The devil, it’s often said, is in the details.
And while few details are known about the ongoing land-swap negotiations between HRM and the province (the municipality wants the provincially owned Infirmary site on Queen for a new library, while the province wants to expand the QEII Health Sciences Centre onto land formally occupied by Queen Elizabeth High), red flags were raised at city hall last week when word came that part of the QEII expansion may include paving paradise and putting in a new—some say unneeded—public parking lot.
As Dan Davis, a spokesperson for the Provincial Department of Transportation and Public Works, explains, provincially owned parking lots are few in the city and generally located in areas that serve the public need to access provincial services.
“Besides the old Infirmary location, the province owns five plots of land in HRM that are currently in use as public parking lots,” says Davis, adding that the management and operation of the lots is actually contracted out to Imperial Parking.
According to Ken Skinner, city manager for Imperial in Halifax, those contracts go through a request-for-proposal process and are generally for three-to-five-year terms, with the province having the right to renew for an extra year if needed.
The current provincial lots are located on Upper Water by the Supreme Court, Lower Water at Sackville, on Spring Garden next to the provincial Court House, on South Street across from the IWK Hospital and on the former DalTech lot at Queen and Spring Garden. Davis says the parking lots at the Health Sciences Centre and the IWK are actually man-
aged by the Capital District Health Authority.
“With the old Infirmary site, that has always been a short-term situation, that once there was a graded lot following the demolition of the building, in the interim between then and whatever will be the future use of the site, it made sense to put in a parking lot,” he says. “And with the land-swap situation, that’s one that will be short-term. I don’t have a date, but things can start to move pretty quickly.”
Earlier this year, people concerned about the revitalization of Barrington wondered aloud why the province wouldn’t allow retail use of the ground floor of the provincially owned building at Barrington and Prince that used to house the Mary E. Black Gallery.
At the time, the province said it had no interest in acting as a landlord for commercial tenants, or competing with private real-estate developers trying to attract tenants to other Barrington Street locations. Davis says owning land used for commercial parking is somewhat different.
“There’s private parking and there’s public parking and there’s street parking, which is run by HRM or other municipalities, and having parking is something that comes along with running a business or having an office,” he says. “That’s different than having retail space, which is usually run by private interests.”
At the same time, the province is well aware that location is everything and prime real estate is prime real estate, even if it’s currently nothing but a slab of asphalt.
“Having the land on Lower Water across from Summit Place, there’s always the opportunity for government to use that for development in the future, as it is large enough for some kind of building,” he continues. “And the way it works with the province, even if we have a piece of property that is surplus to our needs , we would offer it to another provincial government department before we would try and sell it.”
In the future, there are instances where provincially owned surface parking could disappear rather than spread. The province has shown interest in creating a “legislative precinct” downtown by building new provincial offices attached to One Government Place on Granville.
“We had a session with the HRM in mid-winter where we invited the media and public to see what we envision for this legislative precinct, and those plans do include losing some surface parking in the area and so we would go underground,” says Davis. “At the same time it would provide parking for councillors who are losing the spots at the Grand Parade and for people working at Province House as well.”