Construction starts on $25m Waterside Centre in downtown Halifax, Chronicle Herald, Remo Zaccagna, February 23, 2012
Construction starts on $25m Waterside Centre in downtown HalifaxFebruary 23, 2012 -8:19pm By REMO ZACCAGNA Business Reporter
The Armour Group Ltd. said Thursday that construction has begun on its $25-million, nine-storey Waterside Centre project at the corner of Duke and Hollis streets.
Work on preserving the facades of six historical buildings, bounded by Duke, Hollis and Lower Water streets, is being done concurrently with the tower construction.
“Work that’s taking place right now has been to reinforce heritage buildings and ensure their structural integrity, as it is our intention to keep all of the heritage buildings,” Armour chief executive officer Scott McCrea said in a phone interview.
Plans include incorporating the original three and four-storey heritage buildings at its base, and adding a contemporary glass tower and basement parking facility. The building will also include day-lighting technology, high-efficiency air handling and heat recovery ventilation systems that will provide an extremely low-cost operating environment.
That means that sidewalks surrounding the site, which has looked like a bombed-out shell for several years, will be closed during work.
“In order to preserve and maintain the heritage buildings, we need to brace them for an indeterminate period of time and that has resulted in the closure of those sidewalks for a time, as I have mentioned, that is currently uncertain,” McCrea said.
The plan for Waterside Centre was initially rejected by the regional council in a tie vote in October 2008, but upon appeal from Armour Group, the provincial Utility and Review Board overturned regional council’s decision.
It will be the city’s first new class A rentable office and retail space in the downtown core since Purdy’s Wharf almost 20 years ago.
“We’re excited, not just as a company, but what we think it means for the city.”
While preserving the buildings poses certain challenges to the build, both in terms of time and money, McCrea said completion is slated for the fall of 2013.
“We are confident on a November 2013 opening, but there are lots of variables with construction and obviously weather, but it is our hope that we may be able to welcome tenants even earlier.”
And while firms have shown interest in occupying that space, McCrea said his company have no “firm commitments from any tenants” for the building at this time.
“The building is being built on a speculative basis. We are actively discussing the building with any tenant we can talk to.”
The Downtown Halifax Business Commission welcomed the news that work has begun.
“It adds a whole different kind of excitement to downtown,” said executive director Paul MacKinnon.
“I mean, if you walk by a vacant lot, it can be a bit depressing. But if you go by a lot where there’s stuff happening, (it) speaks to the fact that it’s a vibrant city and things are on the move.”
MacKinnon said he hopes Waterside Centre will be a catalyst for further downtown development.
“Oftentimes, developers are waiting to see what other developers are doing. And though they’re in competition, obviously, to a certain degree, a lot of times people are waiting for the next person to go.
“The other thing that we hope it will show is that the downtown is still viable. We need to bring back more office space to the downtown core. We’ve been losing our office market share over the last couple of decades.”
While the arrival of Waterside Centre is “great news for the developer and it’s a good indication of confidence in the downtown,” Greg Taylor, managing director of Colliers International in Halifax, said it alone will not mean more office development downtownin favour of the suburbs.
According to Colliers International, the downtown office vacancy rate was 11.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, up from 8.1 per cent, a direct result of Emera Inc. moving from Barrington Tower to its own facility on Lower Water Street.
The suburban office vacancy rate, meanwhile, was at 10.4 per cent.
A similar report by CB Richard Ellis Ltd. showed that the suburban office vacancy rate in the fourth quarter was below the national average, at 7.4 per cent, while the downtown rate stood at 9.9 per cent.
“It’s next to impossible to get a project approved downtown. You buy a piece of land in Burnside and you basically go ahead and do your job and build the building,” Taylor said.
“I think Waterside Centre, it’s been on the books for a while, it’s a good development from an experienced developer who has had, I think, probably a difficult time getting the project approved. I think that if you’re not an experienced developer, doing a project in downtown Halifax could be a daunting task.”