Time to say thanks to convention centre doubters


I’m guessing you won’t find Philip Pacey, Beverly Miller, or the Save the View Coalition on developer Joe Ramia’s Christmas card list this year.

But they should be on ours—and perhaps his too.

Last week’s city council vote approving a memorandum of agreement between HRM and the province to build the new convention centre was quickly followed by Ramia’s own triumphant, pre-Olympic victory lap/photo-op unveiling of his $500-million Nova Centre convention-centre-hotel-office-tower-financial-centre project.

Which means it will now almost certainly be built.

And then we shall see.

Will the project integrate into and enhance our downtown, or become another harbour-view-blocking Maritime Centre-style architectural embarrassment?

Will the convention centre lure boatloads of international conventioneers to our city, goosing the local service economy and kickstarting downtown revitalization, or will it turn into yet another taxpayer-funded white-elephant boondoggle?

We shall see.

What has been interesting about this two year debate is that the most significant research and most insightful—and troubling—questions about the project have been raised not by politicians or the mainstream media, but by a small rag-tag group of citizen volunteers with no personal vested interest in the outcome. People like Pacey, a retired chemistry professor, and Miller, a long-time community activist.

Their two key concerns: the traditional preservationists’ fear the new Nova Centre will obstruct views of the harbour from Citadel Hill, and the business case objection that there is no business case.

It is the business case concern that is most immediately troubling. Convention centre opponents have raised serious questions about the often self-interested studies its boosters have used to justify government investment. Those questions have never been satisfactorily answered, and now we can only hope.

As for concern about preserving Halifax’s historic character and protecting harbour views, it’s worth reminding ourselves that much of what the all-too-dismissive-of-their-detractors convention centre boosters will now be peddling to those international convention goers—the city’s historic character and walkable waterfront—only exist today because of citizen activists like Pacey and Miller.

That’s worth at least a Christmas card. Even, or especially, from Joe Ramia.

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