 and $190 million but it’s unclear if or how much public funding would be required for the project.

A more detailed business analysis is expected to take three-to-six months to complete. Meanwhile, the partnership plans to begin a season-ticket campaign and name-the-team contest next month.

Ambrosie is confident Halifax has the corporate support needed to help successfully operate a CFL franchise.

« I think this is such a new Halifax, it’s such a new Nova Scotia, it’s a new Atlantic region, » he said. « There’s just so much business going on, new industries that have started so yes we do feel there is.

« It’s a remarkably robust community, and I’m speaking broadly of the Atlantic region and our feeling is they’ve got the right business community and right opportunity to make this work. »

Season-ticket campaign coming

Ambrosie has been very careful not to impose specific deadlines to the Maritime Football Limited Partnership, which he said has been by design.

« What I’ve tried to do all along is not impose an artificial timeline because that would put pressure on this that’s unnecessary, » Ambrosie said. « And then what people will be doing is staring at a date we’ve made up in our heads and wondering whether or not we’re making progress.

« What we want to do is have this project come to a successful conclusion but the time it takes to get there is not our primary concern. »

On Nov. 7, the partnership plans to launch a season-ticket campaign and a name-the-team contest. Ambrosie said he’ll be in Halifax to lend his support to Maritime Football.

« They want to really reach into the community and talk about being committed ticketholders to this franchise, » Ambrosie said.

Vision for a 10th CFL franchise

The CFL commissioner also plans to have LeBlanc meet with CFL conveners once in November — either at a regularly scheduled board meeting Nov. 13 or during Grey Cup week in Edmonton. And Ambrosie said he could have LeBlanc front and centre when he makes his annual state of the league address Nov. 23.

« I think what we’ll do at a minimum is probably have Anthony join us and talk a little bit about their vision for that 10th franchise, » he said. « Even that, I think, is a remarkably positive step.

« We might not be picking team colours and announcing the date for the kickoff of the inaugural season. But I think even having Anthony just speak to what’s happened so far, that first-person perspective, can be part of the state of the CFL narrative. I think that’s something we should do. »

Last month, Ambrosie met with Professional American Football League of Mexico (LFA) officials in Mexico City to discuss how the two organizations would develop players and grow the game. Ambrosie said he’s already had two conversations with CFL officials about the league staging two 2019 regular-season games in Mexico.

« Just probing conversations around which teams might be interested in (playing) a home game in Mexico, » he said. « Both conversations, I’d say, were pretty positive.

« Not conclusive but pretty positive with our friends in Mexico. They’re excited with the opportunity to showcase the CFL to football fans there. If we could pull this off for the 2019 season I think we should do it. »

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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