Halifax, where are you at with Nova Centre?

When: July 23, 2012 — 7 - 9pm

Where: St. David's Hall, Brunswick Street, Halifax

We gathered and invited the public to hear their thoughts on the Nova Centre. Our purpose was to:

  • Get a barometer check on where Halifax is at around the Nova Centre.
  • Surface opinions and perspectives in an open forum.
  • Hear key issues and fundamental questions that are alive in our community.
  • Capture key issues that will influence the public engagement process.


Full Video




Upon arriving, participants chatted, got coffee and sat together. Live music created an atmosphere of lively hospitality. Marguerite Drescher visually captured the entire meeting and Craig Moore video recorded pieces of it. Both Marguerite and Craig are part of the public engagement collaborative. Dave Fultz was the guitarist who played music throughout the evening.

The evening began with a welcoming by Tim Merry of the public engagement collaborative. Tim introduced Chief Terry Paul who opened the event with an aspiration for our engagement process and an invitation to listen to each other with respect and appreciation for our different views.

Tim then reviewed the engagement timeline and framed the Town Hall process, “How we turn up and engage in these events is a reflection of our community.” He also went over the parameters of the engagement, look and feel of the building, street scape, and the public space.

Sera Thompson, from the public engagement collaborative introduced the process of the evening. 10 people would have 3 minutes each to speak and we would do 3 rounds, hearing 30 people in total. We then asked:

“What do you have to say about the Nova Centre?”

We heard from 28 people during the course of the event. This is what we heard:

Pride of Place

“The idea was that every man, woman and child – and I mean this – every man, woman and child knew we were building this beautiful hotel in downtown. It was absolutely phenomenal to me that after we opened the doors in 1985, we actually did tours in that building. Five tours a day for 4 months, we toured people through that building.”

“If this is a great city, why would we not think that this needs a great convention centre? There is no other business that brings people from around the world than convention centres.”

“We live here in this beautiful spot, and we can combine this with the new Nova Centre with the input that is here. I really want to congratulate the people who are here tonight, because it is all part of what we are all about. It is going to be our Nova Centre, really.”

“I am a proud Haligonian, and I’d like to see as much history reflected in the building, and the context of the design. I want to see a cultural sensitivity that reflects our heritage and our past as well.”

“I can’t name a convention centre that made me fall in love with a city. Not that that hasn’t happened for somebody, but it hasn’t happened for me yet.”

“When I say I live in Nova Scotia, they say, “I came there for a convention or for a client, you are so fortunate to live there, I wish I could live there too.””

“I think that the more…people call this a love fest — but the more positive creativity we can all bring together…the more the developers will aspire to take our suggestions to heart. And to keep making the space that the Centre is going to fill, a loved part of downtown. I hope it will be on a postcard, an iconic space that visitors to our city enjoy, and they can go home and say, “Halifax is a wonderful city to enjoy, a nice place to do business in”, and maybe even move here themselves.”


“So progress is good. We are terrified of it. We see it as a risk. We are change-adverse here. But a little progress is a good thing.”

Next generation
“There is a lot of culture here, there are a lot of young people who are hoping to stay in the city. They want to work here. A lot of things are connected to the Nova Centre, because it is going to create a lot of excitement. So in a sense I am hoping that this development is going to go forward in a positive sense, in whatever shape or form. I’m am also hoping that a lot of young people will find a home here—living, working, finding a home, seeing the arts happen. It will be a big part of our city. I really want to see young people being a big part of this development.”

“Halifax is a city for young people, a city for young professionals. It has energy. I think that is good for a lot of our other goals we are looking to achieve – population growth, and in entertaining young people.”

Return to greatness

“Just as importantly I remember when the Sheraton Halifax came to town, and we built that building. It was just amazing to see how excited everybody was to see something downtown moving, looking good, getting better.”

“One of the things I remember is walking through downtown at that time. You felt like you were walking among giants. The buildings were huge, they were relatively new. It seemed there was a lot more pomp and circumstance around it.”

