1. Founders Square
“On Friday morning, the janitors who clean Founders Square held a press conference and rally outside the building,” writes El Jones:
As explained in the press release sent to the media by Darius Mirshahi, an organizer with Justice 4 Janitors:
Cleaners at Founders Square in downtown Halifax are alleging racial discrimination against in-coming contractor Deep Down Cleaning Services Ltd and the property manager for Founders Square, Armour Group Limited, in a complaint they are filing at the NS Human Rights Commission.
All seven black janitorial workers are set to lose their jobs at the end of March once the cleaning contract at the historic building changes hands.
In this industry, when one cleaning contractor loses a contract to another contractor, it is common for the employees working at a building to be hired by the incoming contractor. However, Deep Down and Armour Group have only committed to hiring 1 of the 8 current non-supervisory cleaners; the only one who is white.
Robert S. Wright is a tenant in the building. Upon reading the claims by the Armour Group that the building was not being satisfactorily cleaned, I contacted him and asked him whether he had noticed that the building was dirty or that the janitorial staff were not adequately performing their duties.
In response, Wright wrote Jones back and said that the firing of the Black janitors was a “travesty of racial injustice.” The Examiner has published Wright’s statement in its entirety.
2. Smart meters
Consumer advocates say Nova Scotia Power hasn’t presented enough solid evidence to prove that installing digital meters to measure electricity usage won’t cost ratepayers more than it should, reports Jennifer Henderson.
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3. Willow Tree
Stephen Kimber gives the most succinct recap of the confusing Willow Tree issue that I’ve yet seen. Kimber notes:
APL promises 10 affordable housing units in exchange for being allowed to add five storeys to its Willow Tree project. Who benefits? Hint: not the city…
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4. That Armoyan mojo
This morning, a city council committee called the Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee is meeting, and will be asked by councillor Lindell Smith “to consider the capital funding request from The Culture Link Performing Arts Centre of $1.02 million, as outlined in the presentation received by CPED on December 14th, 2017, and have staff engage with the Culture Link group, reporting back with recommendations for the 19-20 budget.”
Culture! Who could be against culture, eh?
But let’s back and up and tell the story of how a connected developer is using the arts! to finance a big real estate deal.
This story starts with a crappy old office building on Argyle Street. This one:
That’s the old World Trade and Convention Centre, which housed the old convention centre in the basement and on the first floor. Above the old convention centre space are mostly provincial offices; the province’s lease payments served as a back-door subsidy to Trade Centre Limited (TCL), which operated the WTCC, even though the province actually owned the building. In effect, the province was paying rent to itself, and through the magic of accounting calling the payments new income for TCL.
The convention centre has of course moved into new digs in the Nova Centre up the street, operated by Joe Ramia. TCL has been rebranded Events East, but will no longer have access to that sweet provincial office space rental income, so expect to see soaring budget shortfalls just on that accord — but that’s a different story that doesn’t concern us here.
What does concern us here is the complicated deal between the province and city that made the new convention centre (and the Nova Centre) possible. Without rehashing the whole thing, I’ll just note that one aspect of the deal was that when TCL vacated the WTCC, something had to be done with the WTCC building.
That “something” was this: the building would be put up for sale on the open market. If someone bought it, fine, no problem. But if no private buyer could be found, then the city would be required to buy the building at “book value,” which I think would’ve been somewhere around $12 million.
In my eyes, this was a particularly vexing part of the convention centre deal. Nobody would want to buy the crappy old office building, I thought, and the city would end up paying $12 million to buy it, and then another who-knows-how-many-millions to rehab it. I figured the only thing the city could do with it is move all the city offices from Duke Tower over to the WTCC. In fact, the city even issued a tender for a “Corporate Accommodations Space Planning Study” to figure out how to juggle all the city’s offices to fit into the old building. (The study never happened because, as we’ll see, there’s now no need for it.)
But while I was worried about the office space in the crappy old office building, other people were worried about the old convention centre space down below. What would happen to that?
Remember, everyone’s expectation was that the city would end up owning the building, so some city-friendly use for the space made sense.
Some people suggested that the convention centre space be used for a new city museum. But the museum people seemed to have been ignored because a different group said the space should instead be occupied by an arts centre.
