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.
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.