The city is having a hard time deciding how much it should chip in for the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and it’s not done yet.
AGNS asked Halifax in 2020 for $7 million toward the construction cost of the new building planned for the waterfront, estimated to total $130 million. The provincial government is spending $70 million, the federal government $30 million, and last year, councillors said they’d consider the $7 million, but the request didn’t make it into the budget.
As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, municipal staff are now recommending a smaller contribution: $3 million, paid in five installments of $600,000 starting this year.
The smaller ask came to council’s meeting on Tuesday with a recommendation from the Audit and Finance Standing Committee that the amount be considered at the end of this year’s budget building process.
Nearly all councillors sang the project’s praises, but they weren’t in tune on the price tag.
Coun. Shawn Cleary moved to increase HRM’s contribution back up to the original $7 million, asking staff to come back to the budget committee with a recommended payment schedule.
“Halifax is the major beneficiary of this,” Cleary said.
“It’ll be a foundation for arts and culture. People talk about the central library like it’s the living room of Halifax. This could be our rec room, or certainly some other third space that’s extremely important.”
Cleary listed off the provincial spending on HRM projects like the central library, bike lanes, and electric buses, arguing that support should go both ways.
Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace was one of a few councillors to point out that the provincial government drags its feet on HRM’s requests, and she said the municipality is already spending money on what she feels is a provincial responsibility, housing.
“If we continue down this slippery slope of funding provincial assets, what’s the next ask? Is Develop Nova Scotia going to come to us and say, ‘Hey we need a bit more money for Peggy’s Cove infrastructure?’” Lovelace said.
Others just found the figure too steep.
“I was struggling with $3 million if I would be honest, so to look at this amendment of $7 million is a challenge for me,” Cathy Deagle-Gammon said.
Chief financial officer Jerry Blackwood told councillors the building could bring in up to $3 million in annual payments in lieu of property taxes from the provincial government, but Cleary and others cautioned against that sort of thinking.
“The benefit of this art gallery is not just financial,” Cleary said.
“There are social benefits of all this, attraction benefits. Let’s not get caught up in the financials that we’re going to give them a bunch of money and get it all back in taxes.”
Mayor Mike Savage supported the amendment “wholeheartedly.”
“I think it’s a statement about our city as a place that welcomes learning, new ideas, and culture, and nothing does that like investing in the arts,” Savage said.
Cleary’s amendment passed with Lovelace, Deagle-Gammon, and councillors Becky Kent, Trish Purdy, and Paul Russell voting no. The main motion passed too.
The vote is not final, however; the $7 million in funding is now part of councillors’ budget adjustment list. They will pick and choose from that list toward the end of the budget process this spring.
Planning to continue for Halifax Common
Haligonians asking for more public consultation on the city’s central green space got their way Tuesday.
The Halifax Common Master Plan is a proposed redesign of the common, removing some of the baseball diamonds and adding other features instead. The planning extends south, too, with recommended changes to the blocks including the Wanderers Grounds, Camp Hill Cemetery, and Victoria Park.
In December, council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee voted to defer a vote because of concerns from the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers, located in what the plan calls the Wanderers Block, between Summer Street and Bell Road. Last month, the committee voted to punt the issue up to council, but as the Halifax Examiner reported, some felt the plans should be paused:
Angie Holt, executive director and head coach, told the committee on Thursday the Lancers still aren’t satisfied.
“It is not the lack of detail that we are concerned with. We understand further detailed planning is needed,” Holt said. “It’s the details as presented that we have a problem with because they appear to be to the detriment of our organization and they also take away any possibility for growth of Lancers as we have been discussing with city staff for the past four years.”
The committee also received 59 letters, and heard from three other speakers, Howard Epstein, Beverly Miller, and David Garrett, all members of Friends of the Halifax Common. They urged the committee to suspend the process until the public is consulted.
According to the staff report, the municipality consulted with 3,000 people through public meetings, workshops, online surveys, and focus groups. But that was in 2019.
“Here we have a document that the public hasn’t seen for about two years, and since the last time, its last iteration, it in fact has changed and the circumstances have changed quite a bit,” Epstein said. “There would be inherent value, I believe, in actually moving to a round of public consultations in which the public did get the opportunity to comment further.”
Full of the amendments on Tuesday (more on that later), Coun. Shawn Cleary moved to do just that.
Cleary asked his fellow councillors to defeat three parts of the four-part recommendation on the floor: to review the plan every five years; to ask for a report on opportunities for more public engagement and timelines on consultation on the Wanderers Block; and to direct the chief administrative officer to prepare a final consolidated plan.
They did so, and then he moved an alternative motion to direct staff to conduct more public consultation on the plan, and return to council within 18 months with recommended changes based on that consultation, and an implementation plan.
That motion passed, meaning the many ball diamonds’ time in the sun continues.
Partial protection now, better bike lanes later?
True protection for peninsula cyclists travelling east-west could be en route after a council vote on Tuesday.
Up for debate was the proposed bike facility for Almon Street. The plan is a protected bike lane, separate from traffic, between Windsor and Agricola streets, and then some paint on the road between Agricola and Gottingen streets because it’s too narrow to have parking and bike lanes. It’s supposed to be part of the city’s AAA (All Ages and Abilities) bike network, but as the Examiner reported last month, even staff conceded it’s no AAA facility:
Active transportation manager David MacIsaac told to the committee staff would monitor how that section of the street works with a goal of eventually improving it.
“We’re acknowledging that we haven’t hit our AAA target there. We still think it’ll be a relatively comfortable place for a lot of cyclists to be because of the lower number of cars, the fact that they go a lot slower,” MacIsaac said.
“We’re going to have to keep an eye on it, and we’re going to have to pick it up again relatively soon to see if there’s other options to pursue. But those options are complicated.”
Cleary, with yet another amendment, made sure “relatively soon” is sooner. He proposed to have staff implement the good part of the bike lane now, and investigate the options for extending it not just to Gottingen on the east side, but also through Connaught Avenue to George Dauphinee Avenue on the west side.
The municipality will put the project out to tender this year at an estimated cost of $1.3 million. HRM pays 17%, per its active transportation funding agreement with the two other levels of government.