To be honest, I stopped paying attention to the museum and arts proposals. That’s not because I had a particularly strong opinion about either, but because something totally unexpected happened: George Armoyan agreed to buy the building. Well, I thought, now that it’s in private hands, the city doesn’t have to worry about what it’s going to do with the office space or the old convention centre space — that’s all Armoyan’s problem.
Not so fast.
I’ve always wondered how the Armoyan purchase made any sense in financial terms. Armoyan is a private business person and can do what he wants, but how do you make money off that crappy old office building?
Turns out, maybe he doesn’t have to make money on it, or at least not much money.
See, Armoyan also owns the deteriorating office building and parking garage at the corner of Quinpool Road and Robie Street. He houses the offices for his development firm, Armco, in that building. But he wants to tear down that building and construct a giant residential tower on the site — the Willow Tree proposal that Stephen Kimber discusses in item #3 above.
Evidently, Armoyan plans on moving Armco’s corporate offices from Quinpool down to Argyle, into the old WTCC building. He’ll then tear down the existing Armco building and construct the Willow Tree.
But what about that convention centre space on the bottom of the WTCC building?
That’s where Councillor Smith’s motion to provide $1.02 million for the Link Performing Arts Centre comes in.
In a presentation to the committee made in December that was vague in operational specifics, Link pitched its capital plan:
Note that the plan hinges on $8.295 million in public financing, and, on the expenditure side, that there are “building leaseholds” of $7.5 million. The leasehold money will go to rehab and refurbish the old convention centre space, which will then be leased from Armoyan.
I have no reason to doubt that the people associated with The Link Performing Arts Society are sincere. They are filmmakers Marc Almon and Rob Power,
PR communications specialist Sarah Riley [Riley says there’s a difference between communications and PR; I honestly don’t understand her argument, but she can call herself whatever she wants], Music Nova Scotia Executive Director Scott Long, and Dance Nova Scotia Executive Director Cliff Le Jeune. No doubt they want a successful arts centre.
But note where the Society is registered:
That’s right: The Link Society is housed in George Armoyan’s Armco building.
It’s obvious that Armoyan wants the Link Centre to be successful as part of the overall financing plan for the Willow Tree development and WTCC redevelopment. Getting $8.925 million in public money — $1.05 million (or, in Smith’s motion, $1.02 million) of it from the city — to make the space rentable to Link, and then have Link rent it back from Armoyan makes the entire deal doable for Armoyan. Otherwise, it’s just wasted space.
Now let’s consider all the balls in the air:
• Armoyan’s purchase of the WTCC is not complete. That’s because the provincially owned WTCC and the city-owned Metro Centre are one complex, with shared utilities, heating plants, hallways, and so forth. That wasn’t a problem when the entire complex was operated by TCL. But to now divvy up responsibilities for the shared services between the city and a private owner is complex and contentious — Halifax council went into secret session on January 17 to discuss the matter. As of this morning, sale of the building still isn’t complete.
• Link is asking the city for $1.05 million to fund leasehold improvements so it can lease WTCC building from Armoyan. Councillor Smith’s request is for a staff report on the funding, and that report will eventually wind its way back to the full council.
• Armoyan is asking Halifax council for significant exemptions from planning rules to build a taller and bigger Willow Tree. Those proposed exemptions will be the subject of an upcoming public hearing, and council will subsequently vote to approve them, or (very unlikely) not. It’s worth mentioning that councillor Smith agreed to the plan to give Armoyan more height for the Willow Tree development.
Those three issues are part of a single whole, and should be considered together. For instance, how can council reach a shared services agreement for the WTCC/Metro complex, and then turn around and approve $1.05 million that will allow Link to lease the same space, unless the two issues are considered in tandem?
And then there’s the matter of the Khyber Centre, which is seeking government money from the same pots of money that the Link Society is appealing to. If council agrees to fund Link, it is also decreasing the amount of funding available for the Khyber.
The Khyber has been a city-owned building — the WTCC never was. Arguably, the city has a higher obligation to preserving a building that it allowed to decay than it does to help finance a private developer’s purchase of a building the city never owned or was responsible for.
For sure, George Armoyan is a large property developer, and large property developers are going to have multiple contacts and negotiations with city government. But the level of city involvement in financing Armoyan’s development schemes should concern us all.
Armoyan is playing Halifax council like a fiddle. Someone should interrupt the concert.
