Development

Halifax Convention Centre set to open Dec. 15

Events East Group boasts 18,000 more visitors expected for 2018

The Nova Centre looms over local businesses in downtown Halifax.   Lexi Harrington

Halifax’s new convention centre is scheduled to open on Dec. 15 — five years after excavation on the site began.

Events East Group, the company that runs the convention centre, announced the official opening date on Tuesday. The convention centre is part of the Nova Centre complex on Argyle Street with a hotel, shopping plaza, restaurants and retail space.

“We have the opportunity to host thousands of people who have never been here before because of this new facility,” said Erin Esiyok-Prime, a spokesperson for Events East Group. “We have an opportunity to showcase what Nova Scotia has to offer,” she said in an interview.

The centre’s opening date had been pushed back three times since 2014. Due to the ongoing construction, a number of area businesses have struggled to maintain customer traffic while construction continued.

‘We simply didn’t have the facilities’

Events East said it will attract three times the number of national and international events than the current convention centre and 18,000 more visitors. There are 90 events planned for 2018, including the Scotiabank Bluenose Marathon and Hal-Con Sci-Fi Fantasy Convention.

Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, said the opening of the centre has been a long-time coming.

He said conventions that used to be held in Halifax had to be turned away because they grew in size.

“We simply didn’t have the facilities,” said MacKinnon. “We’re excited about the fact that we’ll be able to accommodate more conferences than we could under the old facility.”

‘Dollars and cents don’t make sense’

Others are skeptical about whether the $169.2-million investment for the convention centre will pay off for Nova Scotians.

“There are always big bold initiatives (in Nova Scotia) that somehow stick the taxpayers of the province with a lot of debt. The trade centre is no different,” said Judy Haiven, a retired business management professor at Saint Mary’s University specializing in industrial relations.

The cost was split between three levels of government. The province paid one-third and the municipality paid one-third, while the federal government covered the remaining third.

Haiven said big tourism investments only create jobs in low-wage industries, where the owners don’t have to pay living wages. She said a better place to invest money would have been infrastructure and healthcare — specifically elder care — because Nova Scotia has a large aging population and a growing need for continuing care assistants.

She added that, although the centre is managed through a public-private partnership, “the public will never own this building.” As with other cities with large convention centres, she believes only developers will make money, if the centre doesn’t do well and they have to sell.

“It’s a noble idea but the truth is, the dollars and cents don’t make sense,” said Haiven.

The Nova Centre has yet to announce who will manage the hotel inside the development.

Each company renting space in the building will move in on different dates, based on individual agreements. BMO bank is expected to move in next month.

The convention centre will kick off the year with a “welcome weekend” featuring public tours, coffee and movies from Jan. 12-14.

The Canadian Junior Weightlifting Nationals on Jan. 20 will be the first convention held at the centre.