Nova Scotia

Why some business owners aren't celebrating Nova Centre's 1st birthday

The mammoth glass building on Argyle Street in Halifax has been open for one year, and as of March will have hosted 140 events and just over 90,000 delegates.

Centre has hosted 140 events and 90,000 delegates since last January, but what has that meant for local shops?

The Nova Centre on Argyle Street is celebrating its first year open. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Halifax Convention Centre is marking a milestone this month but not everyone is celebrating.

The mammoth glass building on Argyle Street has been open for one year, and as of March will have hosted 140 events and just over 90,000 delegates, according to Suzanne Fougere, executive vice-president of Events East.

"Because of those events we'll be generating approximately $60 million in new money to the Nova Scotia economy by year end," she told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Monday.

But Philip Holmans, who owns World Tea House on Argyle Street, said the promise that businesses would benefit from increased traffic isn't panning out.

Some business owners on Argyle Street say they're not noticing an increase in sales even though the convention centre is hosting events. (Robert Short/CBC)

When the Nova Centre opened last January, it was years behind schedule. Many downtown business owners spoke out about construction noise and dust and lack of parking, which they say drove customers away and hurt their bank accounts.

While Holmans said his business has been able to climb out of the hole it was in, he hasn't noticed a significant increase. 

"We experienced zero business growth for five years so we actually lost our second store in Bedford as a result, so I don't think it's been worth it for me financially," he said. 

'Feels like a vacant space'

Wendy Friedman, who owns Biscuit General Store, said the municipality's project to beautify the street post-construction meant much of the area was torn up during the busy spring and summer season. 

While she's benefited from a boost in sales during large conferences, Friedman said they don't happen often enough and she wonders why so much of the building is still unused.

"It was supposed to have restaurants. It was supposed to have shops, you know, that just isn't happening," she said.

"It pretty much feels like a vacant space."

Many parts of the convention centre are still under construction. (Robert Short/CBC)

Fougere insists not all business owners feel that way, pointing to a restaurant owner she said has seen a 10 per cent boost in the Nova Centre's first year. 

"We've also made a lot of effort to create programs and activities that will ensure the benefit spills far outside just the walls of our facility," she said.

"And we're constantly paying attention to that and working with those critical partners to make sure that when folks are here, that they're not only enjoying their time with us, but that they're really getting the opportunity to explore the downtown and Nova Scotia overall."

Fougere said the centre is on track to host around 130 events in 2019, with 85 already confirmed.

Despite many years of feeling like his business was hanging on by a thread, Holmans said he's happy he didn't leave downtown when so many others did.

The Halifax Convention Centre hosted 140 events and just over 90,000 delegates in its first year. (Robert Short/CBC)

"I'm a firm believer that the downtown core is really revitalizing right now. It's going through a growth phase," he said.

Plus, he said, there's a silver lining. Thanks to the insistence of downtown business owners like him, the municipality created a policy that requires developers to mitigate impact to nearby businesses.

The new set of rules for contractors was approved by council in 2016. 

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning