1. Convention centre opening delayed… again
The Halifax Convention Centre will not open as scheduled on April 1. A new opening date has not yet been established, but Trade Centre Limited is rescheduling conventions booked through the end of June; seven national and international conventions that have been booked into the convention centre are affected. TCL isn’t saying how many local meetings are affected.
It appears that most if not all of the booked conventions will simply be held at the existing convention centre, which begs the question of why we needed to build a new convention centre if the existing one can handle all the business.
Anyway, the opening delay raises all sorts of issues. Here are some:
I interviewed Mayor Mike Savage yesterday (hear the interview here); he tried to put as good a spin on the delay as possible, pointing out that many organizations have booked conventions in the coming years. But there’s no denying that the delay will upset convention organizers who were hoping for a shiny new building.
I feel sorry for TCL’s sales team. Twice now they’ve had to go hat-in-hand to organizations — some who had already paid deposits for conventions — and explain that the shiny new building isn’t ready.
TCL says that big conventions are planned up to five years ahead of time, so a sudden change of plans just months before a planned convention must vex convention organizers to no end. The first time the convention centre opening was delayed — in December 2014, developer Joe Ramia announced that the scheduled January 2016 date would be pushed back a year — organizers had a full year’s notice. This time around, however, there are conventions scheduled for just six months from now. No doubt convention organizers are frantically changing their websites, reprinting brochures, and otherwise trying to fix things.
“People who plan conventions talk…” someone told me on Twitter yesterday, and there’s little doubt that people are upset. Over the last couple of years a couple of dozen conventions have been affected, and those organizers will talk about how Halifax can’t get its act together. The TCL sales team is going to be spending years trying to undo the damage.
There’s still no announced operator of the hotel, and by my untrained eyes I don’t see how construction can be completed even by July. It strikes me as unlikely that a hotel operator could agree to a lease and get to operational mode in less than six months in any event. I asked TCL spokesperson Suzanne Fougere about the hotel, and she responded simply that “as it relates to the hotel partner, we look forward to that announcement from the developer once those details are finalized.” In other words, there is no “hotel partner.”
Conventions are booked in April, and the package deal includes hotel rooms. But there’s no hotel. Go figure.
There’s also the matter of a few million dollars spent promoting the new convention centre. I had this exchange with Fougere yesterday:
It’s my understanding that the city and the province each chipped in $1 million over the course of two years for a total of $2 million, over and above the regular TCL budget, for promotion of the new convention centre. Is that money in a different budget line item? If so, what was it spent on?
The way I recall this (please correct me if I’m wrong), the argument was that TCL had to promote the heck out of the new convention centre to build excitement, get big conventions in, etc, and this promotion was to be directed at the first two years of operation. I can go back and check, but I’m nearly certain this is how it was explained to the press. It was a persuasive argument, even. But now I’m wondering if that is all money wasted.
We (TCL) started selling and marketing the new convention centre to national and international markets in July 2012. Our international and national clients book on a long lead time, up to five years out from their event.
From fiscal 2012-13 through to end of fiscal 2015-16, we spent approximately $3.4 million on sales activation and marketing activities. This activity is funded through grants cost-shared 50/50 by the Province and HRM. It was used toward staffing as well as activities including trade show attendance, in-market promotions, research, website development, campaign development and production, media placement, and more.
OK, so $3.4 million, not $2 million as I had thought. It looks to me like much if not most of that money has been wasted.
When the province’s 2016-17 budget was announced in April, it was noted that:
Budget 2016-2017 projects a $127.4 million surplus. The surplus includes a one-time revenue increase of $110.3 million because of federal and municipal contributions for the convention centre in Halifax.
The $110.3 million will go towards the debt to provide the fiscal capacity to launch a multi-year development of the QEII Health Sciences Centre, enhancing care for Nova Scotians and Atlantic Canadians. The budget’s net position is $17.1 million.
The problem is that the federal money for the convention centre won’t be paid until “substantial completion,” which is now sometime into the next budget year. I asked Finance Department spokesperson Marla MacInnis how the delay affects the provincial budget, and she responded:
$169.2 million is the total contribution from the three levels of government for the Halifax Convention Centre. The $110.3 million is made up of $51.4 million federal contribution and $58.9 million HRM contribution, both of which are considered revenue in the provincial budget.
A change in the substantial completion beyond fiscal year end would mean the provisions in Budget 2016-17 related to the convention centre, including the Capital Plan, would shift to the 2017-18 budget year.
This information has minimal effect on the net position of the province as published during the September forecast update.
Well, OK, but this means that this year’s budget is no longer in surplus.
That crappy old office building on Argyle Street
I wondered whether the sale of the announced sale of the World Trade & Convention Centre to George Armoyan meant that Armoyan can now turn around and charge steep rent for conventions that have to be moved from the Nova Centre back to the WTCC. But Department of Infrastructure spokesperson Brian Taylor tells me that “the closure of the sale of WTCC is triggered by the opening of the new Convention Centre,” so that’s not an issue.
