Development

Halifax Convention Centre holds welcome weekend

Organizers say nearly 2,000 people visited the building in the first two days

This story contains a correction

Visitors walk through the atrium of the Halifax Convention Centre on Saturday.   Silas Brown

Nova Scotians have a chance to visit the new Halifax Convention Centre this weekend.

The convention centre is inviting people to tour the building on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The whole 120,000-square-foot space is open so people can get a glimpse of the centre’s interior.

“It’s pretty impressive,” said Kevin Bennett from Halifax. He went Saturday to compare the differences between this convention centre and the old one. “There’s more room and it’s more welcoming than the old convention centre.”

Organizers said almost 900 people went on Friday and more than 1,000 went Saturday. Saturday’s event included a family-themed tour with face painting and a viewing of the movie Finding Dory.

“I’m a sucker for the old architectural style of Halifax, so I’m not quite warmed up to it yet,” said Matthew Crawley, who went with his wife and son.

The front entrance to the Halifax Convention Centre.   Ross Andersen

The convention centre is part of a five-year project called the Nova Centre. The Nova Centre will also include boutique shops, restaurants and a hotel upon completion. It was supposed to open in January 2016, but there have been two years of delays.

The convention centre cost taxpayers $169 million, through all three levels of government, making it the largest integrated development project in the province’s history, according to the Halifax Convention Centre’s website. Construction began in January 2013.

Crawley isn’t sure if the money was well spent.

“There are definitely a lot of places that could have used the money,” he said, citing programs for homelessness and unemployment as examples.

Carrie Cussons, Halifax Convention Centre president and CEO, greeted visitors at the building’s entrance on Saturday.

“We look at the Halifax Convention Centre as potentially an economic generator for the region,” Cussons said in an interview.

The Halifax Convention Centre lobby.   Silas Brown

Some businesses in the area struggled as the centre was under construction.

“I like the fact that they’re finally opening,” said Philip Holmans, owner of the World Tea House on Argyle Street, near the convention centre.

Holmans said the ongoing construction and delays resulted in a 35 per cent drop in foot traffic to his business. The Argyle street development didn’t help either, he added.

“It’s bittersweet knowing my tax dollars went into a project that caused me severe detriments,” said Holmans.

Cussons acknowledged that some businesses struggled during the convention centre’s construction period.

“Surrounding businesses have been very patient as we tried to open,” she said.

Tattoo artist Chenine Corbin paints one girl’s face at the event Saturday.   Ross Andersen

The official grand opening was held on Dec 15., but this is the first time the public has exclusive access to the convention centre.

Sections of the building will remain open daily, serving as a connecting atrium from Grafton Street to Argyle Street. The first convention will be held on Jan. 20 for the Canadian Junior Weightlifting Championship.

Sunday’s tour is scheduled to run from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Correction: Jan 19, 2018: An earlier version of this story misstated who Matthew Crawley attended with.

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