Arts

HRM eases rules for potential sale of Khyber building to arts group

Community group wants to buy 1588 Barrington St. and make it an arts hub

The former Khyber building on Barrington Street has been vacant since 2014.   Jonah Cole

A motion passed by Halifax regional council moved 1588 Barrington St. one step further in its lengthy sale process. But for Emily Davidson, it’s a big win.

Davidson is the president of the 1588 Barrington Street Building Preservation Society, which is trying to buy the former Khyber Centre for the Arts building. She’s “very encouraged” by Tuesday’s council decision to simplify the sale process.

“As somebody who cut my teeth at the Khyber Centre for the Arts when it was in the Khyber building, I really saw the dynamic potential of that space,” said Davidson.

The 1588 Society is working in partnership with the Khyber Centre and Neptune Theatre to re-establish the building, which is currently vacant, as a community arts hub.

The current Khyber Centre is located on Hollis Street. However, Davidson said space is limited there because “they don’t have as much room to spread out; they don’t have the other collaborators that being in an arts hub would allow.”

The Khyber Arts Society took over the space at 1588 Barrington St. in 1993 in exchange for maintaining the property. In 2014, the HRM closed the building to deal with asbestos and structural degradation. The municipality has been looking for groups to buy the surplus building since 2016. 

‘The perfect building’

The 1588 Society put forward a proposal in May 2017 to buy the building from the municipality.

In December, council put forward a motion that would delay the sale of the property until the 1588 Society could provide confirmation of federal and provincial grants, as well as a proposed five-year budget plan.

On Tuesday, council voted unanimously to defeat the original motion. Instead, they agreed to consider selling 1588 Barrington to the 1588 Society for $1. They also asked municipal staff to produce another report detailing financial implications, requested grants and terms for a buy-back agreement.

Coun. Waye Mason moved to defeat the original motion, citing it as “impossible.”

“They’re asking an organization to confirm fundraising, to get strong confirmation of federal funding and to have leases on a building that they won’t even own,” he said during council.  

The alternative motion takes the pressure off the 1588 Society, and moves them closer to a purchase of sale.

Coun. Richard Zurowski was also excited to see the sale move ahead.

“We do need sorely a place where we can hang our hats, and I think this is the perfect building to do it,” he said.

The four-storey Victorian Gothic building on Barrington Street is worth $1.5 million, but will need $3.2 million in renovations and improvements. The building has been a registered heritage property since 1988, when the former City of Halifax purchased it from a private owner.

The matter will appear before council once another staff report is written. Then, it will be determined whether the sale will proceed.