Nova Scotia

Convention Centre not a done deal, says developer

Developer Joe Ramia said a proposed downtown convention centre is not a done deal, despite an announcement Monday of a federal contribution of $51.4 million towards the project.

Developer Joe Ramia said a proposed downtown convention centre is not a done deal, despite an announcement Monday of a federal contribution of $51.4 million towards the project.

"This is a good day and this is a positive news and we will do everything in our power to do a development everyone will be proud of," Ramia told CBC News.

Ramia, head of Rank Inc., was not at Monday's announcement.

The CEO of Trade Centre, Scott Ferguson, said the new convention centre will open later than expected: it was orginally slated to open by the end of 2014.

Rank Inc. now needs to see if potential tenants for the office tower and retail space that will be connected to the convention centre are willing to wait for an early 2016 opening.

Ramia said Monday it will be another two months before he can confirm if he will build it, because the convention centre is dependant on a  larger project that includes an 18-storey financial services centre.

"We're doing the convention centre at cost. So our money is being made at the financial centre, so they are going to dictate whether this moves forward or not," said Ramia.

The federal investment is about $4 million higher than what was originally expected. Developer Rank Inc. said the convention centre would cost $159 million, but that price was only guaranteed until mid-April.

He said the price of the convention centre has gone up as part of the overall $51.4-million development, but at this point, he can't say how much more the convention centre price tag will be. It does explain why the federal government was asked to kick in $4 million more than originally asked.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Nova Scotia's lone federal cabinet minister, made the announcement Monday, ending months of speculation.

"We're in," he said at a crowded breakfast meeting hosted by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

Both the provincial and municipal governments have agreed to spend $56 million each.

Premier Darrell Dexter said the project means about 1,700 person years of employment and $9.5 million in provincial tax revenue.

"This convention centre will mean new jobs during construction and operation, and it will put this province on the map as a premiere destination for conventions and other tourism activities," he said in a statement.

The convention centre proposal is controversial. Some opponents say the building will obstruct the view from Citadel Hill, while others argue there is simply no business reason to support it.

"In giving this project the green light, the feds have ensured taxpayers will be on the hook for a heavy initial outlay as well as millions more in future operating loses," Kevin Lacey, regional spokesman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said in a statement.

"What we'd rather see is the private sector, if they want this stuff, they should invest in it," said Lacey. "The average taxpayer would see very little benefit as a result of this project, yet they're being expected to shoulder most of the burden."