Nova Scotia

Financial impact of Nova Centre worries former councillor

The municipality had to take $3.6 million from reserves to cover its share of the 2019 taxes for the convention centre, even though attendance was better than expected.

The municipality has to come up with $3.6M for its share of 2019 taxes for Halifax Convention Centre

The municipality had to take $3.6 million from reserves to cover its share of the 2019 taxes for the Halifax Convention Centre. (Jonathan Villeneuve/Radio-Canada)

A former Halifax-area councillor is worried about the financial impact the Nova Centre could have on taxpayers.

The municipality had to take $3.6 million from reserves to cover its share of the 2019 taxes for the convention centre, even though attendance was better than expected.

But it's not the convention centre that causing concern ⁠— it's the lack of leasing in the rest of the one-million-square-foot mixed-use development.

"It's a great space, but I'm concerned as a taxpayer," said Gloria McCluskey, who served as a councillor in Dartmouth for more than two decades.

Hotel not yet open

The new convention centre, which is part of the larger Nova Centre complex and operated by Events East, had 160 events and 100,000 delegates in its first year of operation.

But Halifax's finances are relying on the success of the Nova Centre as a whole, regardless of how well the convention facility does, according to a city manager of financial reporting.

"The process is designed so that what we collect on the whole property should cover the cost of the taxes and any of the deficits," said Louis de Montbrun, who made a presentation to the municipality's audit committee last week.

The Nova Centre announced in March 2018 that a Sutton Place Hotel would be ready in the spring of 2019, but it has not yet opened. 

McCluskey has served as director of assessments for the City of Halifax and also owned her own assessment business before getting into municipal politics.

She said the value of the property will be determined by the occupancy as of Dec. 1, and so if the hotel is not operating by that date, Halifax could face another shortfall.

Gloria McCluskey says she's concerned about the lack of leasing in the Nova Centre. (CBC)

"On December the first whatever is there [in the Nova Centre] in commercial or hotel is what is reflected on the assessment roll for next year and that's what we get taxes on," she said.

"There will be no reason to increase if the hotel is not in operation and the commercial areas aren't rented."

There has also been concern that only one event was booked for the convention centre this July and none have been booked in August. 

But the executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission said summer is traditionally slower for convention business.

"My understanding is that this is fairly normal," said Paul MacKinnon. "It's really more intense in the spring and fall."

Events East, which operates the Nova Centre, says there are more than 60 events planned for the fall of 2019 and already five conventions booked for the summer of 2020. (CBC)

A spokesperson for Events East agreed with MacKinnon.

"On average we might see four to five events [in the summer]. It does ebb and flow, year to year," said Erin Esiyok-Prime, director of marketing and communications for Events East.

Esiyok-Prime points out there are more than 60 events planned for the fall of 2019 and already five conventions booked for the summer of 2020.

"This year is looking very similar to last year, in terms of the number of events and attendees," she said.

About the Author

Pam Berman

Reporter

Pam Berman is CBC Nova Scotia's municipal affairs reporter. She's been a journalist for almost 35 years and has covered Halifax regional council since 1997. That includes four municipal elections, 19 budgets and countless meetings. Story ideas can be sent to pam.berman@cbc.ca

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