City's convention centre costs balloon

Province drops bombshell financing demands on council

The provincial government dropped two bombshells on Halifax council Tuesday. The deal in the works for the new convention centre proposed for downtown includes two provisos: that the city exempt the new convention centre from property taxes, and that the city buy the existing World Trade and Convention Centre. Either or both proviso could kill the project.

Both costs come on top of the costs first detailed on thecoast.ca/bites: construction costs of $159 million would be split between the three levels of government, with the federal government paying $46 million, with the province and city each paying $56 million. The city and provincial portion would be financed through a 6.9 percent loan, with payments amortized over 25 years. With annual operational and management expenses of $2.9 million for the convention centre, the city and province would each pay $6.5 million annually for 25 years.

Economic impact projections provided by the firm Gardner-Pinfold for Trade Centre Limited, the crown corporation that operates the existing convention centre, say that, thanks to the new convention centre, city property tax revenues will increase by $3.5 million annually---reflecting new taxes from the convention centre and the hotel and office tower associated with it, as well as from increased assessments to nearby propoerties. That $3.5 million in increased tax revenue only partly offsets the $6.5 million costs, leaving the city with a net loss of $3 million annually.

City staff has yet to conduct an independent analysis of those figures, but the Gardener-Pinfold projections assumed that the city would collect taxes on the new convention centre. Without that assumption, the city would lose an additional $1.2 million annually, for a total loss of $4.2 million each and every year, for 25 years.

It’s anyone’s guess what buying the existing WTCC would cost the city, or how much it would cost to convert it to other uses.

Without exception, councillors said they would reject the proposed deal outright, if they had to vote on it Tuesday. Several accused the province of setting council up as the fall guy---the province is giving the city an impossible proposal, and so when council rejects it, provincial politicians can blame the city for the loss of the convention centre. Other councillors saw the proposal as merely a negotiating tactic, and hoped some compromise could be reached.

Council directed staff to research the costs and continue negotiations, and the entire issue will come back before council November 9. The Coast has been covering this in great detail at thecost.ca/bites.

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