The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre has secured the land for its new home after years of work, and it’s getting a good deal.

After a public hearing on Tuesday, Halifax regional council voted unanimously in favour of a motion to sell HRM’s property at 1940 Gottingen St. to the friendship centre for $1.

“This is the right thing to do today,” Coun. Waye Mason said. “It’s a statement about the kind of city that we want to be, and how we want to lead Canada.”

The property is the former home of the Red Cross, but the building on site has been vacant since 2013. Council declared the 5,200-square-metre property surplus in 2016, corporate real estate project manager Rudy Vodicka wrote in a report to council.

An annotated overhead satellite image shows a property outlined in red, 1940 Gottingen St., and some of the surrounding landmarks, like the Centennial Pool and Halifax Police HQ.
A map of the property from HRM’s staff report. Credit: HRM

Before the property went up for sale, the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Society asked council to consider a less-than-market-value sale. Its Gottingen Street facility was deteriorating, and executive director Pam Glode-Desrochers felt this was the right place for a new home.

“This is a game changer, I think for not just my own community, but the city as a whole, I think even the province. It’s not lost on me that the property that we’ve been focused on is next to one of the oldest colonized institutions that Canada has, next to Citadel Hill,” Glode-Desrochers told council on Tuesday.

“Colonization has impacted our community for generations. And we’re still here. This building is so much more than a symbol for my own community. I think it’s a symbol for all HRM, I actually think it’s a shift in time, a moment for all of us where we come together to actually move things forward for the betterment of not just my own community, but all of our communities.”

Plan for ‘iconic, culturally relevant building’

Last year, council voted to reclassify the property under the community interest category, allowing for a donation to the society.

HRM will demolish the former Red Cross building this year at an estimated cost of $2.5 million. It estimates the property will be worth $11.7 million once vacant.

The society originally planned two buildings on the property. Vodicka wrote that one “would serve as a cultural centre and the second as a mixed-use development with housing, commercial and social enterprises.”

“This has since been revised to phased development. As proposed, the Gottingen Street property will be used for the construction of a replacement Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre,” Vodicka wrote.

“In addition to the immediate need to secure a permanent replacement facility, the vision is to create an iconic, culturally relevant building that will provide visibility and instill pride for Indigenous persons while also educating the non-Indigenous community and visitors on the important history and contribution of Indigenous peoples to the region, Nova Scotia, and Canada.”

The society estimates the total cost of the project will be almost $50 million, having raised $32.8 million from the federal government.

“The commencement of construction now hinges on support from both the municipal and provincial governments in addition to the Society’s equity/debt financing and a fundraising campaign,” Vodicka wrote.

Glode-Desrochers said it’s been a long journey, and praised council for taking a chance.

“This is a huge leap of faith and I get that, this is different. It’s outside the norm of what society normal normally does for us,” Glode-Desrochers said.

“That’s what truth and reconciliation is actually about, it’s about not doing the norm. It’s about taking a leap of faith and doing something different. That’s exactly what this is.”

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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