HALIFAX – Halifax is deadlocked in yet another polarized development debate. Pro-heritage people oppose the proposed World Trade and Convention Centre, on the grounds that it would ruin the old-world feeling of our city, while many in the business community dismiss heritage folk as naive sticks in the mud.
The municipal government, under HRMbyDesign, has approved the development of two new skyscrapers downtown. The Hardman Group developers proposed to tear down the unsightly Cogswell Interchange and somehow “reunite” the north end with the south end by putting a couple sky-scarpers between the communities, but the deal was awarded to Rank Inc. Rank plan to build two glass towers, standing at 18 and 14 stories each on the blocks spanning the former Halifax Herald and Midtown Tavern buildings. Aside from housing the World Trade and Convention Centre, Rank’s plans include a 600-car-parking garage, residential units, office space and a hotel. The buildings will be taller than Citadel Hill and block the view to George’s Island from the top of the hill. Concerned citizens won’t know the full details of the plan, including how much the project will cost taxpayers, until February.
Not everyone’s thrilled. The Coalition to Save The View from Citadel Hill, spearheaded by Peggy Cameron and Beverly Miller, is petitioning Premier Darrell Dexter in hopes that he won’t give the development the final go ahead. The coalition gained recognition by circulating leaflets featuring alarming images of somber-black boxes blocking our skyline, warning citizens that their view was “going, going, gone.” Rank’s own mock-ups feature shimmering-glass buildings, reflecting the surrounding blue sky. It’s probably safe to assume the aesthetic reality lies somewhere in the middle.
Cameron is concerned that a public view is becoming privatized. “No one gets to see that view any longer, other than the people who are renting those spaces,” she laments. When the former owners of the late Midtown Tavern tried to save downtown’s best watering hole by building a hotel to increase revenue, they were shot down because the municipality has policies in place protecting the view planes from Citadel Hill. However, HRMbyDesign includes a notwithstanding clause, doubling height limits for buildings constructed in the view-planes, if government funds are poured into the development project.
Cameron’s concerns are also environmental. Both the Ecology Action Centre and Save The View critique HRMbyDesign for not having mandatory regulations requiring developers limit greenhouse-gas emissions. The EAC’s Built Environment Committee decided last week to support Cameron’s group, based on shared concerns that the new World Trade and Convention Centre would not be as green as it ought to be. Cameron points out that materials used in the construction of high rises, such as concrete and steel are less efficient to produce than wood. “Once constructed, high-rises use more energy, are more costly to maintain, are less adaptable in their use and have shorter life spans,” states the Coalition’s website.
Green or not, modern high-rises will always seem out of place downtown to heritage enthusiasts. It would be nice if heritage folk and the business community could compromise, but the two groups appear diametrically opposed and more likely to perpetually shoot each other down than invigorate and revitalize the downtown.
photo by Seamus McGreal