Frankly, I’m not sure what I think of the controversy over whether to build a new convention centre in downtown Halifax.
Those who support it claim that, during the past three years, we’ve lost 70 conventions—and the economic benefits they bring—because the current World Trade and Convention Centre is too small to attract the kind of conventions we need.
Conventions, proponents argue, are tourism magnets. “You’re bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the market,” Trade Centre President Scott Ferguson told The Coast last week, for example. “They spend three times more than the average tourist does… They stay and they travel the province and they go back and they talk about what a wonderful place Halifax is, and they come back again.”
But the proposed 120,000-square-ft. complex on the former sites of the Halifax Herald and Midtown Tavern—which would also include an 18-storey hotel and 14-storey office tower—will require at least $100 million from taxpayers.
Forget for the moment the predictable complaints from those who worry the project’s twin towers will block iconic views from Citadel Hill. As important as that debate may be, let’s save it for another day and simply look at the proposal on its business merits.
The problem is that we can’t.
We’re told there have been four consultants’ reports that all say the proposal makes sense. But we can’t see the details, or the devil in them. Before they were released in response to a freedom of information request from convention centre opponents, officials blacked out virtually every page—certainly every important piece of information—from each one of the reports.
And what about those 70 conventions supporters claim we “lost” in the last three years? Bev Miller of the Peninsula South Community Association, a convention centre opponent, questions those numbers. Toronto’s Convention Centre only hosts a total of about 60 conventions a year, she points out. “Simple arithmetic” suggests Halifax’s dramatic lost-conventions claim is “very unlikely.”
We’ve been down this road before.
Remember the Commonwealth Games fiasco?
How about the MLA expenses scandal?
Secrecy usually means you’re doing something you don’t want people to know about.
Mayor Peter Kelly calls supporting the convention centre a “no brainer.
We need to not lose focus and make sure the place gets built,” he told Metro last month.
There may indeed be a solid business case for investing $100 million of taxpayers’ dollars in a new convention centre. But it’s not good enough to say, Trust us. Show us the numbers. Be transparent.
And let us be the judge of what makes sense.
See also: Tim Bousquet’s excellent piece on the convention centre issue in The Coast.