1. Xanadu delayed
Yesterday, Trade Centre Limited announced that Nova Centre developer Joe Ramia is missing the promised January 1, 2016 “substantial completion” date for the project. In its press release, TCL ridiculously couched the announcement within a celebratory message about “final floor plans” for the convention centre part of the project, but the nut of the release is this:
Mr. Ramia also announced a revised substantial completion date, Sept. 30, 2016, for the Nova Centre, with an official opening for the Halifax Convention Centre planned for January 2017.
Halifax council, of course, had long discussions and pretend debates about the convention centre, but in the end agreed to a contract with the province that spelled out the terms of the Nova Centre and convention centre deals. Why, they’re right there in black and white, in a December 10, 2010 staff report to council:
Motion: That Regional Council:
1. Support the development of a new convention centre pursuant to the following terms with the Province of Nova Scotia:
That the developer agrees to construct the entire project to be at substantially completion at the time of the opening of the convention centre.
“At the time” seems pretty clear to me: the entire Nova Centre development and the convention centre were to be “substantially completed” at the same time. But there’s TCL’s press release saying Nova Centre would be “substantially completed” on Sept. 30, 2016, but the convention centre won’t open until January 1, 2017. What gives? I made a bunch of calls to government people yesterday, all of whom seem to have been coached with canned responses to my questions, but here’s how a city spokesperson responded to my query:
Nothing mentioned today changes anything in the original agreement. The municipal funding will still be handed over at “substantial completion”. We anticipate everything will be “substantially completed” at the same time (Sept. 30, 2016). Therefore, the agreement is still accurate.
Er, OK? So the convention centre will be “substantially completed” on September 30, 2016, but won’t open for another three months? Why would that be?
Well, Phil Pacey beat me to the punch with an email he sent out last night, but his numbers agree with mine, so I’ll just quote him:
Trade Centre Limited said 30 events had been booked for the centre, 17 for the first year. Trade Centre Limited has spent 20 months and at least $980,000 attracting this business, at a rate of 1.5 events per month. In its Market Projection in 2010, Trade Centre said the existing convention centre hosted 31 national and international events in an average year, or 2.6 events per month, a booking rate 73% faster than that of the proposed centre.
I’m sure TCL will trot out a bunch of locally booked meetings to explain away the shortfall, but that’s not how this game works: you don’t get to use local meetings to bulk up you economic impact statements, or to argue for the success of the new facility. Booking local meetings is just shifting around local meeting business, and doesn’t add anything of value to the local economy. Arguably, enticing meeting business away from local hotels with a taxpayer subsidized convention centre actually hurts the local economy.
Anyway, it sure looks like TCL isn’t meeting its targets for the new convention centre, which should surprise no one: those targets were built on a series of lies. So delaying the opening of the convention centre, either because Ramia is behind on construction or because “substantially complete” doesn’t mean what it any English speaker thinks it means, gives TCL another year to try to recruit conventions to the new facility, a Hail Mary pass into the future with the hope of scoring some success. “We will now focus our efforts on securing business for January 2017 and beyond,” TCL president Scott Ferguson said in the release. No shit.
Every time a convention centre critic speaks up, he or she is castigated for hurting Halifax’s reputation or contributing to the “defeatist culture” or whatever, but what does cancelling an entire season worth of booked conventions do for Halifax’s reputation? Who’s responsible for more harm to the civic reputation: Peggy Cameron fretting about the loss of the view from Citadel Hill or Scott Ferguson going hat-in-hand to convention organizers, returning their cheques and explaining that the last two years of their event planning is for naught?
A few more points. First, Ramia is claiming that the delay is “because of design enhancements, after extensive public consultation, and the approval processes, as well as challenging weather during last winter’s construction season.” Um, no. There are three parts to this excuse; let’s take them in turn:
1. Delay because of “design enhancements after extensive public consultation.” As the Thiel family has pointed out in its lawsuit against the province, Nova Centre was granted exemptions to the city’s planning processes precisely in order to meet the January 1, 2016 deadline.
2. Design because of the “approval process.” This is the typical “blame the slow bureaucracy” excuse, but it doesn’t fly. Here’s what Ramia wrote in a July 3, 2013 letter to city planners: “I wish to emphasize that we are not critical of the HRM development processes in themselves and have been satisfied with the professionalism and responsiveness of HRM staff in our dealings regarding this project.”
3. Delays because of winter. Who could’ve predicted that it would snow in winter in Canada?
The real story? Well, we know that Ramia was trying to poach the Thiels’ tenants from one of the bank buildings, promising the tenants they could move into Nova Centre in January, 2016, before the reconstruction of the TD Bank and BMO buildings were complete. But it seems that Ramia was out-maneuvered by the Thiels, and so why spend the extra money for a speeded-up construction schedule?
Secondly, about those “final floor plans”…
Yesterday evening I quickly put up a post showing that the convention centre Ramia is building is not the the convention centre we ordered. See the detailed specs here. My takeaway:
That’s right: the province tendered for a 35,000 square foot ballroom with 30-foot ceilings, and Ramia is building a 30,000 square foot ballroom with 24-foot ceilings.
