The Bloomfield Centre site in March 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford

The former Bloomfield Centre site in North End Halifax is up for sale, but the real estate firm tasked with marketing the property is billing it as something else entirely: 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.

A screenshot from halifaxstreetcar.com

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 plan was to sell in April 2020, but the site just hit the market with the new branding.

‘Insulting to all the people in this neighbourhood’

“This is utter, total bullshit,” north end entrepreneur Fred Connors said in a Facebook live video recorded Wednesday.

“This isn’t about the sale of this property because the (request for proposals) has gone out and we know that the sale of this property is inevitable. This, to me, is about the ‘North End Streetcar District,’ which is completely fucking insulting to all the people in this neighbourhood who have worked tirelessly to support the mission of Imagine Bloomfield and this historic site as Bloomfield, which is what it is.”

In the video, Connors said he and Susanna Fuller — both of whom worked on the Imagine Bloomfield plan — have planned an event for noon on Sunday. They’re asking anyone who cares about the site to come and link arms around it “to remind the city that this site is and forever will be known as Bloomfield to the people who live in this community.”

“Never once has ‘North End Streetcar District’ ever been thrown out there as a brand that could encapsulate the ethos of this neighbourhood. Never. This bullshit is totally made up by somebody, or an agency, that has absolutely no idea what the DNA of this neighbourhood is,” Connors said. “And that I find offensive and insulting and the fact that the city would even let this bullshit behind me go up as a way to sell this property and to describe this neighbourhood, and take this upon itself to rebrand this neighbourhood as something it is fucking not makes me fucking crazy.”

What can go there?

The city’s Centre Plan and a loose interpretation of the Bloomfield Master Plan govern what can be built there. The brochure posted on halifaxstreetcar.com outlines the rules.

“This development is ideally positioned for mixeduse residential, retail, commercial and green space,” the brochure says.

There’s a maximum height restriction of 90 metres, equal to about 28 storeys, and the density allowed on the site means a developer can build nearly 500,000 square feet of floor area. If the property fetched as much per buildable square foot as the St. Pat’s High School site, sold in February for $37.6 million, it could go for $25 million or more.

One of the only mentions in the brochure of the word Bloomfield is about another requirement, for park space dubbed Bloomfield Park: “The proposed development will preserve publicly accessible park space which must include a minimum of 20% of the site dedicated to open space.”

The developer also has to commit to a total of 20,000 square feet of “designated affordable space for community use,” and another 10,000 square feet “targeted for creative industries.”

Once it’s built, 10% of the residential units have to be “affordable” for at least 50 years. There’s no definition of affordable, but it likely mean 30% less than market rates.

Requiring a percentage of units in a building to be affordable is a practice known as inclusionary zoning — something citizens have asked for but Halifax isn’t permitted to do. Council has asked the province for permission to do that and been told no.

The brochure says buyers have to submit their proposals for the site by July 6, and a decision and award by council is expected in August.

Zane Woodford

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. HRM is still pitching the Centre Plan and its parking lot B in spite of the extraordinary changes to our city environment. These changes are permanent and will require a big rethink of density and development in the peninsular city. No HRM approved hi density development will be built by the applicants.NO bank would loan them the money. They may try to market the development approval to someone else. What a waste of time. What an expensive groupthink denial by HRM.No HRM talk of low density development and reclaiming public green space from developers who can’t develop hi rises like what’s his name did with the Willow Tree

  2. A stupid and superficial marketing campaign that nods to history at it’s most base and inane level. “Wow there used to be streetcars running here, cool. Let’s use that”.????????

    As the powers that be at city hall fall over themselves to appease every developers’ whim they again have shown they have no knowledge or concern for what makes a community and neighbourhood.

  3. You have missed an important step in this sorry saga, and that was the tender that was called in 2011 as a result of the Bloomfield Implementation plan that I had developed for HRM. The Implementation Plan was approved by staff, and a tender was then let to hire a development consultant to select a development partner and form a “Bloomfield Development Partnership” which would include the development partner, HRM and Imagine Bloomfield in proceeding with the master plan or something similar to it. Under the Implementation Plan, the community/arts space would have been supported by some or all of the proceeds from the sale of the property to the developer.

    The 2011 tender, which was to select the development consultant, was fairly well advanced, and I believe a Vancouver-based consultant had been selected, but no contract was let.

    That tender was yanked by somebody for some reason…. enter the Province who was willing to overpay for the site.

    What an excellent case study on redevelopment and the perils of political interference.

    Feel free to contact me and I’ll send you the Bloomfield Implementation Plan.

  4. The issue is bigger than just marketing the sale of Bloomfield as the Northend Streetcar District. This is about the city not investing in its citizens or public space. Its about HRM”s Mayor & Council selling off, privatizing or enabling the privatization of every bit of public space and sky that they have an opportunity to, despite the objections of citizens- ie St Pat’s Alexander, St Pat’s High School, Queen Elizabeth High School, former CBC-TV, or lawn of the NS Museum for parking garages, the Wanderers Ground, Willow Tree, Carlton Street, Cruikshanks property, Grafton Street,

    And the issue is also about setting the bar so low HRM Mayor and Councillors are tripping over themselves to agree to bad deals.

    For example-public open space requirements: Previously the standard public open space requirement required 30%. Now a 20% public open space requirement for Bloomfield-a public space- in exchange for 28-storeys is supposed to be acceptable. That’s in the context of the Centre Plan projecting the addition of 15-30,000 to the Centre Plan area but with no plans for additional parks, green networks.

    Another example is affordable housing- From this article we can see its not clear there will be any affordable housing because of the governance issues around inclusionary zoning. The Willow Tree developer George Armoyan got off the affordable housing hook to provide 10 units for 15 years by paying $1.8 million to the city.

    And as reported in the Halifax Examiner (May 27) just a year ago AGAINST THE RECOMMENDATIONs of Staff Councillor Lindell Smith put forward a motion to amend the Centre Plan to permit Danny Chedrawe to proceed with a Development Agreement application to put up a 23-storey building on his Robie Street Cruickshank property next to the Willow Tree. All that extra square footage (and negative impact of wind and shadow on the North Common) will gain the city the grand total of $300,000 of which 60% or $180,000 will go into the affordable housing fund.

  5. It seems like an utterly pointless fight, but wouldn’t it be cool if we restored and expanded the streetcar network. Electric streetcars powered directly by the grid are much greener than battery powered buses.