Nova Scotia

The Khyber building is getting a new name to honour its queer history

Halifax's beloved Khyber building is being reimagined as a new community arts space with a new name inspired by one of the city's first gay clubs. 

Society working to restore historic building and rebrand it as The Turret Arts Space

The building on Barrington Street once housed The Turret, a nightclub that was operated by the Gay Alliance for Equality. (CBC)

Halifax's beloved Khyber building is getting a new name inspired by its history as one of the city's first gay clubs.

The society that bought the building from the municipality last year is working to restore the 131-year-old registered heritage property and rebrand it as The Turret Arts Space. 

The name is a nod to The Turret, a nightclub that was operated by the Gay Alliance for Equality at 1588 Barrington Street from the early 1970s until the early 1980s. 

"At the time it was, of course, a very important cornerstone for the queer community, and that's also an important facet of the diversity that we want to have in the new building," Michael Erwin, director of the 1588 Barrington Building Preservation Society, told CBC's Information Morning

Architect David Garrett has developed preliminary plans that would add a fourth storey to building to allow more space to rent out. 

The plan is to rent the first floor at market value to businesses, including a café, while the rest of the building will have subsidized rates for artists and non-profit groups.

While no one has signed a lease just yet, Erwin said there's lots of interest, including from the Khyber Arts Society. It hopes to move back in.

The building has been vacant since 2014 when tenants were forced out due to the presence of asbestos and building code violations.

Group needs to raise $3.5 million

But before renovations can begin, the society first needs to raise $3.5 million. The municipality has already committed $250,000, and Erwin hopes the provincial and federal governments will also pony up some funds. 

"We're probably going to need to raise on our own steam in the neighbourhood of $500,000 to fill the rest of that gap," he said.

The society is hosting its first major fundraising drive at the end of May. It's partnering with Neptune Theatre for a special performance of The Color Purple on May 30. 

"We need to have a substantial portion of the funds and the project initiated within two years," Erwin said. "And at that time, if we don't, then the city has the option to take the building back through a buy-back agreement."

Erwin said he's excited to see the legendary arts space finally come back to life.

"The development that's going on downtown is tremendous ... but it'll also be nice to have something that's not more condos and just another commercial space. It'll be great to have arts back downtown in a heritage building," he said.


With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning