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Why the convention centre sucks, part 1

The missing alternatives: Is this the best possible use of the public's millions?


Is building the convention centre proposed for downtown Halifax the right thing to do? “It’s a no-brainer,” mayor Peter Kelly told us, months before even one concrete number was placed before us. And now that some numbers have been made public, the official interpretation of these numbers is that the convention centre will prove to be of immense benefit, and there is something of an echo chamber of officials falling over themselves in praise for the proposal.

“This is the right decision,” says Infrastructure minister Bill Estabrooks. The convention centre is “an exciting opportunity for Nova Scotia,” says premier Darrell Dexter in an email to NDP members. “The business case for the tax (revenue) alone shows that it’s a good deal,” Halifax councillor Steve Streatch tells the Chronicle-Herald. "From what I’ve seen so far, this is a no-brainer,” says councillor Linda Mosher, echoing Kelly.

Still, while lots and lots of numbers are used to justify the foregone conclusion that the convention centre is a good idea, no critical analysis of those numbers has been undertaken. But even a cursory examination of the information put forward and the statements made by convention centre supporters shows that they contain a great many debatable assumptions, disputable claims, incorrect understandings of the numbers and, frankly, untruths---for example, the oft repeated claim that “12,000 new jobs will be created” is simply a baldfaced lie; it is unsupported by the documents convention centre supporters themselves use to make it.

I'm not against sensible development, and we definitely need a broad strategy for downtown development in particular. HRM By Design, the set of planning rules for downtown, isn't perfect, but it's a good attempt at striking a reasonable balance in the sometimes competing interests of development, high design standards, heritage protection (and perhaps more important, heritage promotion), attractive streetscapes, green space and the like. If we can strike the right chord, all of these interests should actually complement each other, leading to more, and more sensible, development. That's a good thing.

But here comes this convention centre proposal---the largest single development proposal in the history of downtown Halifax. If built, it will quite literally determine the success or failure of downtown for the next century, so as a journalist it's my job to critically examine every aspect of the proposal. And my opinion is that it fails the sensible standards we should be setting for downtown development. In fact, there are so many problems with the pro-convention centre argument that it’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ve decided to break up the analysis of those arguments into several posts. Over the next few days, I’ll take a look at the jobs argument, the tax argument and the economic impact argument, among others, separately. Today, though, I wonder about the options we haven't heard about.

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