Nova Scotia

Businesses expect positive impact from new community college in downtown Sydney

As work progresses on the new Marconi Campus in downtown Sydney, local businesses see a brighter future for the area.

'I think the sky's the limit at this point'

Work continues at the new NSCC Marconi Campus in downtown Sydney. The project is expected to be completed in 2024. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

With work progressing at the new NSCC Marconi campus in downtown Sydney, excitement is building with local businesses.

Many see the potential for a thriving district that has not been experienced in a generation.

In 2019, the province announced a new waterfront location for the community college. 

The new facility, scheduled to open in the fall of 2024, is being built to accommodate 1,400 students and 170 staff.

Businesses that once turned up their nose at the opportunity for a prime downtown location are now embracing the anticipated influx of pedestrian traffic. 

"Within the first year of the announcement being made that it was going downtown, there were 20 properties sold," said Jenna Lahey, CEO of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce. "And that's huge."

Jenna Lahey is CEO of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce. She expects a major cultural shift in the downtown core as a result of the Marconi Campus. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

She said there have been bidding wars on retail spaces that have been put up for sale, and properties that previously were of little interest to developers are now being pursued.

Lahey said the increase in international students has added a flair to downtown businesses and restaurants that was sorely missed. She anticipates that those establishments will thrive with the influx of students when the Marconi Campus opens.

"Having a younger and more diverse population in the downtown core is going to shape the types of services and shops and restaurants that we're going to see," she said. "So it's really exciting to see what's going to happen. I think the sky's the limit at this point."

Breton Brewing, which opened in 2015, has purchased a retail space in the downtown core. Co-founder Bryan MacDonald says the influx of students and staff from NSCC will help the business thrive. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

Breton Brewing opened a location in an industrial park located outside Sydney River in 2015.

When co-founder Bryan MacDonald and his business partner were looking for locations, the downtown area was considered. But it was not seen as desirable.

They are now opening a second location and see the growth of the Charlotte Street area as a boost to business.

"We've certainly seen a lot of successful businesses opening in the downtown core," he said. "And with the news of NSCC coming to downtown, we all feel it's going to [have] a positive impact on the local business community." 

The brewery will open in a prime downtown location that has access to both Charlotte Street and the waterfront.

MacDonald said the current location has 25 employees, and the new storefront will have close to the same number. He said NSCC will be a natural place to look for employees once the second brewery opens.

Derek Mombourquette is the MLA for Sydney-Membertou. He said communities like Antigonish and Wolfville see traffic in their communities year-round because of their campuses. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

Developers and businesses in the downtown have seen how other college and university towns in the province have benefited from the year-round traffic created by their campuses.

Derek Mombourquette, MLA for Sydney-Membertou, said construction of the NSCC, along with the Charlotte Street redevelopment project, is the start of great things for the downtown. 

With new entrepreneurs entering the business sector, he sees optimism in an area that he admits has struggled. He said several new businesses have opened or are being developed, in anticipation of the 2024 opening date.

Lahey said growth related to the campus is being felt outside the downtown core as well. She expects other communities to reap rewards from the new campus location. 

"You see that expanding to places like Whitney Pier, Glace Bay," she said. "And I think in large part it's due to the fact that these people are going to be downtown. It's going to have such a huge impact population-wise in this area."