What about the Nova Centre — is there a chance the whole project could collapse and remain unfinished? I asked that question to someone with inside knowledge of the project and was told that the project is too far along for the banks financing Ramia to simply walk away from it. Probably Ramia will continue along and the development will eventually open, but there’s some small chance that the banks will step in, remove Ramia, and find someone else to oversee completion. My source didn’t think that would happen, though.
“Man, that just really sucks” said Mike Campbell when I told him of the delay in the opening of the convention centre. Campbell is the owner of The Carleton, and recently filed for bankruptcy protection for the business.
Campbell said he doubts the Carlteton will survive much longer — “At this point, I’m more worried about keeping my house,” he said — and so convention centre delay doesn’t affect him further. Rather, he was worried about his business neighbours.
“The other businesses are hanging by a thread,” he said.
I spoke with Lil MacPherson, owner of the Wooden Monkey restaurant (and mayoral candidate) last night. Like Campbell, MacPherson has signed onto a class action lawsuit against the city and Ramia, saying their businesses have suffered because of repeated construction delays.
MacPherson criticized Mayor Mike Savage’s comments to me, which I had published earlier in the day. “The first thing out of his mouth is about how great it is that the Liberals and Conservatives are planning conventions here,” said MacPherson. “Not, ‘oh my gosh, there are businesses that are going to suffer…'”
MacPherson says day-to-day operations of the Wooden Monkey are handled by her business partner, Christine Bower, so MacPherson couldn’t give specifics as to the restaurant’s financial position.
“But thank goodness we have a loyal clientele,” said MacPherson. “We don’t plan on going anywhere; if we have to borrow money, so be it.”
Back in 2012, when the deal for the new convention centre was signed, all of us who criticized it were damned as naysayers and malcontents opposed to progress. I was repeatedly assured — by Bill Estabrooks, by Scott Ferguson, by Peter Kelly, by Darrell Dexter, and others — that the province and city had done their “due diligence” and put the deal under the microscope so people way smarter than me could analyze it to the nth degree, and it all made perfect sense from every possible angle.
“Due diligence” is often just a bullshit term that means “shut up, you,” but if it has any real meaning, it’s that various analyses are applied with the idea that any potential downfall is identified.
In the case of the convention centre, however, the due diligence wasn’t so extensive that it identified Ramia’s shortcomings as a potential problem. There’s another word that’s often bandied about by bullshitters — “capacity,” meaning roughly “ability to get the job done.” I don’t know why Ramia can’t complete his project on time — whether it has something to do with a lack of construction management skills or if he doesn’t have proper financing — but evidently the due diligencers didn’t identify Ramia’s “capacity” as a problem.
This makes me wonder what else the supposed due diligence missed. Like, say, the entire business case for the convention centre.
I will say this: the social and political push for the new convention centre was insurmountable. So if some pencil-pusher in the provincial Finance Department showed up in her boss’s office and said, “hey, I ran the numbers, and this is going to be a train wreck,” she would’ve been pushed right out the door and right out of her job, and her paperwork would’ve been torched. Nothing was going to stop the convention centre. Not naysayers who hate progress, nor any rational analyses.
Remember when every asshole in a suit showed up at the Neptune Theatre wankfest to give Ramia two-hours’ worth of repeated standing ovations? Good times.
Here’s how councillors voted on the 2012 financing deal for the new convention centre:
Since I’m on something of a rant, can I just point out again that the Nova Centre is a scar on downtown? It is hideous. It’s something right out of the 1980s — a glass behemoth, too large, and uninspired. The Grafton Street Glory Hole is particularly obscene:
2. Teachers reject contract
“Nova Scotia’s public school teachers rejected a second tentative contract with the province Tuesday, much to the disappointment of Nova Scotia’s education minister,” reports Local Xpress:
Ninety-four per cent of the 9,000 teachers who belong to the Nova Scotia Teachers Union cast ballots electronically in a provincewide vote, with 70 per cent voting against the proposed deal, despite a recommendation to accept it from the union’s executive.
A previous tentative agreement was rejected last December and the last contract expired on July 31, 2015.
“Our public school members are highly engaged in the process of democracy and have used their voice in rejecting this tentative agreement,” NSTU president Liette Doucet said in a news release. “It’s clear that the improvements negotiated were not enough for our members, and the concerns of poor working conditions and not being valued as professionals influenced members as they voted against this agreement.”
Doucet is worried about the implications the no vote will have on Bill 148, also known as An Act Respecting the Sustainability of Public Services. The bill, passed last December, contains the Liberal government’s plan to impose a four-year wage package on the province’s 75,000 public servants.