Lastly, of course Roger Taylor provides the most implausible and unquestioning positive spin for Ramia. Reportedly, Taylor is on the Chronicle Herald’s layoff list. We’ve started an office pool over at Examiner headquarters about where Taylor will land post-layoff. My toonie is on the “running communications for Joe Ramia” square.
I’ll have much more about the Nova Centre delay Monday.
➡ Global News reports that Mayor Mike Savage has “some disappointment” about the delay with the convention centre, but goes on to say that “this is going to be a world-class facility and a world-class city.” This is the mayor who says he wants to discourage alcohol abuse in Halifax, but here he is encouraging us all to do double “world class” shots first thing in the morning.
➡ Back in 2005, Nova Scotia Business, Inc. was swooning over Research in Motion, the makers of the Blackberry. There was some awkward flirting, then a couple of fumbling dates, and like George Michael getting kissed by Maeby, NSBI could never again think straight. The next thing you know, the agency laid out $5 million for the the company to set up tech support offices in Bedford. “The reason leading companies like RIM are choosing Nova Scotia is simple: world-class people and competitive business advantages for IT growth,” said NSBI prez Stephen Lund. The rest, as they say, is history: a string of bad decisions and broken relationships, abandoned counsellors and escapes from rehab, lying in the gutter with a bottle, forever insisting that RIM was the one, dammit.
➡ Anyway, yesterday the Armour Group announced it had bought RIM’s tumble-weed filled former campus. “It will be a space for startup businesses and world-class organizations,” Armour CEO Scott McCrea told the Chronicle Herald.
3. East Preston titles
The Chronicle Herald looks at the twisted history of disputed property titles in the East Preston area.
4. Pedestrian incidents
At 10:08 a.m., police responded to a vehicle/pedestrian collision in the 0-100 block of Susie Lake Crescent. A 74-year-old woman crossing Susie Lake Crescent in an unmarked crosswalk was hit by a car turning right while exiting a parking lot. She suffered what are believed to be non-life threatening injuries and was transported to hospital by EHS.
The 74-year-old male driver was issued a summary offence ticket under section 125(2) of the Motor Vehicle Act for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk on roadway divided by a median. This ticket carries a fine of $693.95 and four points on a driver’s license upon conviction.
Last night at 8:40 p.m., officers responded to a motor vehicle collision involving a pedestrian that occurred near Albro Lake and Wyse Roads in Dartmouth. The driver was travelling northbound on Wyse Road and made a left hand turn onto Albro Lake Road when a pedestrian stepped off the curb into the path of the car. The pedestrian was not in a crosswalk at the time of the collision. The 49-year-old pedestrian was taken to hospital as a precautionary measure.
As a result of the investigation, the pedestrian was charged under the Liquor Control Act section 87(1) – public intoxication and the Motor Vehicle Act section 125(3) – stepping into the path of a car where the vehicle is so close it cannot stop.
5. Wild Kingdom
➡ A report written by Dalhousie ecologist Bill Freedman says that “excessive inbreeding, a tiny population and extreme weather linked to global warming all pose risks of extinction to the fabled horses of Sable Island ,” reports Dean Beeby of the CBC. Well, maybe. People get weirdly emotional about the Sable Island horses. On one side of the issue are people like Memorial University biologist Ian Jones, who see the horses as an “invasive species,” in much the same way as dandelions are an invasive species—I mean, sure, but they’ve been around for hundreds of years, so it’s kind of hard to get worked up about it. On the other side are the folks who romanticize the horses, and never mind whatever god awful conditions they live in.
➡ Left unaddressed, climate change will likely eliminate polar bears from the planet: “Under business-as-usual climate projections, polar bears may face starvation and reproductive failure across the entire Archipelago by the year 2100,” says a paper published by six Canada scientists.
➡ “The Canadian government may be shirking its legal responsibility to protect endangered plants and wildlife, a new study suggests,” reports the CBC. “Scientists found that 86 per cent of legally protected species in Canada either maintain the same level of risk or have deteriorated over time.”
1. Power works two ways
Andrew Younger wanted to own the power rate issue, says Graham Steele. And sure enough, Andrew Younger owns the power rate issue.
2. Broten Report
Ralph Surette is a big fan of Laurel Broten’s tax proposals. As much as Surette wants to spin Broten as a reasonable thinker, blah blah blah, I remind him of Broten’s actual words, calling the very wealthy “risk-takers, dreamers, doers, and builders.” Puhlease. There’s nothing reasonable, or even sane, about that. It’s just the same old genuflect-to-the-rich crap we’ve been hearing for 35 years. Screw that.
Xanadu? In case you somehow missed it, here’s why I call the Nova Centre Xanadu.
In the harbour
(click on vessel names for pictures and more information about the ships)
Morning File takes Sundays off. See you Monday.