The Bloomfield site in North End Halifax has been sold to a developer.
Banc Investments Ltd. now owns the property. The sale closed last Wednesday, Jan. 27 for a price of $21,973,500, according to Property Valuation Services Corporation.
Municipal spokesperson Klara Needler said Banc Investments submitted the highest of seven bids for the property. The other bidders were Timbercreek/First National Financial, Kingsbrook Properties, Armour Group Limited, Universal Realty Group, United Gulf, and Dexel Developments.
Alex Halef, who co-owns Banc Investments with his father, Besim Halef, said Monday he’s “excited about the project.”
“I’m excited about what I can do there,” Halef said in an interview, pointing to his other properties in the north end.
Banc also built the 18-storey Point North building at the corner of Robie and Demone streets, and it has approval for a 19-storey building in the block on Robie Street between Macara and Bilby streets.
“I’ve been in the north end for a number of years already, so I’m just pleased to continue the growth of that node of the city, which I think is going to transform over the next number of years,” Halef said.
“It’ll be unrecognizable when it’s done, I think, for the better.”
As the Examiner reported in June, the real estate firm hired to sell the Bloomfield site rebranded it as the “Streetcar District:”
A Cushman Wakefield sign went up at the site this week and a website appears to have gone live last week at halifaxstreetcar.com. The sign and the website both advertise the site — located between Agricola, Almon and Robie streets — as the streetcar district, “where all points intersect.”
“Centred in Halifax’s vibrant North End, the Streetcar District is a former four block nexus ready to be brought to its next life. This will occur by the development community and occupiers, both residential and commercial,” the website says.
The website includes a photo of the old Halifax streetcar map, which ran past the property.
But the site’s history is far more than a stop along a streetcar route.
After it was used as a school, the site was a space for all kinds of community, arts and non-profit groups from 1982 till it was decommissioned in 2014. The three buildings on the property — dating back to 1919, 1929 and 1971 — have been vacant since.
Halifax worked with a community group, Imagine Bloomfield, to develop a plan for the property after deciding it wanted to sell. The resulting Bloomfield Master Plan, approved in 2009, called for the demolition of one of three buildings, the former school, and the renovation of the other two. Along with community space in the renovated buildings, there were to be two new residential towers — 20% of which would be affordable housing.
Following a tendering process, council agreed in 2012 to sell it to the provincial government for $15 million with a plan for Housing Nova Scotia to build affordable housing there. That sale was never finalized and the two levels of government wasted four years, with Housing Nova Scotia officially pulling out in 2016.
The next year, council voted to consider another deal with the province to use the site for a new French school. The site was deemed too small, and in January 2018, council again voted to sell the property, but wait till the Centre Plan was done.
The website is down now, but archived on the Wayback Machine here.
There were conditions to the purchase, as outlined by the brochure attached to the site last year, based on the Bloomfield Master Plan.
Included in the conditions is below-market-value housing, but less than the original Bloomfield Master Plan called for: 10% of the units will have to be affordable. Halef said that means they’ll rent for 40% below market value for 50 years.
The developer will also have to dedicate 20% of the site to open space, and the new building must include 20,000 square feet of affordable community space and 10,000 square feet “targeted for creative industries.”
The councillor for the area, Lindell Smith, said he found out about the sale when a reporter from news website allNovaScotia.com called him on Friday. That’s how it’s been throughout the process, with council only voting to direct staff to negotiate a sale.
“My understanding was, when they do those negotiations, that because there are conditions on it, that council would get an understanding of how that would look,” Smith said in an interview.
“But when it comes to real estate, staff have negotiating power and the power to close as well.”
Smith said he hopes to meet with the Halefs to talk about the project, and he’s particularly keen on making sure the conditions are met.
“I’m happy that part of the chapter has closed, in terms of what’s going to happen with the property, but I still do want to know, with the conditions that are on there, how they’ll be met,” he said.
He wants to know how the public space will remain accessible, and what the community and arts spaces will look like.
The city’s real estate department told him the conditions were included in the deed, and Needler said the same.
“These conditions are registered on title to the property,” Needler told the Examiner.
While there is a buy-back agreement on file in Property Online, the provincial database of property records, it doesn’t explicitly contain those conditions.