Education Minister Karen Casey released the following statement:
I was very disappointed to learn about the outcome of the vote this evening. The collective bargaining process has run its course. This is the second time we reached a tentative agreement with different bargaining teams from the NSTU that was rejected by the membership. We will not be returning to the table, we now await the union’s decision.
3. Carbon pricing
In response to provincial Energy Minister Margaret Miller walking out of a national meeting on carbon pricing, Stephen Thomas, the Ecology Action Centre’s Energy Campaign Coordinator, issued the following statement:
The time to act on climate change is now. We are encouraged that the federal government has taken a first step toward a Canadian climate plan, by announcing the framework for a national carbon price. We believe that this is a small step, and one that needs to be taken in tandem with further ambition, strong regulations and leadership on fossil fuel infrastructure projects, but that this puts us in the right direction.We are disappointed and frankly embarrassed in the role that the Nova Scotia government has played in the national dialogue on carbon pricing and emissions reductions. We have a strong legacy of emissions reductions and building a green economy here in Nova Scotia — we should build on this legacy, not end it.Nova Scotia already had ambitious targets and programs in place to further reduce emissions past 2020 and 2030.The carbon pricing announcement from the federal government gives Nova Scotia more than enough flexibility — we have full flexibility in the mechanism used, we have a very low starting price for the national benchmark, and we have two years to design and implement a program. It is time to begin consulting stakeholders and the general public in Nova Scotia to ensure that a system is put in place that works for Nova Scotians.The Ecology Action Centre, along with major academic and industry stakeholders, have been convening major forums on carbon pricing this past spring and summer. It’s clear to me that the time is now to work together to build a made-in-Nova Scotia framework, and that Nova Scotians are ready to begin this conversation.We have every opportunity to make this framework work for us. If we are concerned about the cost burden for low-income Nova Scotians, trade-exposed industry or meaningful emissions reductions, for example, we can act together to build a framework that [addresses] all of these things.It’s time the Nova Scotia government gets back at the table, and work with Nova Scotians to build a system that works.
People still pay for the Chronicle Herald… why?
5. Living Wage
I’ll be updating the living wage page this morning with more responses from council candidates.
6. Queen’s Marque
Halifax council yesterday unanimously approved a land swap plan that would facilitate Waterfront Development’s dog-awful Queen’s Marque project because politicians don’t have the backbone to make a principled stand against ugliness.
1. Willow Tree
“The Willow Tree intersection at Robie Street and Quinpool Road is one of Halifax’s craziest crossroads,” writes Erica Butler:
While it’s not on the city’s immediate list for a fix, it represents an amazing opportunity to make improvements that could benefit drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians simultaneously. And we could even reclaim some public space in the Halifax Common while we’re at it.
Right now we have the perfect opportunity to collect data that could inform a rational, modern design for the Willow Tree, but we are squandering it.
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2. Cranky letter of the day
Madness. Complete and utter madness. Rush hour traffic backed up to who knows where, Summerside maybe. Complete and utter madness in pursuit of complete and utter foolishness. Can we not get it through our little pointy heads that there is nothing wrong with traffic lights? They do a far better job of traffic control than roundabouts at far less cost. But maybe most of us do get that. It seems that we are the hostages of a cadre in the department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy, whose main goal is to turn P.E.I. into a replica of dear old Blighty, never considering that dear old Blighty is reconsidering a large number of its roundabouts.
(The acclaimed Scots mystery writer, Ian Rankin, constantly has his character, John Rebus, trying to avoid a “tailback” from one roundabout or another — presumably a fictional representation of reality).
One of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century put it brilliantly: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (and he might well have added, don’t fix it at the taxpayer’s considerable expense).
Can anyone point to a major problem with any of the intersections that have been converted into imbecilic roundabouts prior to the expensive reconstruction? Irritations perhaps, but nothing that justifies this kind of expenditure.
It ain’t broke.
Stop fixing it.
D.M. Bulger, Cornwall
Audit and Finance (10am, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
No public meetings.
Epithelial Cells (4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building) — Master’s student Abdul Zetrini will speak on “Disruption of Phosphatidylcholine Biosynthesis Inhibits Autophagy and Proliferation of Ras-Transformed Intestinal Epithelial Cells.”
Macbeth (8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — Orson Welles’ 1948 film.
In the harbour
3:30am: Agios Minas, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
5am: Seoul Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
6am: Seameridian, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Paldiski, Estonia
6am: ZIM Texas, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
8am: Disney Magic, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Saint John with up to 2,456 passengers
9:15am: Grandeur of the Seas, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John with up to 2,446 passengers
11am: Aeneas, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
4pm: Toronto, car carrier, moves from Pier 31 to Autoport
4:30pm: ZIM Texas, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for TK
4pm: Seoul Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Southhampton, England
5pm: Itea, container ship (tracker), arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
5:45pm: Disney Magic, cruise ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
7pm: Grandeur of the Seas, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Baltimore
8:30pm: Toronto, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.
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