HALIFAX – It has been close to three weeks since Infrastructure Minister Bill Estabrooks hinted that the Province’s decision on whether to support the convention centre proposed for downtown Halifax would soon be made public. The development, proposed for the old Chronicle Herald building site, has received guff from heritage and development types alike while proponents tout the proposal as that “boost” Halifax perpetually awaits. turning it into a broader debate around Halifax’s development agenda and the city’s tenuous creative, economic, and environmental vitality. However, while the debate grows and criticism mounts, very little space has been made to discuss real alternatives to the convention centre proposal.
A range of estimates on the public cost and benefit of the convention centre have been thrown around, and many thrown out. The only number that has maintained some consistency is a total cost of $300 million — a minimum $100 million chunk of which would come from taxpayers, and the rest directly from private developer, Rank, Inc.
Chatting with The Hub‘s Joanne Macrae last week, we recounted the number conversations in which we’ve heard the ‘at least it’s something‘ argument made in favour of the convention centre. Is the bar in Halifax set so low, that we’re ready to throw $100 million behind a proposal based solely on its thing-ness? On a lack of better ideas?
But there’s more to the ‘at least it’s something’ mantra. Fundamentally, the intent behind the convention centre and the arguments made for it are hard to disagree with. Yes, by many counts, Halifax’s downtown is dwindling, and something does need to happen to give it a shove in the right direction. Just what that thing should be is where our creativity seems to fail us.
With that in mind, what are some hypothetical alternatives that might fill this geographic, social, and economic void? In other words…
If you were handed $100 million, and the responsibility to invest it in a new downtown project, what would you do? Your only criteria: the investment must promise a) some kind of positive impact on the city, and b) a viable level of projected economic return or sustainability.