HALIFAX’S DEVELOPMENT FRENZY IS GOOD FOR PROPERTY OWNERS, BUT COMES AT A COST
Lisa Haydon, a North End resident, has a perfect view of one of the many developments underway in Halifax.
“From our patio, we see a number of cranes building stuff,” she says.
Haydon lives in The Hydrostone near Monaghan Square, a two-tower complex on Young Street, slated to house numerous residential and commercial units. It’s one of many ongoing projects dotting the landscape.
Other parts of the North End are also getting facelifts; older homes are undergoing renovations while new restaurants and shops pop up. And Haydon believes the development boom benefits the whole city.
“The city feels alive these days,” Haydon says. “I love the energy, I love the vibrancy, and watching the changes that are happening.”
Visit any promotional website for the condo developments in progress and you’ll see some cool additions to one’s home life: fitness rooms, social rooms complete with a full kitchen and billiard tables, outdoor fire pits, even car washes and pet spas on site.
And the pitch is working so far, say local developers.
Southwest Properties Ltd.’s portfolio includes the recently-opened Maple complex on Hollis Street, and the Pavilion and Curve, a two-tower complex on South Park at the former CBC site. Currently under construction, the project will include condos, apartments, retail and the new YMCA Centre of Community.
The Maple has leased 200 of its 300 units, says Lindsay Downie, director of marketing for Southwest, with new leasees signing daily. Downie adds that the Pavilion is already 90% sold, while Southwest will launch a fall pre-leasing campaign for the 205 units making up the Curve.
Urban Capital has its own recently-opened property, the Southport on Barrington Street. The shipping-container-style design contains a mix of rental and condo units and has sold out.
Gorsebrook Park, by the same developer and located on Wellington Street, should have its phase one completed by Spring 2019. Larry Allen of Urban Capital says 65 per cent of phase one has already been sold, while phase two, a connected eight-storey tower, has started construction.
Another major player is Killam Properties, currently developing the Alexander on Bishop Street. Kim Warner-Burgess, director of leasing for Killam, says over half of the podium’s 55 suites and almost half the tower penthouses have been spoken for.
Warner-Burgess says the downtown has become more attractive to multiple populations, and developers are stepping up their game in providing high-end developments with more in-house luxuries, and in closer proximity to amenities such as retail and restaurants.
“There’s a big population over 50; a lot of those people are looking to give up their home, and have the opportunity to travel more,” she says. “And there are a lot of young professionals who don’t want to own a home, but want something that’s swanky, where they can entertain, and have downtown at their doorstep.”
But in the meantime, there is quite a bit of short-term pain. Back in the North End, Haydon acknowledges that the downtown, especially, has taken a hit due to the constant construction. She says parking is “a disaster” and that small businesses have been affected due to less foot traffic along certain streets.
“When I set up meetings, my clients say anywhere but downtown,” she says. “It’s not worth the hassle.”
Another Halifax resident, Pearleen Mofford, lives much closer to the action, on the corner of Queen and Morris streets. Mofford likes the developments, but she, too, faces several challenges—most notably, the amount of illegal parking blocking her own driveway. It appears to be a consequence of Queen Street offering two-hour free parking, near the library and other popular destinations on Spring Garden Road.
“I have to call the city to ask parking enforcement to remove [vehicles],” Mofford says. “Unfortunately, you can’t block a private driveway.”
One business owner in the middle of the construction chaos is Wendy Friedman, owner of Biscuit General Store on Argyle Street. For several years, she and other owners on the street have dealt with street closures, noise, and other major disruptions during the one-million-square-foot Nova Centre development.
“I’ve had tourists come in almost in tears because there’s nowhere to walk,” she says. “On every block … it’s completely overwhelming and exasperating. It’s just not fair to people.”
She doesn’t have a quarrel with the construction boom in general, but wishes the Nova Centre developers were better organized from the start. She points out the benefits of urban density, including the environmental benefit of not needing a vehicle to get where you need to go.
“I live by Citadel Hill and walk to work everyday; everything is right here,” she says. “It’s great to have more people living and working and being downtown as a community and as a society.”
Friedman is among eight business owners who were part of a lawsuit against the developer and the city over lost revenue.
“It’s about standing up to principle,” she says. “I’m not looking for a handout; I just want someone to say, wait a minute, somebody needs to take responsibility for how it’s been mismanaged. It’s like the Wild West without a sheriff.”
Juanita Spencer, of the Spring Garden Business Association, agrees businesses in Argyle Street have had a rough time during the ongoing construction, and says it really comes down to communication. On Spring Garden, in contrast, Spencer says the developers of some nearby complexes have done a “phenomenal” job of communicating with nearby businesses regarding street closures and other interruptions.
The association has increased its marketing budget to ensure people know Spring Garden is still open for business.
Spencer says, despite the disruptions, the construction boom is “absolutely” necessary for the downtown. “The downtown has been neglected for a while now, for several decades. We certainly need the attention; downtowns are vital in every province and every city.”
She says it’s an exciting time, and the variety of new developments means “everybody” will find something they can connect with.
Back on Queen Street, Mofford says that despite the occasional parked car blocking her driveway, there’s nothing but good things resulting from Halifax’s recent construction boom.
“It’s exciting to see the skyline change,” she says. “The city is transforming right before our eyes.”
She says a growing downtown means more customers for established business and more opportunity for young entrepreneurs to open new and exciting businesses. “You can work, shop and play in your neighbourhood,” she says.
She says time will tell if these developments will be financially successful, but points out that universities in Halifax, for example, are attracting more international students these days and they all need a place to live.
“Financial companies don’t support projects that aren’t viable,” she says.