The agreement requires Banc Investments to start construction within five years. If the developer doesn’t do so, the municipality can buy back the property for 90% of the sale price.
No other condition is named in that agreement or the deed.
The $22 million is less per buildable square foot than the Halefs paid Halifax for the former St. Pat’s High School site on Quinpool Road, which they bought from the city in February 2020. At $37.61 million for 730,000 square feet of developable space, they paid $51.52 per buildable square foot.
The Bloomfield site is 2.87 acres — about 125,000 square feet. At a maximum floor area ratio of 4.0 under the Centre Plan, the developer can build almost 500,000 square feet — a price per buildable square foot of $44.04.
Under the Centre Plan process, there will be public consultation before any proposal for the site is approved.
The HRM could have preserved both historic schoolhouses 10 years ago for $4million for a total of 20,000SF of community space. Current cost estimates for the HRM place 10,000SF of community space at just over $5million. We likely paid $10million, through the sale price of the property, to get someone else to do it for us and without saving the historic school buildings.
The current terms of sale call for “20% open space, public and private.” Regardless of how much the public actually has access to, all of it will be private. At a sale price of $22 million, we could have set aside 25% of the site as a public park for $5.5million. Instead, we have again paid someone else much more to do it for us, by including it in the sale price, and it will only be temporary.
The history of the site includes Halifax’s first public playground, which was also supervised so parents could have a safe place to leave their children while at work back in 1906. It also hosted a public baseball diamond, that was likely also Halifax’s first, which had an arc light by 1909 and a little league with three divisions that played out of it.
Nearby history includes Bloomfield house, Gottingen Street, and Admiralty House, Oland Brewery, the Hydrostone, Agricola Street (named for the Roman god of Agriculture), the Hydrostone, and Fort Needhan–for starters.
We couldn’t have done more with this site to make it something unique and special?
Banking properties for future development has a downside perhaps not fully appreciated until it happens in your neighbourhood. The Banc development site on Wellington St approved over 18 months ago, is not even listed in this article but illustrates the down side quite clearly. The six former homes in question have turned the upper end of the street into nothing better than a slum with all the inherent issues – derelict boarded up buildings, break-ins resulting in arson, needles left behind in others, rats and garbage. Calls to HRM’s 311 line produced no discernible improvement. It appears HRM cannot or will not require the developer to remedy the situation. Why aren’t developers required to maintain or demolish properties no longer in use… in a timely way. Development approval by Council shouldn’t be synonymous with demolition by dereliction as seems to be the case here.
So Bloomfield sold for $22M. St. Patricks on Quinpool sold for $36M. and St. Pat’s Alexander on Brunswick Street sold for $3.6M. I hope someone in the HRM real estate department got fired for that last sale. #Incompetence.
I oversaw the Development of a Bloomfield Redevelopment Implementation plan, which was submitted to HRM on Nov. 15, 2010. It called for the establishment of a Bloomfield Development Partnership, in effect, a P3 model which would have included HRM, Imagine Bloomfield and a private sector partner to oversee development of the property, and work towards the goals contained in the 2009 Master Plan. My work also included a list of best practices concerning the development of creative arts spaces.
Accepted by HRM, the Implementation Plan led to a 2011 tender for a consultant to help it identify a development partner, but this was suddenly abandoned in 2012, in favour of selling the property outright, a process that saw Housing Nova Scotia oddly involved and then outbidding the private sector. HRM obviously intends on maximizing the sale of its surplus properties as a matter of course and in that process communities end up being the losers.
“decommissioned in 2014” which probably didn’t happen without a lot of discussion, so, Why!!! Are Municipal entities so incapable of planning timely redevelopments of surplus properties? When discussions are ongoing about closing buildings, why can’t parallel discussions be going on regarding what’s going to happen with the property?
Six years of dithering is either incompetence or a complete lack of leadership – remember QEH and St.Pat’s and how long it took to come to an agreement on redevelopment. Lunenburg county can give HRM a run for their money on the amount of wasted time and money when it comes to redevelopment of surplus properties.
Perhaps the cost of maintaining these properties in the interim, and the awarding of multiple consulting contracts should be reported annually so taxpayers can understand the waste.