Conventional Wisdom?

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  • A wonderful job. Super helpful ifnomrtaoin.

    Honey | July 9, 2011 | Reply

  • I’d like to pick up on Jonathan Hall’s comments from the “We Need More Nova Scotians” discussion page. He notes, “Halifax has ignored intelligent urban planning theories and created a mess of a city resulting in a particularly problematic and disturbing arrangement of commercial and residential areas”, and I for one think he is quite accurate in this assessment.

    While I do wish whatever project that ultimately proceeds success and recognize we do need building in our downtown core, I believe we are ignoring good urban planning with the proposed project, even though we’ve already figured it out! We are ignoring what makes great cities interesting and ‘happening’ places and more importantly ignoring what makes Halifax interesting and happening.

    HRM by design, while clearly not in the business of urban planning has set out guidelines and parameters for buildings and Heritage folks were involved. Now, we go against them with the largest development ever proposed in downtown in an area of small buildings. This development will not substantively help to improve our downtown, in my opinion.

    We need sensible, considered urban development. Projects that include community engagement like the public library. Lets do more of them. Let builders build reasonable sized buildings like Armour Group is proposing, spread the risks and rewards. Putting significant public money into a large project we don’t know much about just isn’t going to help in making downtown more interesting, more liveable or more lively. Why? It doesn’t work that way. Dr. Sanders told us that this week and no one seemed to listen to him. He’s a little academic, but, he clearly knows what he is talking about.

    I believe that many people don’t like this development and as a result, they won’t go downtown as much. Ramia says, “the people from New York and London I talked to like this building” and, about how NYC revitalized 42nd Street. People are buying this too. What does the development of 42nd street have to do with Halifax? Nothing. Seriously.

    That’s why Dr. Sanders who was here this week talked about building a downtown that people from here want to visit. From what I see, most of the people in the Save the View, EAC, Sierra Club and other organizations camps live downtown. And many of the people promoting this project don’t. They don’t have to live on the peninsula and probably never will.

    So, in my opinion, this project won’t help get more people downtown in any substantive way. More people and businesses are moving to the North End and this trend will likely continue for some time – ISL and Assante Capital are two recent examples. The North End is a good example of an area to work and live. This project will help to force the lifeblood of our growth economy – small businesses out of downtown. These are the businesses, which will grow our economy and employ immigrants. Small, local businesses we need to encourage.

    Had we put a convention centre on public land on the harbourfront thus requiring Ramia to build a building that suites that area of Halifax (HRM by Design dictates 5-7 floors if there is no public component), companies like these would likely move back downtown. Not to mention, financial firms from Bermuda and firms from London and New York would ‘get it’ that we are building to suit the size and scope of our economy – not trying to be like them.

    As with most generations of Nova Scotian’s, our politicians and various proponents have gotten nervous about a stalled economy and rather than working away at sensible projects, freak out and say, “the sky is falling, if we don’t do this exactly as proposed now, Halifax and Nova Scotia will die”. Watch The Simpson’s episode on Tim Bosquete’s post, its very funny.

    I think part of the point here is that we just don’t recognize who we are here. I’ve been to NYC five times this year. Halifax is so small. Tiny really. We should celebrate and be proud of that – shake that vibe. Its working in the North End. The North End gets it. But, decision makers regarding downtown who live in Dartmouth, Bedford, Armdale and Eastern Shore don’t. They somehow view our tiny downtown as a major urban and growth centre, which it never will be. We’ve forgotten that small business and sensible growth have been our hallmarks. We’ve forgotten about the ocean and the wealth it has and continues to bring to Halifax through our industries and our Navy and, forgotten about our vast amounts of unused land resources. These are the things that have made us wealthy and continue to bring wealth into our economy.

    Bryan Burns | November 11, 2010 | Reply

  • Why is it that our government through NSCC is visionary enough to make our community college, which really could be anywhere a landmark, green engineered, eye-catching, value add, waterfront building and campus, while the WTCC and other groups propose to bury our visitor and convention centre deep underground?

    The Power of Green conference notes the design of the community college building and its benefit to the community…two of Nova Scotia’s most impressive Green projects…what it means to be environmentally sustainable in today’s economy. These buildings capture in stone, steel and glass some of the best examples of today’s Green engineering, and do it in a way that’s eye-catching and adds great value not only to the owners and occupants, but to the city, as well. Join us on a tour of the NSCC Waterfront Campus…

    Bryan Burns | November 3, 2010 | Reply

  • While I agree that the financing of the government’s contribution to the convention centre could be done cheaper through the government’s access to capital, one needs to remember than in the call for proposals for a new convention centre there was a requirement to provide an option for the government to own the convention centre component of the development. The NDP government clearly chose not to pursue this option although it was available.

