Convention Centre quagmire
Nobody seems to know how much HRM will have to pay for this mess, but everyone agrees it’ll be a lot more than we expected.
City council is finally coming around to the notion that the Halifax Convention Centre might not be the boffo moneymaker that was promised.
Halifax’s elected leaders begrudgingly voted on Tuesday to pay an additional $301,500 in marketing costs the province claims we owe for setting up downtown’s new crown jewel.
The city also agreed to pay its share of operational costs for the finally completed convention centre, despite not knowing what that number will be.
Worse yet, new financial figures brought to council are showing a planned $1.8-million shortfall in the city’s HCC reserve fund has nearly doubled to $3.5 million. Likewise, the $6-million surplus that was supposed to be in the bank after 10 years of convention centre operations has been drastically and severely reduced to a projected $18-million deficit.
The question now for council is just how far into the red the convention centre will fall, and what’s in place to stop that from becoming HRM’s burden to carry.
“I don’t like what’s happening here,” deputy mayor Waye Mason said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I have a deep and increasing foreboding right now and I don’t have a way to address that.”
Halifax had planned to pay its share of operational and capital costs for the HCC out of property taxes taken from the larger Nova Centre. But the glut of downtown office construction has undermined those plans. The Nova Centre presently stands 70 percent vacant, causing an extreme shortfall in tax revenue.
Just how bad are the financials? Enough that councillor Sam Austin wondered if we can renegotiate our deal with the province.
The Dartmouth Centre councillor pointed out provincial revenues for the HCC come from sales tax earned off conventions and aren’t impacted by the vacancies. Only HRM’s property-tax piggy bank is taking a hit.
“Maybe it shouldn’t be a 50/50 split,” suggested Austin. “Maybe they’ll just laugh at us, saying ‘You signed up for this.’”
In awe at the size of this lad.