Arts and Culture

“I’d like to see urban gardens, I’d like to see a Piazza—a town centre, where there can be arts and culture. “


”I’ll never forget when I managed the Pow Wow on the Halifax Common. There were 80,000 people celebrating Mi’kmaq culture. The Mi’kmaq said afterward, that after that event, people saw Mi’kmaq, and the people walked proudly afterwards.”

Community culture

“ Like after school programs for youth downtown, really accessible and really fun and part of a whole community. Like if you are sitting outside there can be a music program, after school music program, and arts programs and basketball courts…all within the heart of the city. So that kids see culture and people downtown see kids.”

Breaking the cycle of negativity

“ I am tired, I listen to all the talk shows, to the negativity. I echo what you just said. I want to live in a place that is positive and growing and that is a home and can support – so that I can keep my 22 and 20 year olds here.”

“I have had a bad experience here through an extreme outbreak of negativity which as they say, has been ‘in the system.’ It didn’t always used to be like that, and I certainly hope it will not continue that way. This project we have coming gives us an enormous opportunity to get out of that, to fill up our downtown, to show the world that we can really do something, something very special.”

“I think whether or not you support this project, every single person in Halifax is absolutely desperate to see symbols of progress in this city. And I think that a lot of people are hoping that this building is going to be that symbol of progress that we are starving for.”


“We need to create an air of optimism, we need to create an opportunity to embrace each other’s ideas and find a middle ground. And in the process take pride in an air of optimism for the opportunity we have in front of us. Listening to each other’s opinions is certainly part of it.”

False optimism

“ My concern is that I think we might like to call this place the Shangri-La Centre. When I hear people talking about it…I hear about this piece of property being a lot bigger than the thing I see there. We’re going to have ‘after school programs, convention centre that is world class, restaurants and so on…’. I guess I need to come later in the process and see more of these giant visions.”

We can have it all

“Everyone told me that it wouldn’t work, they all thought no one would want a glamorous hair salon and cafe. I had people advocating against homelessness, telling me that it needed to be a homeless shelter. I had people telling me it needed to be a community centre, I had people telling me it needed to be a centre for the arts. They told me it needed to be anything but a hair salon and an expensive cafe. I was determined to make this building into a very successful hair salon and cafe, in a neighbourhood where everyone thought nothing expensive would ever work. I made it work, and I did so by listening to people who live in that community, by asking, “What is it you want in your community?””

“I simply believe that a new convention centre could do all of that and more. Not just by its physical being, but by its vision, imagination, creativity and desire behind it. I think that this process is another brilliant first step in that.”


“We must make the centre available to everyone and benefit our community as a whole. We must develop a plan that balances business needs and community needs. To be a true benefit we need to figure out how we can provide free arts, sports programming or recreation programming.”

“I think that it is important for the Nova Centre to be inclusive. I’d like to see us look at the past, the present and the future – something that is inclusive and has art from the Mi’kmaq community and shows that we are part Mi’kmaq. I’d like it to be welcoming to youth and new Canadians. I think it is important that we look to the future when we design this building, that it has the ability to go forward with new technologies.”

“I don’t agree with a lot of development, that is just me. There are a lot of things that could happen in the city. But when it does happen I really enjoy having the opportunity to influence even a little bit of it. Because when we can create those spaces together, we can have spaces that are going up downtown, if people start to gather around the things that they have built together, those are the kinds of things that will happen more often.”

“I’d like to encourage them to start thinking how they could contribute some positivity to the situation. Because that is what we need. We need to show the world, and show ourselves that we can get together, we can unite and we can support something.”

Service to Community

“I do hope in the planning that some of the public space is accessible and that a lot of people are able to use this. A convention centre is not typically a place where your average citizen would be in and out of on an ongoing basis. But let’s create a place where the rest of the public will want to be as well.”

“ After school programs for youth downtown, really accessible and really fun and part of a whole community. Like if you are sitting outside there can be a music program, after school music program, and arts programs and basketball courts…all within the heart of the city. So that kids see culture and people downtown see kids.”

Convention Centre Re-defined
“As long as we keep thinking about this project under this kind of banner of ‘Convention Centre’, and we have this image of a Convention Centre as being the thing that is done in Toronto, Ottawa and all across the country—we are going to fail to meet the kind of higher ambitions that are possible here.”

