Premier: Council wrong to reject project, By Amy Pugsley Fraser, Chronicle Herald, Oct 23,2008
Premier: Council wrong to reject project
By AMY PUGSLEY FRASER City Hall Reporter
Thu. Oct 23 - 5:27 AM
Premier Rodney MacDonald says Halifax regional council was wrong to reject the proposed Waterside Centre office tower at Historic Properties.
"I think it’s the wrong decision," he said Wednesday.
"We need to see more development and more growth in downtown Halifax, we need more class A space, and I think it sends the wrong message to the business community."
On Tuesday, council voted 9-9 on the Armour Group’s Waterside Centre proposal, thereby defeating it.
The project would have unified six old buildings bordered by Upper Water, Duke and Hollis streets, retained their facades and put a six-storey office structure on top of them.
"I’ll be frank. The status quo is not an acceptable proposition," Ben McCrea, head of the Armour Group, said Wednesday through a hacking cough, evidence of the pneumonia that has plagued him for weeks.
Waterside Centre, a proposal that was 2½ years in the making, would have kept a bunch of derelict buildings from being "boarded up or becoming parking lots," he said.
"I don’t unfortunately have any other solution."
Mr. McCrea said the handful of buildings can’t continue to exist with only the first-floor tenants to sustain them. He already has one demolition permit in hand and has applied for another. He declined comment when asked if he would apply to demolish the remaining four buildings.
The head of the downtown Halifax business commission said Mr. McCrea has every right to knock the buildings down.
"That would actually probably be a quicker route to go, than to go through the extra cost and time and expense of an appeal," Paul MacKinnon said.
"So, I don’t know that (council’s) decision did anything other than accelerate the possible demolition of those buildings."
Mayor Peter Kelly said after council on Tuesday that he hoped Mr. McCrea would come back with another proposal and not exercise his right to demolish the buildings.
"If the mayor thinks . . . that I’m going to come back (with another proposal), he’s wrong," Mr. McCrea responded.
"This was the first contract development for an office building in 25 years . . . and if you’re going to let (council’s rejection) happen, then the whole economic viability of downtown is subject to this kind of emotionalism. And that not only affects Halifax but it also affects the province."
Mr. McCrea’s biggest foe on the project was the Heritage Trust, which submitted a 693-name petition and organized a huge presence at the public hearing last month. President Phil Pacey said last week that selling the land could be an option, but the trust would be willing to seek provincial and federal assistance to help keep the buildings.
"Heritage Trust wants the buildings to be preserved as museum pieces without any idea of the cost required to do so," Mr. McCrea said.
Mr. McCrea ruled out a land swap.
"Who would want to take over the mess that’s down there?" he said. "Somebody would surely go in and say, ‘Well, what the hell would we do with this? If McCrea can’t deal with it, what would we do?’ "
The Armour Group probably won’t appeal council’s decision to the Utility and Review Board, Mr. McCrea said.
"We’ve always tried to do things that had a sense of place and brought a sense of pride to the community and the company," he said. "So am I really going to go and appeal this and try to force a development?"