Halifax's downtown isn't dying despite rising vacancy rate, city says

The city's top planning official says Halifax's downtown is not in decline even though there's been a steep increase in the office vacancy rate.

Municipality says it wants to attract more commercial users downtown

Robert Bjerke is HRM's director of planning. He said the city is in no way neglecting the downtown and wants to attract more commercial users. (Twitter)

The city's top planning official says Halifax's downtown is not in decline even though there's been a steep increase in the office vacancy rate. 

"I don't think that we're in a position where the downtown is going to be heading into a steep decline," said Robert Bjerke, director of planning for the Halifax region.  

"We have a very healthy office market downtown, although there is a vacancy rate this is part of a fairly typical trend. You tend to see office renewals happening in a 20, 30-year stretch in markets like Halifax." 

A recent study by real estate consulting firm Turner Drake and Partners Ltd. found 26.3 per cent of Class A office space in the downtown is now vacant. 

Class A is high-end office space, often found at well-maintained or newer buildings in the most expensive and desirable parts of a city.  

Municipality says downtown is healthy 

The president of Turner Drake and Partners Ltd., Mike Turner, said last week that far too much office space is vacant and the rate outlines the success, or failure, of a city as a commercial centre.

Bjerke disagrees. He said the commercial sector downtown is doing well. 

"It would be pretty hard to argue that we don't have office use downtown and we don't have emerging office use downtown," Bjerke told CBC Radio's Information Morning

"I mean we have 300,000 square feet of office use that's going to be coming online very shortly."  

Turner argues the municipality still allows too many office development in business and industrial parks. He said that's causing the commercial sector to bleed away from downtown.

City in conflict of interest?

He said the city is in conflict of interest because it owns land in industrial parks and also runs the planning authority that decides how it will be used.     

Bjerke said he doesn't believe that's the case, noting the city's planning department is separate from its real estate operation and "we don't directly compete with the private market."

The Halifax Regional Municipality is now taking a closer look at how different retail, industrial and commercial industries are distributed across the community. Bjerke said ultimately the municipality wants to attract more commercial office users downtown. 

"Downtown is our hub, that is where we're going to be encouraging the majority of those kinds of developments to happen."