“It seems to me that we have the possibility to have a Performing Arts Center in addition to a Convention Centre. We have an opportunity to provide Gallery space in a way that we have never had before. We have to invent a new definition of what a ‘Convention Centre’ is about.”

Architectural Excellence

“One of the fears I think we have in Halifax around tall buildings is the fact that we simply haven’t really done any good ones, from top to bottom. You know, there are certain buildings you feel good about when you walk by. Traditionally an historic building typically feels good when you walk by, because they are built with such a scale and openness, and they embrace you.”

“We have some really good Architects in the city, some of them are here tonight. You weren’t necessarily contracted to do this work, but if we can do this building really well, it can be a real hallmark for downtown. I think it can set the way for future development.”

“We have new opportunities, we should be able to point to this building and say, “That’s the one we did right’ and that’s the tall building that we want to emulate. HRM has set out with height parameters, and we’ll be doing mid-scale and low scale and high rise in the future.”

“We can’t justify what it is we are doing, by saying that ‘this is the best East of Montreal’. I’m tired of being the best East of Montreal. We want to be the best in the world; we have to raise ambitions in this city about what it is that we want. And the level of design needs to be raised to a whole new level.”

“So I have only one request and that is that the architecture for this centre be outstanding, and state-of-the-art, that is stellar, and that the building makes us proud of being members of a great city.”

“I think the most important thing is that just based on the site, this has to be a really stunning architecture in the way this site is laid out, and creates emphasis in architectural design and creativity.”

“Our standards have been so low for the lack of intentional merits for downtown…we have forgotten that we actually have an Architectural school here.”

“Enough. Enough ugly boxes, enough with the crappy looking buildings. Let’s make sure that this is done right.”


“I’m projecting 20 years from now, are we going to be saying…what do we do, to build a building that will stand the test of time and will meet everyone’s needs.”

“ There are a couple of things — first of all, there have been a couple of references to…‘down the road we will see if this worked.’ I think maybe we should try to figure out this before we start.”

“One message I’d like to convey back to the team that is behind this project, is to encourage as much flexibility in the design as possible. There has been comments about how exciting it was when the Trade Centre went up, (or what used to the original Sheraton Hotel), and now it’s not quite the same…etc. But perhaps there are ways with what you are planning to do with your ways, your money or your team’s money, to have some flexibility in the design so that maybe in 20 or 25 or 30 years down the road, there is an easier capacity to re-arrange whatever is inside, for the different purposes the community of interests falls.”

Economic prosperity


“I know for me, it is the basis of my livelihood—so without the support of this industry in this city I do have to look elsewhere. Before the announcement of this project, that was one of my considerations. So I am very excited, very supportive, I am very happy that we are looking to move in this direction, and I look forward to everything this is going to bring to the city.”

“ People look for opportunities…it is also going to give us an opportunity to keep our children here in Nova Scotia.”

Event space

“Halifax needs to grow. In order to succeed long term, we need to create some sustainability by having new events that can breath new life into the city. Fighting for bigger greater concerts with other cities is one option. A truly amazing convention centre will provide great opportunity for this.”

“I have concern that the rental prices will make the space inaccessible to rent from smaller groups. At this time there are few rental spaces in the city suitable for large events at a reasonable price. This creates a number of obstacles with event planning.”

“Otherwise we will never see the birth and growth of independent events. These are crucial for the community and I hope to see greater community support.”

“Having outgrown the Lord Nelson in 2010, and actually having outgrown the space we were given at the Trade Centre in 2011. So we are now planning on booking more space and ways to fill it in 2012. I for one am jumping up and down at the prospect of the Nova Centre.”

Tourism spinoff

“So I am really excited that it is not only going to be a place for us to go into, but also a place for people to come out of, to integrate themselves into the wonderful place that our downtown is. And a spark that will allow people to think that our downtown is even more wonderful.”

Use of Government Money

Social services

“There is a lot of government funding going towards the projects, making it more obvious and important that it should directly benefit the public.”

“The people who own that space and are receiving money from our government and are taking on huge public projects, really owe it to the community to help some of these things get addressed.”

