Nova Scotia

Nova Centre delays opening until December 2017

It's going to be at least another year before the Nova Centre opens in downtown Halifax.

Events booked for the venue next year will have to change their plans

The $500-million Nova Centre will be the home to a new $164-million convention centre, a luxury hotel, as well as business and retail space. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

It's going to be at least another year before the Nova Centre opens in downtown Halifax. 

This follows another delay involving the massive $500-million construction project in the city's core, which was originally supposed to open in January 2016. 

In November 2014, the developer behind the project, Joe Ramia, said the opening would be pushed back until September 2016. In May of this year, Ramia said the opening date wouldn't be until spring 2017.

Now the opening won't happen until December 2017, according to the Crown corporation in charge of the convention centre.

The developer behind the Nova Centre, Joe Ramia. (Pam Berman/CBC)

Ramia, president and CEO of Argyle Developments, said the most recent delay is a result of changes made to the design on the Market Street side of the building to accommodate kitchen and mechanical upgrades requested by the convention centre. 

The delay is longer than he expected, in part because it was unclear how long the design changes and corresponding approvals would take, said Ramia.

"It could have been a month or two, but it ended up to be longer than what we had anticipated."

Events looking for backup plans

The news means 22 events booked for the convention centre in 2017 will need to make new plans. Those bookings include the International Conference on Residency Education (1,500 delegates), Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining conference (2,300 delegates) and the International Conference on Pharmacoepidemiology and Therapeutic Risk Management (1,400 delegates).

Another is Hal-Con, the largest sci-fi, comic and gaming conference in Atlantic Canada.

Jennifer Lambe, the event's executive director, said Hal-Con was supposed to be in the new site this year and now they are looking at alternate arrangements for a second year in a row. She learned of the change on Thursday.

Hal-Con is one of the events working on a backup plan following news of the latest Nova Centre delay. (Robert Short/CBC)

While her team is familiar with the existing facilities and can make them work, Lambe said it limits their ability to grow. This year Hal-Con attracted almost 9,000 people, and can't get any bigger without a new space.

"We could easily get to 10 or 12 [thousand] in the next year, but unfortunately we don't have space to grow into, so that's hampering our growth tremendously."

The delay also will not come as good news to local businesses in downtown Halifax who have said they're struggling to keep their heads above water due to the ongoing construction.

Wendy Friedman owns Biscuit General Store on Argyle Street. (CBC)

Wendy Friedman owns and operates Biscuit General Store on Argyle Street. She learned of the newest delay on Friday from a reporter. That's par for the course, she said.

"There's not a lot of communication going on between us and the Nova Centre, even though it's right across the street from us," she said. 

The people in charge of booking conventions learned the news last month.

Financial concessions must be made

Suzanne Fougere, director of marketing and communications for the Halifax Convention Centre Corp., said they started informing impacted groups this week.

Talks right now are focused on either finding alternative arrangements to make events go ahead elsewhere, or have them rescheduled for another year.

She expected concessions on rental prices or food would be required for those choosing to rebook later or who decide to hold their event in the old Halifax World Trade and Convention Centre.

"It will mean financial concessions for our business."

'Our clients understand'

Still, Fougere said she wasn't concerned about reputation damage with the latest delay. Already 25 events are booked for 2018, she said.

"Our clients understand that this is a construction project. They know that this is a complex project."

Ramia said he's confident of the new completion date because all the necessary approvals are in place and the building is closed, meaning workers won't be slowed by weather. He's taking further steps to prevent another delay.

"We're increasing the number of workers on the site and also the pace of construction now that we're able to do that because the building has been closed."

Not Ramia's announcement to make

Despite the very recent notice for people who booked events and the seemingly lack of any notice for local businesses, Ramia said he thinks there is good communication between project managers and their neighbours.

"This decision wasn't ours to announce," he said. "It was announced by the province. We believe we're doing everything we can to make sure we help our neighbours to know exactly what's going on."

The $500-million Nova Centre will be the home to a new $164-million convention centre, a luxury hotel, as well as business and retail space. Ramia said he has secured an operator for the hotel, which he expects will open around the same time as the convention centre. It will be up to that company to make the announcement, he said.

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