    Don Mills | November 1, 2010 | Reply

  • Bill,

    I agree, it is absurd, for us to be paying the mortgage on the place, or a very sizeable proportion of it, on behalf of the developer and then have nothing at the end leaving him with the benefit of all the principle. And I suppose the developer will have a premium over the years to compensate for its risk and provide a return on its own capital. Should that not be enough without repaying the principle too?

    And, I agree, it would not take a lot of legal immagination to structure the deal so we the tax payer do have an asset at the end.

    Are the draft contracts with the developer, the mortgages, the leases, etc. to be public documents prior to the conclusion of agreements? The devil will, no doubt, be in the details.

    I doubt the developer has any intention of staying with the property for 25 years. So, one should be aware too that once the buildings are complete and the cash flow established, will probably sell it to a pension fund, a life company or some such who can envision OWNING the whole shooting match. The developer may then walk with a significant more or less immediate profit making an immediate fool of the tax payer who made it all possible!

    Walter Thompson

    walter thompspn | October 31, 2010 | Reply

  • Why does new Convention Centre have to blot out view from one of Canada’s top tourism attractions ? Is the draw of the Citidal less important financially to the City than the office Towers ? They can be located else where.
    Are conventions attracted primarily by atmosphere of host cities, or size of convention buildings ?
    Our heritage is a major and unreplacible economic factor.

    Peter McCurdy | October 29, 2010 | Reply

  • Bill’s comments express quite succinctly the appalling lack of answers from Estabrooks on the proposed CC. Indeed silence from Provincial politicians on this issue has been the norm for the 2 weeks since their announcement.

    With respect to the interest rate and lease issue, there is little to recommend a lease at any interest rate over and above the Provincial rate. We should borrow the money in the traditional wayBUT we should also get credit for the residual value of the facility. The only reason I can possibly see to do it any other way is to keep it off the books and Estabrooks commited to it being on the books

    Lastly, Bill has identified exactly what the public needs from both the City and the Province in his last paragraph. Instead what we have is a seriously confused public and politicians who are refusing to answer reasonable questions

    Ian Crowe | October 28, 2010 | Reply

  • Bill, I agree with your analysis and would be interested in our Politicians’ response. In addition to your comments I am concerned about the design and location of the centre.

    Keith Coles | October 28, 2010 | Reply

  • Bill, if the Province is the renter then it is not likely they shd seek ownership.If the Province is a proxy for the developer/owner on the convention centre aspect it may be hard to break that out for ownership but the Province shd particpate in the profit from any sale of any equity interest.(this may mean capital in if major maintenance occurs down the road).I think the Province shd get something for essentially being the investor in the project beyond interest.A creative vehicle is needed.
    Even if interest is higher i would not want the borrowing on the Province’s books.I think it is a bad precedent and uses up unnecessarily borrowing capacity).
    The games of justification are always less than clear in public/private arrangements.I would think taxes paid by occupants of space is ok as revenue against cost.The rest of revenue streams would likely be irrelevant in this decision.

    Tom Stanfield | October 27, 2010 | Reply

  • The simple balance sheet you refer to is available, but nobody seems to be interested. I emailed an early version to each HRM councillor before the province made its ‘offer’ to HRM. It shows a total annual cost of $15.4 million, split 50:50. HRM’s share is $7.7 million a year, or $193 million over 25 years. The province’s share is also $7.7 million a year, but there are tax revenues of roughly $2.7 million a year, so the net cost is only $5 million each year, or $125 million over 25 years.
    It’s a lot of money, isn’t it? And it will come either from decreased programs or increased taxes. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
    For those of us living and paying taxes in HRM, we get to pay twice.
    By the way, it’s not appropriate to say that HRM’s investment would be balanced by increased property taxes. HRM will collect property taxes from whatever is built on the site, without any need for any subsidy by HRM. All the economic benefits from a new convention centre would be reflected in provincial taxes from any increased delegate activity. It doesn’t make any sense for the province to ask HRM to participate at all.

    Allan Robertson | October 27, 2010 | Reply

  • Excellent piece, Bill, riddled with common sense and shot through with deep insight. Keep it up.

    Anonymous | October 27, 2010 | Reply

  • Thanks for simplifying this issue..well done!

    Allan Rodger | October 27, 2010 | Reply

  • Conventional wisdom is always wrong… haven’t you ever been to a convention?

    Jeff | October 27, 2010 | Reply

  • The process to date first and foremost lacks a meaningful public consultation process and neglects urban planning and best practices. The proposed location seems to have been hand picked by a small group of people without considering other options including publicly owned land on the waterfront. This seems to be the major flaw and probably the biggest cause of problems for the proponents. There are other major concerns I have, but, I think that a consultation process is the first meaningful step to straightening this out.

    Ottawa was at the same point in their process to create a new convention centre as we are now in 2006. They cancelled their plans and went back to the drawing board. They have moved forward quite quickly with a fabulous example of a conference center that highlights the city’s strengths and provides a forum for inspiring guests and residents alike.

