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Paul MacKinnon, CEO of Downtown Halifax Business Commission, says their vision for 2030 plan would address multiple needs in the community. (Jacob Moore/Acadia Broadcasting)

Downtown business group wants new art gallery and art venues in Halifax

By Jacob Moore Jun 5, 2024 | 6:21 PM

The Downtown Halifax Business Commission wants to make big changes to the downtown, according to their 2030 vision report.

They want to see more old office buildings turned into housing, new art venues, a new art gallery and increasing the trips from ferries and making trips free, according to the report.

CEO Paul MacKinnon says the report is a combination of things that businesses and people want to see in downtown Halifax.

“We want to really get out there and sell it and get some buy in from people and take that to government, say, ‘Okay, here’s what we all think we need to focus on. So now what’s your commitment to making this happen?’” says MacKinnon.

The business commission revealed the vision at a press conference on Wednesday. Politicians, business owners and people from the community attended.

MacKinnon says this was to get people’s attention on the 2030 vision report. In the past 100 years, any changes to the downtown area ideas that come from people in the community that “rise to the top” and get the government’s attention.

Vision has two major ideas

MacKinnon says there are two major ideas with this vision.

There needs to be more people downtown, and there needs to be interesting things happening downtown to attract people, like the recent Sail Grand Prix race, which happened Saturday and Sunday, he says.

The other main idea is that it has to be easier for people to get downtown, he says, whether it’s taking light rail or a bus from Sackville to come in for a Halifax Mooseheads game, or if it’s making streets more pedestrian focused, like Argyle Street, so people can get around more easily.

“Our downtown was built for people walking, many years ago. It doesn’t necessarily work that way,” says MacKinnon.

Those two ideas break down into four main focuses.

In the first main focus, called Everybody’s Neighbourhood, the business commission says they want to:

  • study the ideal conditions of a neighbourhood, like population, business and residential mix, historic buildings, amenities and cultural diversity
  • help turn more unused office spaces into housing
  • increase funding for public safety initiatives
  • revitalize Barrington Street

The second focus, called Harbour 365, is about maximizing use of the harbour. The commission wants to:

  • improve the Dartmouth-Halifax ferry service by having more frequent trips and by making the ferry free
  • turn George Street into the gateway to the harbour
  • create an updated harbour plan that that details events, how to use the harbour and waterfront for events, and transportation access

More than one hundred people attended the Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s unveiling of their new plan, their vision for 2030. (Jacob Moore/Acadia Broadcasting)

The third main focus is called the Entertainment Central. The business commission wants to see:

  • a new art gallery
  • a new 1500+ seating performing arts centre
  • permanent outdoor public event space
  • designate a cultural district
  • create a year-round event strategy

The fourth focus is called Move Smart, which deals with transportation. The business commission wants to:

  • create a rapid bus transit system for the downtown
  • prioritize pedestrian-first designs for sidewalks and streets
  • create a connected network of protected bike lanes

MacKinnon says the new performance centre would fill a space that’s been vacant for years. There are venues for large events, like the Scotiabank Centre, and there are venues for smaller places. But there aren’t enough venues in the middle, in the 1500-3000 seating range, he says.

Support needed from all levels of government, says CEO

However, implementing these things requires support from all levels of government, says MacKinnon.

Minister of Economic Development Susan Corkum-Greek says that province has briefly met with the business commission about the report, but it’s too early to tell how the government might use that information.

“We will look to how we can partner to make things go forward,” she says.

She adds that, when government considers these recommendations, it’s helpful that the business commission consulted with a diverse group of people and businesses.

Waye Mason, councillor for Halifax south and downtown, says planning on the Downtown Halifax Business Commission 2030 vision has to start today. (Jacob Moore/Acadia Broadcasting)

This is a great vision for the future of downtown Halifax, says Waye Mason, councillor for Halifax south and downtown.

The city supports the commission’s report, he says. As far as next steps, he says the Halifax Regional Council will look at the report and probably ask the commission to come back to the table with implementation plans.

“A lot of things in the plan can happen in the next couple of years. A lot of them are farther out, but they’ll never happen if we don’t start thinking about them and planning today,” says Mason.