Nova Scotia

Developer to buy World Trade and Convention Centre for $13.5M

A Nova Scotia minister is lamenting the $13.5 million proposed sale of the World Trade and Convention Centre to a prominent private developer.

Minister says 'very haphazard' process stopped province from keeping building

Nova Scotia has accepted developer George Armoyan's offer to buy the WTCC at the asking price of $13.5 million. (Trade Centre Limited)

A Nova Scotia minister is lamenting the $13.5 million proposed sale of the World Trade and Convention Centre to a prominent private developer, saying the process was done in a "very haphazard way."

Developer George Armoyan submitted the unsolicited bid for the provincial building about a month ago, and after the municipality refused to counter his offer Friday, the province accepted it by default, Internal Service Minister Labi Kousoulis said Monday afternoon.

He said he spent about a year trying to keep the building in public hands.

"Unfortunately, that process was put together in a very haphazard way," Kousoulis said by phone from his Halifax constituency office.

The building is connected to the publicly owned sports facility, Scotiabank Centre, and actually contains the centre's lobby, box office, Sports Hall of Fame and fire exits, he said. 

"In my eyes, the city was giving up control of the Metro Centre," Kousoulis said.

Deal with 'no flexibility'

In 2012, the province signed a 25-year deal with developers of the new $500-million Nova Centre being built in downtown Halifax, replacing the WTCC building, which was built in 1984.

A memorandum of understanding about that deal, signed between then-mayor Peter Kelly and premier Darrell Dexter, included a clause about the sale of the existing centre. Upon the opening of the Nova Centre, the WTCC must change hands from the province to either Halifax Regional Municipality or a private developer, according to the agreement

"It gave actually no flexibility for the province to retain ownership of the World Trade and Convention Centre, the current one," Kousoulis said.

"I don't think it was the right type of MOU to put together. I think it was put together in a very dangerous way."

Halifax won't buy

He said he unsuccessfully tried to get the agreement changed to let the province keep the building. He said he also tried unsuccessfully to get a service agreement organizing the logistics of potentially sharing a publicly used building with a private owner.

The discussions around this sale — which must be organized by the Nova Centre's opening — have been secret, because regional council discussed it in private. Council declined to buy the building from the province in May, spokesman Brendan Elliott told CBC News last week

By Friday, a second deadline passed, this one to make a counter offer to the developer's, after being given 30 days' notice, Kousoulis said. The municipality once again declined, he said.

On Monday, Elliott would not confirm what happened.

"We are aware of that Friday deadline from a few days ago with regard to providing the province with a response on whether we want to match an offer from the private developer," the municipal spokesman told CBC News.

'A good gesture'

Now, the province and the municipality are indeed working out that service arrangement, Elliott said. 

That's important, Kousoulis said, because how those logistics would work were unclear in the original sale rules.

Kousoulis said he believes Armoyan sees the building as an investment with current renters, including 500 to 600 provincial staffers, and may want to move some of his own company offices into the building, as well.

The developer, who owns Armco Capital, did not respond to an interview request.