Thursday, October 7, 2010

Please Minister, Tell Me What You Think...

This morning I discussed the proposed new convention centre on CBC's Information Morning with Minister Bill Estabrooks and Interim PC leader Jamie Baillie. Neither Baillie or Estabrooks would comment on the estimated cost of the project. The numbers are public now so why they wanted to avoid numbers is beyond me. 

$159 million construction costs plus yearly costs for a 25 year total of around $325 million. 

The Dexter government has kept the costs of the convention centre private since June.  But we still don't know what government thinks of the project.  Nova Scotians want their elected leaders to give them the information and make their positions clear.

There's been a lot of rhetoric on both sides of the convention centre debate. I don't buy into the claim that the convention centre will suddenly revitalize of downtown Halifax overnight.  But I have spoken to property owners with approved projects who are waiting for approval of a new convention centre before moving ahead. I do believe the convention centre will be a positive addition to downtown and Nova Scotia.

For a short time in 2002 I worked with Destination Halifax. Even then I saw regular conventions choose to go elsewhere because the current centre no longer had the capacity, availability, or infrastructure requirements to handle them. Yesterday the public saw a list of some of those events.

Convention centres have a life span. The current one is past its best before date. Renovating the existing centre would likely still not meet current requirements for ceiling height, space, and sight lines. As important, a renovation may be just as expensive as a new centre. So we have a choice. Even outside of the possibility of attracting new business, keeping much of the existing business requires a new facility. So as a province we stay in the convention centre business or we don't. That's what a new centre is primarily about and the risks and rewards that come with that decision.

Trade Centre Ltd.'s Scott Ferguson said publicly in response to a question from The Coast's Tim Bousquet that he will stand by the projections. I give him credit for that. He's got to know that statement won't go away so there's a lot on his shoulders.

From day one I've read everything that has been sent to me, or I could find, both in favour and against the convention centre project. I continue to do that. I'm comfortable explaining to someone in my own riding of Dartmouth East, or downtown Halifax, or Cape Breton, or anywhere else in Nova Scotia why I think this project makes sense, not just for Halifax, but for Nova Scotia. Though, for me, my reasons are not the over-hyped ones of so many supporters. I know there are people who will disagree with me. That's ok. I respect their opinion just as I hope they will respect mine.