5. Examineradio 151
In this week’s dance-free episode, Hasmeet Singh Chandok explains what’s really happening with Maritime Bhangra. Plus, we discuss the demise of aioTV and how its disappearance raises questions about the philosophy and purpose of Innovacorp. Also, we look at the decision to delay the deportation hearing for Abdoul Abdi.
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Monday, 11am, City Hall) — see #4 above.
Centre Plan – Discuss Package “A” (Monday, 1pm and 6pm, Dalhousie Student Union) — if you think council won’t grandfather in a bunch of stuff that defies the Centre Plan, and if you think in the future every big dollar developer who wants an exemption to it won’t get their way, and if you think this will all unfold somehow differently than has HRM By Design and citizens’ input will actually matter, then this meeting is for you! Info here.
Transportation Standing Committee (Monday, 1pm, City Hall) — this meeting was rescheduled because of last week’s crappy weather. Items include the Low Income Transit Pass Erica Butler wrote about last week, as well as some trail issues and consideration of cameras at traffic lights.
Accessibility Framework Session (Monday, 2pm and 6pm, Captain William Spry Community Centre) — come discuss accessibility.
Accessibility Committee (Monday, 4pm, City Hall) — there are no action items on the agenda.
Halifax Peninsula Planning Advisory Committee (Monday, 4:30pm, City Hall) — there are three development issues at play: two on Gottingen Street across from Stadacona, and one on Inglis Street.
Executive Standing Committee (Tuesday, 1:30pm, City Hall) — agenda here.
Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 2pm, City Hall) — agenda here.
Legislature sits (Monday, 4pm, Province House)
Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — a per diem meeting.
Thesis Defence, Electrical Engineering (Monday, 9:30am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — PhD candidate Shadi Hazzem Shehadeh will defend his thesis, “Effect of Weather Conditions on Performance of Solar Energy Systems.”
Thesis Defence, Computer Science (Monday, 9:30am, Room 141, Henry Hicks Academic Building) — PhD candidate Farzaneh Sheikhnezhad Fard will defend his thesis, “Modelling Human Target Reaching Using a Novel Predictive Deep Reinforcement Learning Technique.”
Thesis Defence, Pathology (Monday, 9:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Derek Clements will defend his thesis, “Reovirus-driven Myeloid Cells in Oncolytic Virus Therapy and Infection.”
Dalhousie Jazz Ensemble (Monday, 11:45am, Sculpture Court, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — a performance directed by Chris Mitchell.
Memory, Imagination, and Landscapes: Understanding the Psychology of Real World Place Attachment and Fantasy Film and Literature (Monday, 3pm, room 3089, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building) — Jennifer Grek Martin will speak.
Ancient Greek Conjectures on Constructible Length (Monday, 3:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Imran Anwar from Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences will speak.
Verdi’s Requiem (Monday, 7:30pm, Faith Tabernacle Church, 6225 Summit Street, Halifax) — Dalhousie’s Collegium Cantorum performs with Nova Sinfonia. $25/$20. Info: email@example.com
Bicentennial Commons (Tuesday, 2pm, Tupper Link) — the Dalhousie’s Campus Master Plan calls for a redesign of the area at the top of University Avenue, adjacent to the Killam Library. More info here.
The Right to be Rural: Reflections on Rural Sustainability in Atlantic Canada (Tuesday, 7pm, Halifax Central Library) — Karen Foster “will ask whether or not there exists a ‘right’ to live in a rural community — an idea behind debates over funding for rural medicine, schools, infrastructure and enterprise.”
Portrait of Jason (Tuesday, 7pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Shirley Clarke’s 1967 film. Rescheduled from March 13.
Drums and Organs, Or, the Modern Frankenstein (Tuesday to Saturday, 7:30pm, Sir James Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — written by Gillian Clark and directed by Roberta Barker. $15/$10. Matinee Saturday at 2pm.
In the harbour
5:15am: Aegen Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Portbury, England
8am: North Atlantic Kairos, oil tanker, sails from Pier 9 for sea
8am: Ferbec, bulker, arrives at Pier 9 from Puerto Cabello, Venezuela
9:30am: CMA CGM Medea, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
11:30am: Aegen Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
1pm: Asterix, replenishment vessel, moves from Irving Oil to Dockyard
4pm: Muntgracht, cargo ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Matane, Quebec
March: in like a lion, out like an asshole lion.