Saint John's new tourism advisory committee will have a tough time convincing city council of the need to fund $10 million worth renovations to the trade and convention centre, according to a city councillor.
The tourism advisory committee says the city needs a modern trade and convention centre to compete with facilities in other Maritime cities.
The board is pushing for a $10-million facelift to the centre which is almost 30 years old.
But the need for money is coming at a time when Saint John’s financial problems have been a high-profile issue.
The city has a $193-million pension deficit and it made a series of controversial cuts to city services in its last budget.
Coun. John MacKenzie said the city also needs $170 million for a new water system and it cannot ask the federal and provincial governments for more cash.
MacKenzie said clean water is the top priority for the council
"That's where our focus is," he said.
MacKenzie said one possible way to satisfy the tourism advisory committee is to have a convention centre added to a private sector development of a hotel, residential and office complex at the nearby Coast Guard site.
"You know if we can get the tourism and convention centre included in that project it certainly is going to benefit tourism in Saint John," he said.
The city completed payments on the former Coast Guard site earlier in July. It will announce a multi-million dollar deal to develop it.
Saint John bought the prime waterfront property from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for $2.8 million in 2011.
City's support crucial
Charles Swanton, the chairperson of the Saint John Waterfront Development Board, said there must be a way to get both - an improved water system as well as an improved convention centre.
He said it’s critical for the city to get behind the convention centre facelift.
"If you don't have the city on board it's very difficult to get the province and the feds involved," he said.
Saint John’s former council dropped the need for convention centre improvements further down its list of funding priorities after Saint John MP Rodney Weston recommended the city focus on funding the water system.
Saint John’s efforts to get an updated convention centre come as Moncton is also trying to fund a new downtown centre.
A number of communities across the Maritimes have been focusing on convention centres.
Fredericton's 36,000-square foot convention centre opened in January 2011.
A Halifax developer has plans to go forward with a $500-million project in that city’s downtown, which includes a new convention centre, a hotel and financial tower.
There is an $17-million convention centre being constructed in Charlottetown, though construction had been stalled for months in the winter due to problems with an adjoining sea wall.