Volta Labs wants the old Library

Not so fast, says HRM staff.

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Oh, the potential...
  • Oh, the potential...

UPDATE: City staff have instead recommended moving forward with leasing the old Library lands to Volta Labs. "Everybody loves Volta," I'm told. One expects a provincial announcement with more details on the partnership is likely soon to be released.

As the Halifax Central Library finally gets set to open its doors this weekend, the fate of the former Memorial Library across the street is still being decided.

Today, city council will meet in camera to discuss a confidential report on intergovernmental relations and the future use of the old Spring Garden Road site.

Startup house Volta Labs has put in a proposal for the 63-year-old building. The company’s hoping to renovate the old library and turn it into an expanded business incubator.

But HRM staff are recommending council turn that proposal down. Instead, they suggest scrapping the old building and keeping the grounds as a public park in favour of the proposal, since everyone loves Volta Labs (see Update above).

Currently located a couple doors down from the old library in the former TD Bank building, Volta Labs provides support and mentoring to startup companies. It’s not “your typical workplace,” according to the Financial Post’s Quentin Casey.

“There’s a large Star Wars mural on one wall, just above an oversized plush dog resting on a big comfy-looking couch.”

Volta provides subsidized office space, Internet access and pro bono legal and accounting advice for its clients. According to the same Financial Post article, the company’s welcomed 18 startups, raised more than $12.8 million in financing and created more than 80 jobs.

Naturally, it claims to offer “World class mentorship.”

Half of Volta’s $350,000 in funding comes from ACOA. The province, meanwhile, is looking to help finance the group’s library renovation plans through Nova Scotia Business Inc. That’s if the city agrees.

Last March, council gave the Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs first right of refusal for use of the building, but they turned the city down. Back in June, mayor Mike Savage told the Herald’s Michael Gorman he assumed the site would stay a cultural and green asset.

Apparently, no one other than Volta has come forward with a serious proposal for the site.

It’s unlikely HRM will want to hang onto a deserted structure which is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in security and heating while it sits empty. According to the deed, if the property doesn’t remain a park or library it reverts to the province.

Volta’s ideas for the old library sound well and good, particularly if you’re a buzzword-reciting NSBI disciple. The devil, as they say, will be in the details. Public property maybe shouldn’t be sold off to whatever trendy company comes looking for it. Common land isn’t really serving the public good if it’s in the hands of private enterprise. Likewise, safeguards are necessary should the year-and-a-half-old Volta go belly-up in the future. Otherwise, what was once historic public property could end up sold to any developer hungry for another set of condos.

These are the sort of questions that are hopefully answered in the confidential report Council will be voting on.

Volta spokesperson Jill Shea had no comment on her group’s plans for the library, but emphasized everything’s still in preliminary stages. Depending on the outcome of today’s meeting, she expects to have more news by the end of the week.

Though it would seem Volta’s already packing. A blog post from December 2 welcomes new board member Iain Klugman to the company as it “prepares to move into the old Library.”

“Adding this experience to the Board of Directors will help Volta to continue growing the startup community in Halifax and turn the new home in the old Library into an important landmark in the city.”

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