Plan will fuse history, business
Armour Group chairman outlines redevelopment of heritage buildings
By STEVE PROCTOR Business Editor
Sat. Feb 9 - 6:43 AM
The man behind the creation of Historic Properties and Founders Square is planning a $16-million redevelopment of another series of historic buildings in downtown Halifax.
Armour (Ben) McCrea, chairman of Armour Group, said Friday he hopes to restore and incorporate four heritage buildings in the block between Historic Properties and the Granville Mall into a new 80,000-square-foot eco-friendly office building.
"This will help meet the demand for more office space downtown but at street level still offer the opportunity for retail and food outlets," he said. "It fuses Halifax history and our collective sense of place with the requirements of modern business."
The company has been working with the city on the project for the last 18 months, he said, and the development complies with all city planning standards. The proposal is for nine storeys, which respects the height restrictions under view plane regulations.
The building and lands involved were purchased by Armour Group in 1972 as part of the Historic Properties development. Parts have been occupied by restaurants, but most of the space has been used in recent years by the NSCAD University.
With the college moving to a new home on the waterfront on Terminal Road, Mr. McCrae said the time is right to give new life to the property.
The plan by Andy Lynch of Lydon Lynch Architects calls for the gutting of the interior of the buildings but the preservation of four of five building facades on the block. A new six-storey glass top will be set back from street level to ensure heritage elements are given visual prominence. Infill on vacant lands will incorporate Nova Scotia sandstone
"Right now it is a rabbit warren of empty spaces with varying floor levels that make it impossible to redevelop and offer modern conveniences and meet building code requirements," said Mr. McCrae. "Some people won’t like that I’m only preserving the facades, but the buildings are functionally obsolete and economically unsustainable."
Mr. McRae said the building at 1870 Upper Water St. has to be demolished to make the project viable. Although it is a designated heritage building, he contends it was designated in error. He will try to convince a judge of that in March when he moves to have the designation revoked and get the city to issue a demolition permit.
"It is just something that has to be done in order for us to be able to save the other four buildings."
Stephen Dempsey, president and CEO of the Greater Halifax Partnership, has seen the plans and loves the design.
"There is a debate in the city about the marrying of heritage buildings and commercial enterprise. Mr. McCrae has done it successfully at Historic Properties and at Founders Square, and it looks like he has an opportunity to do it here again."
The project’s 60,000 square feet of office space won’t go a long way to improve the pressing need for more such space downtown, but he speculated tenants would be drawn to the buildings’ heritage nature and green attributes.
Mr. McCrae said energy efficiency is a key part of the design and the project will use seawater for heating and cooling. The target is to use 40 per cent less energy than a conventional project.
Howard Epstein, the Halifax Fairview MLA who joined with several groups last year in appealing city council’s approval of the Twisted Sisters development, said he hasn’t seen the plans but he’s worried such a project might not be in keeping with the character of the area.
"It always depends on the details, but I think something in the six to seven storeys should prevail," he said. "Even if it is nine or 10 storeys, it shows that you don’t need 25 storeys to have a viable development."
The plans have been filed with the city and a development agreement will have to be negotiated before any building begins. Mr. McCrae said he hopes that process can be completed within six months so that construction can begin in spring 2009. He said it will take about one year to complete.