    Bryan Burns | October 27, 2010 | Reply

  • when has the Government ever made a good decision for tax payers?? And why are they getting into the business of running Trade Centres. They can’t run Nova Scotia! Spending taxpayers dollars with out any input from taxpayers doesn’t seem very democratic at all. As well their condition to make HRM take over the OLD Trade centre is again going to end up costing us money. So not only will we be pay provincially we’ll be paying here in HRM. THIS IS Not a very good deal at all. Way to Go Darrell

    Patrick D. | October 26, 2010 | Reply

  • My feeling at this time is if it is such a good project why wouldn’t the developer want it all to himself and thus finance himself. As to the convention part give the developer a 200m tax holiday based on the 3 levels. Once that has been used it is taxed like any other project. No cash outlay subsidized for 10 or 20 years but after that full taxation.

    Brian Knight | October 26, 2010 | Reply

  • The first question goes back to management , and you ask why did the City never plan or buy land based on their needs, rather than being “kidnapped ” by a Developer? Peter Kelly was asked on CBC radio on Monday why the City didn’t try to have the Library and the Convention center combined.He replied saying they didn’t know both would happen at the same time, that the Library is farther advanced, etc. Now, how many years has both of these projects been on the “agenda”? . We had land for the Citadel School, the Farmers Market, NS Power had their site ,the Wanders grounds is sitting there,what else has been sitting there in the past 20 years that was missed. Of course, Shannon Park is on the wrong side of the harbour eh; the hotels wouldn’t like that would they. Now, we see that the City is really not managing this thing at all. They are not “leading”. The Developer moved first, the Province moved next and the City doesn’t even seem to know what it needs, what it can afford, and doesn’t seem to realize they forgot that we all expect competition on such projects, what’s it called an open and transparent process, or Call for Proposals. And by the way, before you would have called for proposals you would have needed a statement of your “requirements” and you would have done your home work as to what you can afford and where the money is coming from!! We should find out the schedule and process they used to bring that nice new Ottawa Convention center ,just about finished, on stream. I have yet to see any “numbers” in any detail that shows there is definitely a demand . How is the present convention center performing financially and how much of it’s revenue is events for out-of-province vendors? We’re not here to subsidize a developer nor the out-of province hotel chains !! There is far too much generalization here; if we had one choice financially, a library or a convention center, which one is the best financial deal ?? land included.

    PS | October 26, 2010 | Reply

  • The associated elements should absolutely not be part of the case for public support of the convention centre as the developer has stated that he will build them regardless of whether the CC goes ahead.

    The fact is that the developer is asking for $159 milllion for a convention centre and offering an upgraded basement.

    Matthew Jarsky | October 26, 2010 | Reply

  • It is perhaps worth emphasizing that the first two points would make the project more attractive for both taxpayers and the developer. Reducing the interest cost will improve the economic case and making the province the owner reduces uncertainty at the end of 25 years.


    Bill | October 26, 2010 | Reply

  • Excellent questions….which should have been answered properly a long time ago

    Allan Rodger | October 26, 2010 | Reply

  • Bill,

    I agree with your comments. I also note that all renderings we see of the new convention center are showing the entire complex, and the center represents 2 levels only, and below ground. This is far from inspiring to convention organizers when you look at Ottawa’s new facility.


    Glen Rankin | October 26, 2010 | Reply

  • The Atlantica Party disagrees with the other three parties that government investment in the proposed Halifax Convention Centre is appropriate.

    There are good arguments on both sides but to be honest the outlook is unclear. The pro-side claims that a large convention centre will spark additional nebulous development but the only yardstick seems to be how much additional taxes the government can get; the problem with that reasoning is the spending of massive tax amounts over the term of the project. Harold Epstein leads the no-side claiming the investment risk is too high. Big government projects downtown; the Metro Centre, Scotia Square and the existing Convention Centre do not inspire a lot of confidence. On the other hand people who are not stupid, the Premier, Roger Taylor of the Herald and PC Leader Jaime Baillie, have said it is a ‘good investment’ and expect net positive economic impact.

    The fact is we do not know. The Atlantica Party would like to suggest a different assessment of the project. What is private industry’s reading on this project? Private industry is the best gauge of the investment versus risk of any project. While government has a hazy political view, private industry just like the individual is best equipped to make investment decisions. Rank Inc. is investing in this project. Good. But is the additional ‘tacked on’ convention centre project a sound investment? If it was then Rank would be doing the whole project. But they are not which indicates a bad investment-risk assessment. The other possibility, given the eagerness of provincial governments to interference in the economy, is that Rank simply saw an opportunity to put their hand out for a project they would have done anyway and government is responding for political reasons. Either case then speaks against this project.

    Jonathan Dean | October 26, 2010 | Reply