Financial drain

“There is no government money in this project. I can’t say that enough. The only government money that will come to this project is because one of the government agencies is going to lease some space. This is an entrepreneurial project, and I think it is important that everyone knows that.”

“We also need to talk about how there is ‘no public money going into this’, because that certainly is not what I understand. I want to know that having this wonderful, fabulous thing that will meet everyone’s needs isn’t going to be a financial drain on our city 20 years from now, as well.”

“There are a couple of things — first of all, there have been a couple of references to…‘down the road we will see if this worked.’ I think maybe we should try to figure out this before we start. Secondly, I am a little perplexed about how ‘there is no government money in this, it is all Entrepreneurial.’”

Height and Viewplane

“I would like to point out where I think a lot of the unease has come from. In effect, this developer, or … extra height was approved at the very last moment…height is one of them, the fact that we’ll have a convention centre in the basement is one of them.”

Design Elements

“Parking access should be off-market with a pedestrian mall concept on Grafton Street. This could be an area something like Fremont St. in Vegas – provided the light doesn’t effect the adjacent parcels…..Argyle should be a focus for commercial retail units, or restaurants to help encourage people to walk…A green roof would be helpful on the heat that buildings create.”

Engagement Process

Transparency of process

“I’m not convinced that the process we are using, which opens things up, asking everyone what they think, and then someone goes into the back room somewhere and selects the pieces they like and puts it together in some way—is the right process.”

“The process introduced by HRM. The process followed by HRM to bring us here tonight. We can do public consultation on the Oval, we can do public consultation on bike lanes. Why couldn’t we do public consultation on this?”

World cafe whitewash

“The other one is that I’m very uneasy with Cafe-style type of consultation. I went to two of the items with respect to the Library, Mr. Merry, and I just had a sticky on the board, you never know where it went, you never saw it reappear again, with no idea of whether it influenced things.”

“There are also concerns about this ‘World Cafe’ format. For many of us who participated in them, it is simply a white-wash. First of all, people who are in favor of a project will dot every single table, sometimes 2 or 3 of them. As someone said, ‘you know these results are written on these little pieces of paper/post it notes — and guess what. There is a conclusion reached. Is it a conclusion that everyone voted on? We don’t know that. So, basically I think you need to rethink that.”

“But I want to make a comment regarding the World Cafe formats. Engagement is about getting all opinions into a room, not just those opposed to a project. A true representation of getting people who support, oppose, and aren’t sure, at the same table. It isn’t just about compromising.”

“We are here tonight because I’m assuming that the developers invited us here tonight and because they are interested in hearing what we have to say. Whether or not the World Cafe has every single person’s input into the final design, it is up to the developer at this point — in their living room. They have invited us here, which I think is wonderful.”

Event turnout

“I didn’t plan on speaking. I was watching this on-line at home, and I decided to bike down, because I wanted to be here. I am really happy we are having this engagement process.”

“I have been watching the on-line dialogue that happens on Facebook. There are so many voices out there, and there is this sort of campaign for not coming out to public engagement right now. I wanted to bring that up. I’d like to invite everyone to come out and to participate and to give feedback when it is not working right for you.”

“I’m a little surprised at the number of people who are here this evening, and quite frankly, how positive many of the comments have been. I wonder if that might be reflective of the channels used to get the word out about this particular event.”

Love in

“I guess I didn’t come here tonight expecting such a love-in. My concern is that I think we might like to call this place the Shangri-La Centre. When I hear people talking about it…I hear about this piece of property being a lot bigger than the thing I see there. We’re going to have ‘after school programs, convention centre that is world class, restaurants and so on…’. I guess I need to come later in the process and see more of these giant visions.”

“I’m grateful that we have a process like this. Thank you Sera and Tim for facilitating this. It is clearly an indication of the great community that we live in. I think the developer is certainly looking for some specifics.”

“I guess someone has to rain on this parade. First of all, I’m confused. I can’t believe all the things this project is going to do for us.”

“I have been to a fair amount of these gatherings, these love-ins. I am happy to see that this one is very positive. I have been to enough where so many have been bashes.. to come here and to feel the love for a change it is really nice. It is also nice to see Mr. Ramia in the crowd taking notes and actually listening.”