In a narrow 7-6 decision, Halifax council voted in favour of a multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the historic Halifax Forum while directing chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé and staff to seek potential private partnerships.
Built in 1927, the iconic Georgian-style red-brick building was the first artificial hockey arena east on Montreal at the time but is now in a state of disrepair.
The Forum is a registered heritage property, and a staff report proposes rebuilding the rink, along with a second ice pad, and three community and multipurpose rooms but keeping the front facade and red-brick exterior that extends along Windsor Street.
The project is anticipated to cost anywhere from $70 million to $80 million and has been a point of contention around the council table, as a handful of councillors argue the costs are too high.
The Halifax Forum is located in Coun. Lindell Smith’s district. Smith says he understands the concern around the costs associated with its redevelopment but says the facility is a cultural meeting place and is more than just a sports facility, noting the heritage aspect of the building.
“There’s no other facility like the Forum in the north end that could hold the capacity that it holds and is accessible to people of all walks of life,” said Smith. “What we are looking at today in council, I agree with the recommendation that staff is recommending that we restore as much as possible.”
The City of Halifax purchased the site in 1948, and it is viewed as a prime site, Dubé said. He adds the city would be open to leasing some of the property for retail and residential space but assured council all options are on the table in terms of private partnerships.
“It is a very prominent property,” said Dubé. “And I think a properly designed development agreement that meets council’s best interest and the public’s best interest could be quite attractive to a private developer right now.”
Coun. Matt Whitman says he’s all for supporting heritage and protecting history but at the right price and the right place. He says he has major concerns about the price tag of redeveloping the Halifax Forum.
“I am in favour of the recommendation to partner with a private developer and have some folks living on this property,” said Whitman. “I am all for private money being invested in this but not so much the public dollars.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Coun. David Hendsbee, who is concerned about the facility and whether it’s even worth saving the heritage aspects of the facade.
“I like the idea of a replica Forum but also making sure it’s as energy-efficient as possible,” said Hendsbee. “I think the Forum has had its day.”
Council voted to direct staff and the CAO to work with the Halifax Forum Community Association to determine the best design of the community spaces while directing the staff to explore all private partnership opportunities for the land surrounding the arena.
No financial details have been agreed upon, however it’s anticipated council will get more information regarding the costs and potential partnerships in the near future.
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