Moncton city council took two big steps towards building a $105-million downtown sports and entertainment centre on Monday night.

Council voted 8-2 in favour of purchasing the 11-acre former Highfield Square property on Main Street for $6 million. Coun. Paul Pellerin and Coun. Brian Hicks voted against it.

The option to buy the land was scheduled to expire on July 3 and council now has to close the deal within 60 days of that date.

The former shopping centre will be demolished and the city hopes to build an event centre on the site.

Jacques Dubé, the city manager, says the property is a great deal as it has already gone up in value since the price was negotiated in the option to purchase the land.

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Moncton city manager Jacques Dubé says two companies have been short-listed to bid on a new downtown sport and entertainment centre. (CBC)

"Our own appraisal shows that property is worth $10 million," Dubé said.

"The sale price was negotiated at $6 million so we're buying a piece of property that the market now establishes at $10 million worth of value."

In addition to the $6 million purchase price, Dubé says the city will have to spend between $2.5 million and $6 million to demolish the former mall and clean up any hazardous waste on the site, including hydrocarbons and asbestos.

Council shortlists 2 developers

Moncton council also agreed on Monday to begin negotiations with two national firms which have expressed interest in building the downtown event centre.

Bird Construction Inc., Ellis Don Corporation and L'Aréna des Canadiens Inc. had all expressed interest in bidding for the project, but Dubé said only two have qualified to move forward to the request for proposals stage.

'These kinds of projects are not for the faint of heart, you need deep pockets, and you need to be bondable, this is a hundred million dollar project.' —Jacques Dubé, Moncton City Manager

Bird Construction built the Thunderbird Sports Centre for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Ellis Don is known for Toronto's Rogers Centre and L'Aréna des Canadiens built the Bell Centre which is home to the Montreal Canadiens.

In his report to councillors, Dubé said L'Aréna des Canadiens Inc. was "non-compliant" while Ellis Don Corporation received a final score of 71.5 per cent and Bird Construction a score of 80.17 per cent.

The companies were evaluated on experience, understanding of the project and methodology, which included experience working with a public authority.

"These kinds of projects are not for the faint of heart, you need deep pockets, and you need to be bondable, this is a $100-million project."

Dubé said he expects it will take 18 months to determine which of the two companies will get the contract to build the downtown event centre, should council decide to move ahead with the project.

"You need to be a very big player. In Canada there are no more than half a dozen at best companies who actually could respond to this in the first place."

In his report, Dubé says asking Bird Construction Inc. and Ellis Don Corporation to move forward with the request for proposals is a strong signal that the city is "very serious" about the downtown project.

He said the developers are being asked to invest a significant amount of time, people and financial resources to respond and by moving forward, the city is genuine in its intention to build a downtown event and entertainment centre.