Khyber building sale to be discussed by Halifax council

After years of moving towards an uncertain future, on Tuesday Halifax Council will discuss the sale of the Khyber — be it for a buck or full real estate market price.

1588 Barrington St. was closed in 2014 due to asbestos, but community advocates want it saved for arts hub

Halifax Regional Municipality staff have said it will cost $4.6 million to fix the Khyber, but original estimates were much lower. (CBC)

After years of moving towards an uncertain future, on Tuesday Halifax Council will discuss the sale of the Khyber — be it for a buck or full real estate market price.

A staff report published Feb. 10 recommends the building, located at 1588 Barrington St., be declared surplus and sold off. Who to, how and for how much will be discussed next week. 

There are two main options facing council: they can sell it to a community group for as low as $1 or they can sell the building at market value.

If the building is sold for $10,000 less than market value, council will hold a public hearing. 

An appraisal of the property must first take place, but based on last year's estimates, the staff report says the city would lose about $1.5 million if it's sold at $1.

'Opportunity' for an 'arts incubator'

It's still a win-win, says Waye Mason, regional councillor for Halifax-South-Downtown.

"What I'm seeing is an opportunity to get the arts incubator and the city doesn't have to actually have to renovate the building for $4 million of its own money," he said Saturday. 

"This gets us what the city has said repeatedly what it wants — and it means someone else is going to carry most of the can." 

There's also queue of "first come, first serve" assessments being considered for sale to community groups, such as the old Cherry Brook community centre, he said. It could be 18 to 24 months before work on the Khyber gets underway, depending on Tuesday's decision.

Until then, it will cost the city about $35,000 annually to maintain the Khyber building.

What an updated Khyber would look like if it were to be come an arts hub. This is a rendering by David F. Garrett Architects. (Friends of the Khyber)

Past, present and future

The Khyber was closed in 2014 because of asbestos and failing to sustain certain building codes. Despite that, community members rallied to convert the 128-year-old building to an arts hub.

The ball got rolling in August 2014. Community representatives, arts advocates architectural and real estate consultants began to discuss the future of the building with city staff.

The 1588 Barrington Street Building Preservation Society submitted last year a proposal for funding, commitments for renovation and a request for tax-exempt status under the city's Tax Relief program. 

Since then, the society arts has shared its hub plans, which could cost about $3 million. It says that bill could be covered through fundraising, corporate sponsorship and the public sector. Ongoing costs would be covered by the rental of office space.

'Just causing us money to heat'

The society proposes to convert half the Khyber building for commercial use, which it says would guarantee the city some tax revenue. 

"Instead of it being like it is now, where it's just costing us money to heat it...we get the arts centre, we have someone else administering it and doing the fundraising — and we start seeing tax revenue flowing back into the city from it," Mason said. 

The Khyber was built in 1888 by the Church of England Institute. Over the years, it has been used for a wide variety of purposes, including as one of Canada's first gay nightclubs, the Turret. 

On average, one or two buildings a year are considered for community sale, Mason said. 


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