Highfield Square's demise sparks development questions

Highfield Square's pending closure is causing many people in Moncton to question whether a new downtown multi-purpose centre could be built in the area.

The looming closure of Highfield Square in Moncton is making the city’s push for a downtown sports and entertainment centre more essential than ever, according to a city official.

There has been growing speculation about what would replace the Highfield Square shopping centre after the facility’s managers announced last week that it would be closing in the fall.

Many in the area believe the downtown property would be ideal for a new sports and entertainment centre that has been actively discussed in the city in recent years.

Kevin Silliker, a business development officer with the city, said Moncton has not chosen a location yet for the centre.

Silliker said several private businesses from across Canada have called or visited the city to discuss the development project.

"We do know the private sector is watching the project closely. They're interested in our activity," Silliker said.

"So at this point, we're basically having dialogue, exchanging information, exchanging ideas, but we have no announcements to make with regards to a private sector partnership at this time."

Silliker said the project would cost about $100 million and would require public funding.

The proposed project was dealt a serious setback in December when P3 Canada, the federal Crown corporation responsible for managing these types of projects, rejected $25-million in federal funding.

The proposed centre would replace the aging Moncton Coliseum.

The city has said in the past that a new centre would help attract bigger entertainment acts during winter months. The coliseum's seating capacity is 7,200.

There have been discussions about building a 9,000-seat Olympic-sized hockey rink.

There have been other complaints that major concerts must bypass the city because the coliseum's roof is too low.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Moncton Wildcats, the existing facility's main tenant, have complained about getting access to the coliseum, especially during the league’s playoffs.

Moncton had spent approximately $100,000 on its application and devoted more than 3,000 hours of senior staff and council time to the process.

The city has argued that it needs the downtown centre to keep growing the local economy.

"We need to make an investment of this size in our downtown to continue to stimulate growth. As well, the coliseum is an aging facility. And Moncton has made its name on  sports and entertainment and we're missing out on acts, performances, that are no longer able to operate in the coliseum," Silliker said.

"So for Moncton to continue to move its brand forward in the competitive sector of sports and entertainment in Atlantic Canada, we need this new facility."