Developers ready to move Halifax into the Future
Developers ready to move Halifax into the future
BY STEPHEN CLARE, TRANSCONTINENTAL MEDIA
The Nova Scotia Business Journal
HALIFAX – Enlivened by the recently released HRMbyDesign report, development in downtown Halifax seems to moving forward after years of being mired down in debate. And though new proposals such as the Armour’s Waterside Centre continue to polarize the community, many believe that a middle ground is slowly emerging that will satisfy many of the demands of both parties.
"HRM By Design was put together to help quicken the development approval process and revitalize the downtown core," says Stephen Dempsey, president and CEO of the Greater Halifax Partnership. "And – judging by the noise being made on both sides of the debate – it has struck a chord."
And while he concedes that it is going to be almost impossible to please everyone involved in the debate, Dempsey is hopeful that the city will soon find its vision amidst the clouds of hot air. "It is going to take a while for everyone to find their feet," he says, "but at least we now have a process in place."
Unfortunately, that's not good enough for one of the parties involved. Philip Pacey of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia says he applauds the recent decision by HRM Council to vote down the Waterside development, but he believes that HRMbyDesign puts another 120 heritage buildings at risk. "It is an invitation to abuse, because it takes the power out of the hands of the public and gives it to the city. There’s already over a million square feet of available vacant land in downtown Halifax – enough to satisfy demand for the next 100 years."
On the other side of the argument, Ben McRae of the Armour Group says that despite the recent decision against his company's Waterside plan, he’s not ready to give up the fight for greater downtown development. "This was just another in a long list of bad decisions that is going to keep our city out of the 21st century," he says. "How much longer can we wait to grow up?"
Although downtown Halifax currently enjoys a 4% vacancy rate – just below the national average of 4.8% -- still others believe that the city centre might have already missed the boat.
"I don't think it's too late, but we are going to be playing catch-up for awhile," says Ross Cantwell, a real estate analyst with Colliers International. "Other cities are moving forward with urban development, while we have been mired in debate."
Cantwell says that since the early 1990s, the trend here has been for companies to set up shop in area suburbs. "There are several advantages to being in those locations: low construction costs, pre-approved zoning, access to the airport and highways and better proximity to where employees live."
Those elements, combined with the explosion of available technologies in telecommunication, means that companies no longer have to be located in the downtown core in order to do business. "Look at the emergence of the Bayers Lake and Burnside Business Parks," Cantwell points out. "That's where most of the jobs have been going."
Stephen Lund doesn't agree.
"We've created thousands of jobs for downtown, that's what's really driving downtown Halifax these days," the CEO and president of Nova Scotia Business Inc. recently told members of the local news media. "On financial services, alone, we've had a lot of success – probably more success than pretty much any other jurisdiction in the world over the last couple of years."
Lund adds that he expects the sector to grow significantly in the coming years. "We've got several thousand jobs that we expect to be here, just from the companies we're already working with. Now, we need places to put them." – Nova Scotia Business Journal