Suburbs home to development in Halifax

A two-block hole in Halifax’s centre literally and figuratively sums up the Atlantic port city’s development scene. The gaping pit is the site of the proposed Nova Centre, a mixed-use project from Rank Inc. that will contain a convention centre, a hotel and potentially multi-residential and office space.
The $500-million project is one of the largest developments currently underway in the city. It is also one of a handful of projects proposed for or being built in the downtown. The Nova Centre is also noteworthy for its mix of private and public funding: the proposal calls for $164-million in public monies for the convention centre portion of the project.
With its mix of private and public funding and its large footprint in the city core, the Nova Centre is part of a civic trend to revitalize Halifax’s downtown and create a vibrant centre, more akin to Boston and less like Detroit, as one city council report put it.
The large, proposed conference centre is also an indication of the city’s growing prosperity. Since the announcement that Halifax had won the contract to build 21 combat vessels for the Royal Canadian Navy, a project worth $25-billion that will draw 11,000 new jobs, the city seems poised to boom.
Jobs will have significant economic impact
“It’s going to change the level of activity once the ship building gets up and running,” confirms Robert Mussett, senior vice president and senior managing director for Atlantic Canada for global real estate advisory firm CBRE. “You add that many jobs to a small economy like ours, it’s going to have a big impact.”
To be sure, Halifax’s downtown suddenly seems bustling with big projects. A new, 100,000 sq ft., $55-million public library is set to open in 2014. The $26-million expansion of the TD Centre Halifax, doubling its floor space from 9,000 sq. ft, is underway, while the Conference Board of Canada in its report, Metropolitan Outlook 2013, says the Crombie REIT is also expected to add space to Scotia Square.
Other significant projects include the RBC Waterside Centre, a $25-million project that will be certified LEED gold and contain 85,000 sq ft. and the $62-million redevelopment of the Citadel Halifax Hotel site.

RBC Waterside Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Development largely in suburban Halifax
Yet for all the downtown activity, most of Halifax’s development is taking place in the suburbs – and that’s where that two-block hole becomes a metaphor for the city’s building pattern that the city is working hard to reverse.
In 2010, the Halifax Regional Council endorsed a discussion paper titled Capital Ideas: Leveraging Urban Investment for Regional Prosperity. That paper expressed concern that, among other factors, because “several major approved developments have not proceeded, the Regional Center is at risk of ‘hollowing out.’”
To prevent this hollowing out of Halifax, the plan proposed public investment in private projects and better coordination between agencies involved in civic development. Some of that is now coming to fruition.
“Most of the development for the city, most of the supply for the city, happens in the suburban market to the detriment of downtown,” Mussett explains. He says the creation of high quality infrastructure in key suburban markets, such as the Canada Games Centre – a major pubic fitness facility – and “great highway systems” have encouraged strong residential and office development in the suburban nodes.
Strong areas include West Bedford/Hammonds Plains to the city’s northwest, and across the harbour from Halifax, Dartmouth, Cole Harbour and Burnside. In Dartmouth, the $500-millon Kings Wharf development, already underway, includes a conference centre, stores, offices, a 200-room hotel and 1,293 condominiums.
Core premium less than 7%
Mussett notes over the last five years the suburban market has absorbed nearly 1.3 million sq. ft. of office space, while the urban market has only accounted for some 50,000. Unlike Toronto, Montreal or Calgary, where people are willing to pay a premium of as much as 30 per cent to be in the core, that doesn’t exist in Halifax. Mussett says the premium is less than seven per cent. “The users, who are making decisions about where they’re going to lease space, do not see downtown as a being a significant benefit and won’t pay for it.”
Over in Burnside, the 8,500 acre industrial park is experiencing growth as well. Marketing to the freight community is paying off, according to Nancy Phillips, executive director of the Halifax Gateway Council and director of business partnership with the Greater Halifax Partnership. Companies have been positioning themselves to benefit from major infrastructure projects, such as the Irving Ship Yard contract, while others area moving product in and out of the area for large mining concerns in St. John’s, Nfld.
Phillips said projects under development currently include Nova Cold Storage’s 40,000 sq. ft. facility, while Armour Facilities is preparing to add another 80,000 sq. ft. to the existing 100,000 they already have. “That’s what we’re seeing a lot of in Burnside right now, because the lands that are allocated in this phase are all geared toward these larger lot developments.”
In fact, the Halifax economy is so strong that even dramatically lowered housing starts (because of tighter mortgage rules and anticipated rising interest rates in 2013) – 4.5 per cent and 8.3 per cent predicted for 2013 and 2014 by the Conference Board of Canada – isn’t preventing overall growth. Construction output is still expected to rise 1.4 per cent in 2013 and 2.6 per cent in 2014. The sense of buoyant times ahead is strong in the port city.



Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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