Nova Scotia

Province postpones plan to turn MLA parking lot into green space

Province House turns 200 next year and the plan is to make the building a centrepiece for a completely remodelled legislature grounds, but not all work is expected to be completed in time for the birthday party.

New, more user-friendly public space won't be ready for Province House's 200th anniversary

Parking problems for MLAs is one reason the restoration of Province House's outdoor grounds won't be complete by next year. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The McNeil government has shelved plans to turn a parking lot used by MLAs into green space and to give the Nova Scotia Legislature grounds a complete makeover in time for Province House's 200th anniversary next year.

The province will instead go ahead with only half the plan and leave the parking spaces for elected representatives, possibly until 2024.

That's when 40 parking spaces are expected to be created by the redevelopment of provincially owned land across the street from the legislature. Officials are still evaluating proposals submitted by private developers interested in the site, which encompasses two historic structures, the Dennis Building and the Acadian Recorder building.

Free parking since 1949

MLAs and staff have been using the grounds as a free parking lot since 1949.

The delay in turning the legislature's parking lot back into green space is disappointing to Joe Ballard, president of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, who is anxious to see those grounds redeveloped.

"It is a special place," he said. "It's not just significant to Nova Scotia, it's significant really to the free world and not all the free world pays it the respect that it deserves, but it's up to us to first and foremost to give it the honour it deserves."

This undated photo from a 1957 report shows what the outdoor grounds of Province House once looked like. (Jean Laroche/CBC via the Corporation of the City of Halifax)

The parking lot encircles a statue commemorating the Boer War, in honour of those who served and died during the South African campaign from 1899 to 1902. It is one of two memorials erected in Halifax to honour Boer War combatants.

"We often forget about the South African campaign and it gets lost with more recent wars, but it was significant and I think it deserves greater honour than having cars parked around it," said Ballard.

Province House turns 200 years old next year and the Nova Scotia government wanted to make Canada's oldest legislative building the centrepiece of a greener, more inviting space.

Vision for site

The plan was to terrace the grounds, install accent lighting to illuminate the building's facade, install electrical outlets, audio and video hookups and return grass and walking paths to where MLAs and staff now park their vehicles.

"We want to do everything we can to make sure that people are aware that it's the people's House inside and outside," said Speaker Kevin Murphy.

"I think it would be great if people felt welcomed to come to the precinct and enjoy their lunch on the lawn outside the legislature."

Feds turned down request for money

The MLA parking lot was a fly in the ointment, as was a failed attempt to secure federal money to help pay the roughly $1-million price tag.

Murphy said the application was rejected because it was viewed more as a renovation than a restoration.

Parking spaces for elected representatives will be staying, possibly until 2024. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

By the time the province was notified, the money in the federal program was depleted, Murphy said.

So the work has been cut in two. Work on the existing south garden, nearest Prince Street, will start next month. The parking lot, on the George Street side of the building, won't be torn up until other parking is available in the redevelopment planned on Granville Street.

Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines denied the work was being held up by MLAs reluctant to lose their prime parking spots. (CBC)

"We will be able to do something on this end [the south garden] because it's not used for parking," said Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines.

The minister denied the work was being held up by MLAs reluctant to lose their prime parking spots.

"MLAs to my knowledge haven't expressed that; they haven't said that to me, anyway," said Hines.

2006 report called for major changes

This isn't the first time there's been talk of transforming the area outside the Legislature. In 2006, a report prepared for Nova Scotia's Department of Transportation and Public Works and the Halifax Regional Municipality recommended major changes.

"Tangible improvements to the Province House grounds, such as the installation of additional flags and the nighttime lighting should be undertaken immediately to increase the presence of the building in the historic core of the city," it said.

"Ultimately, a garden should be developed on the northern side of the building," it recommended.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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