Hall: Defer convention centre deal
Mayoral candidate Vince Hall says Halifax Regional Municipality should refuse to sign the new convention centre contract until after the fall election.
“We could be looking at several new faces around that council table come October, and why should they have to accept a 25-year arrangement that was made three months before they were elected?” asked Hall, a former Cape Breton regional councillor now living in the Halifax area.
“I think it’s wrong. I think it should be deferred. It would be irresponsible for them to sign on to that at this point in the game.”
Tonight, Halifax regional council is scheduled to deal with the memorandum of agreement outlining how the new World Trade and Convention Centre will be financed and managed.
“I believe there is some controversy around (the trade centre), and I don’t believe there is unanimity in the community in terms of support with respect to that amount of taxpayers’ dollars being contributed toward it,” Hall said Monday.
In an email later in the day, Hall clarified that he does believe the project would be a good thing for the downtown but doesn’t believe the existing council has the mandate to deal with it.
Veteran councillor Gloria McCluskey (Dartmouth Centre) isn’t paying any attention to Hall’s words of caution.
“I’m not taking any advice from Vince Hall,” McCluskey said. “We’re getting emails from everybody. Everybody’s an expert.”
Council has already dealt with the convention centre, she said, adding that she is looking forward to tonight’s council session.
Mayor Peter Kelly also pooh-poohed Hall’s concerns.
“He’s looking for press time,” Kelly said.
Council has been dealing with the project in good faith all along, he said.
“It would be unprofessional to hand this on to (another) council.”
In December 2010, council told staff to work with the province to draw up the agreement, and Kelly said he expects that council will approve it.
Maurice Smith, the provincial transportation and infrastructure renewal minister, said Friday that once all the contracts are signed, construction should start immediately.
“If someone wants to criticize me and say that this will delay construction, I don’t buy that at all,” Hall said.
“I think this needs a more thorough debate on what role the municipality ought to play with respect to contributing toward this. We have a private developer that is involved, and good luck to him, and I hope that it is successful.”
The new 115,000-square-foot convention centre is the only portion of the 1.2-million-square-foot Nova Centre global trade and finance development that the government will manage.
Developer Rank Inc. will own and operate the rest of the project, which will include an 18-storey hotel and a 14-storey office building.
The complex is estimated to bring in around the $500-million mark. The convention centre portion is projected to cost $159 million and the three government levels will fund it.
The province and city are contributing $56 million each, to be paid in the form of a capital lease over 25 years. After the term is up, they will have the option to buy the convention centre. The federal government is contributing a lump sum of $51.4 million once the project is substantially completed.
Rank will handle cost overruns during construction.
Coun. Jerry Blumenthal (Halifax North End) also defended the project Monday.
“I think it’s a very important addition to the city.”
The retiring councillor also doesn’t have an issue with the existing council dealing with the convention centre.
“All we’re doing is agreeing with the (memorandum of understanding) between the province and the city.”
However, Blumenthal said he believes it will likely be a year before work begins on the new complex.
Meanwhile, Hall said he wants to see the municipality focus on core issues such as transportation and policing.
“It really upsets me as a candidate and a resident of this municipality. It’s the kind of thing that, as mayor, I will be putting a stop to. This chasing developers with money while our own backyard is not cleaned up, I have no time for that at all.”