Councillors are moving ahead with plans to rehabilitate the dilapidated Halifax Forum.

But they’ll have to figure out how to maintain the property’s heritage designation and provide sufficient parking later.

Municipal parks and recreation staff brought an update on the plan for the old rink and multi-purpose centre, constructed in 1926, to council on Tuesday. The plan hasn’t really changed since 2019, when council voted in favour of a proposal to redevelop the building while maintaining its brick façade. The municipality would also add park space to the south of the building and remove much of the onsite parking.

Since council last considered the project in 2021, municipal staff conducted surveys on the redevelopment, parking, and park space. They found that people are generally supportive of the redevelopment and added park space, but they’re split on the removal of parking.

A rendering of the front of the Forum after redevelopment. There's grass and trees out front.
A rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Halifax Forum. — HRM/+VG

Gareth Evans, recreation planning specialist, told council on Tuesday that the results of the public consultation didn’t change the plan.

The rough cost estimate has changed, however, from $81 million in 2021 to $110 million in 2023.

Some councillors balked at the price tag, and suggested removing the property from the municipal heritage registry to lower the figure. That could save $5 million to $10 million, Evans told council.

“I challenge the heritage status on it,” Coun. Tony Mancini said.

“I think we owe it to the citizens of HRM to have the conversation about deregistering.”

Coun. Lindell Smith, whose district includes the Forum, disagreed. He argued there’d be a reputation hit to HRM, and potentially a legal challenge. There’d also be costs associated a new design, he argued.

“It’s very, very concerning if we were to go down that de-registration route because it actually isn’t saving us money. It’s going to cost us more money in the long run, that’s my feeling,” Smith said.

Community association chair wants more parking

Paul Card, chair of the Halifax Forum Community Association, said he was “shocked” by the heritage discussion.

“I can’t believe council would deregister one of their own historic buildings, and then turn around and have a conversation with a developer that they can’t deregister a building because it’s costly,” Card told the Halifax Examiner in an interview.

Card said the municipality keeps punting the issue years ahead, noting this is the fourth council to discuss the rehabilitation of the Forum since a report recommended an enhanced building in 2008. That’s part of why the cost has ballooned so high.

“We’re at the point where it’s at the end of its life and it needs to be addressed,” he said.

Card said the proposal is almost ideal, but his big concern is parking. The association wants to see at least 270 spots on the site. There are about 500 now, and it’s sometimes over capacity, he said. With the potential for three events to happen at the Forum at the same time, Card said there should be 90 spots per event. The current proposal includes 150 spots in total.

The municipality contemplated more parking in a previous iteration, but ditched a multi-level garage on the Young Street side of the site. That’s because staff want to sell off that portion of the property to a developer to recoup some of the cost of the project.

A site plan for the Halifax Forum redevelopment, showing the area to be sold off, marked “freehold development site.” — HRM

Card suggested a portion of that property could be used to add more parking.

Councillors, especially those from suburban and rural districts, agreed the Forum would need more parking.

Parking and heritage concerns put off

Late into council’s debate on Tuesday, solutions to both the heritage and parking issues emerged, at least for now.

Aaron Murnaghan, principal heritage planner, explained to councillors that they have the decision-making power to approve substantial alterations to heritage properties. Chief solicitor John Traves agreed that means council can approve any change to a property, including demolition, and maintain its heritage status.

Deregistering the property, which Murnaghan said would be a months-long process culminating in a public hearing, was unnecessary.

On the parking issue, chief administrative officer Cathie O’Toole suggested to councillors that they vote down the third part of the motion before them. That would’ve directed staff to sell off the piece of land to the north of the building. Instead, she suggested HRM hold onto it until the project is complete and they’ve figured out the parking situation.

“We will be selling some land,” Mayor Mike Savage said in summary. “We’re just going to figure out the most economical and sensible, effective way of doing that first.”

“We will be figuring out how the facility will be sited, addressing the parking issue, and then determining what portion of land remains available for sale,” O’Toole said.

Council followed that direction. The first two parts of the motion, “to advance detailed site and facility planning and design for the Halifax Forum complex redevelopment project” and “allocate strategic initiatives capital funds,” passed with Mancini and Coun. Trish Purdy voting no. The third part failed unanimously.

Staff will return to council before the design is finalized and the project goes to tender.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. Michael Bowen, I lived across from the Forum for 12 years, and in the city all my life. It is so much more than a hockey rink. Craft shows, book sales, flea markets, annual events such as cheer leaders competition, Gaelic Fest, Indian Fest, high school graduations, and entertainment. I know there are other small groups who use it as well.
    And Tim, yes, there are buses that go by the Forum, but all the events I mentioned draw people from all over HRM and beyond. Parking was and is a huge issue. Living so close for the past 12 years, I made many a call to 311 when the entrance to my apartment building was totally blocked by cars for days on end. I spoke to Gareth Evans on two occasions about the lunacy of reducing the parking. We can do without the green space too. HRM is not known for good maintenance in the parks that already exist.

    1. I know what goes on there. I’ve used it, I’ve gone to concerts, flea markets, Cheer competitions, food events, etc etc. I’ve taken a kid to probably hundreds of practices and games there (this is before they built all of the other rinks all over the city in the last 15 years). That doesn’t mean I think it’s useful spending $110m dollars there that we ALL know will be $160m by the time they’re done.

      And a lot of that is for hockey rinks that only a minority of the population use. You want to spend money on public facilities, great….spend it on public facilities we can ALL use. It’s not like there’s a shortage of hockey facilities in the city. But youth facilities that aren’t sports oriented? Almost non-existent. Drop-in seniors centers where seniors can go and hang out without being expected to buy anything? As far as I know almost none (I know more of them in cities that I haven’t lived in for over 30 years, from far before I was in my 60’s, than I do in Halifax where I am actually in my 60’s). And don’t say libraries, those are busting at the seams holding events that are noisy and disruptive BECAUSE those other facilities don’t exist.

      Here’s an idea, any Council that wants to spend more than $100m dollars on something, indexed to inflation, has to hold a referendum that 50% of the people in the city support before it goes ahead. My bet is that in the current design this Forum plan would get nowhere near that level of support, not even 50% of the respondents to the survey. I’m pretty tired of Council supporting projects used by only a small proportion of the population, they need to do better at figuring out how to support ALL of us.

      And, btw, all those events currently held on Forum grounds? Here’s my bet, after the rebuild the fees will be so high none of them will be able to afford to be held at that facility any more, except the hockey….because that’s been how things have played out in this city for the last two decades, every “new” facility has jacked up fees so that the people who used the facility previously can no longer afford to. We’re becoming a city of the rich without facilities or supports for the citizens on the lower end of the economic spectrum.

  2. A minority of the city’s population uses hockey rinks, the rest of us our subsidizing their use of these rinks.
    This project is frigging ridiculous at this cost. Council has lost its mind wanting to spend $110M on a project like this, because we ALL know the final cost will be 50% higher than this, just like *every* city project.
    I’ll be financially supporting the opponent to my councilor in the next election and will be actively campaigning against her.

  3. The forum is a gem and that area is growing. We’ll need more rec and public space. I kind of feel for folks coming from the suburbs to see a show or a hockey game or go to bingo, but that parking lot is empty 90% of the time. There are more than enough people in walking/bussing distance to fill the place.