HALIFAX – The decades long discussion about what to do with the aging and crumbling Halifax Forum took a step forward at Regional Council Tuesday, though, it did take a while to get there.
Council voted 15-1 to have staff move forward with preliminary plans for a proposed two-ice pad complex at the 92-year-old arena along with a multi-purpose room and other possible community spaces as needed.
It’s not decided, however, whether the work would be a renovation or a full re-build, but a cost-benefit analysis for replacing or renovating The Forum or The Civic Centre will also be included.
Staff will return to Council with its findings for a final decision, which will also include cost estimates for next year’s budget on the immediate maintenance work needed at the site.
A number of options came before Council Tuesday from completely demolishing the arena, to adding a third ice pad and demolishing the multi-purpose room at a cost of upwards of $60 million and a number of others in between.
This prompted over three hours of debate and questions for municipal staff on wide array of issues like the building’s current structural and safety concerns, its heritage status and how that affects any work, the current cost of the land and even if it could be re-purposed for a new police headquarters.
Downtown Councillor Waye Mason urged his colleagues to adopt a motion from north-end Councillor Lindell Smith that combined a number of what were considered more realistic options with an eye toward getting work started at the site, as it remains in deteriorating condition.
“My core concern here is the residents are waiting,” Mason said.
“We could be years of just plugging a million bucks or a couple hundred thousand bucks into The Forum to keep it going while we have the discussion we’ve had, based on the documents I’ve read, since amalgamation.”
Councillor Smith, who represents the area, does not support a full replacement for the facility but thought its potential cost should be included in all of the information being returned to Council.
He said his motion allowed staff “to move forward now” and commented the arena, its board and the community had all been “waiting too long.”
“Let’s move forward with something we can actually grasp and see in the near future, hopefully before I leave the council table.”
Councillor Richard Zurawski was the dissenting voice to all options of keeping the building, calling it an "eyesore" and for it to demolished "with a stick of dynamite."
The latest proposed plan would also maintain an ice plant on site to allow for expansion to a third rink if needed and justified in the future.
Gottingen Street Transit Corridor passes
Work will begin this fall to bring a dedicated bus lane to Gottingen Street after Council voted Tuesday to approve the final plan, one that will be re-assessed after the first year of its implementation.
The street will be re-configured to three lanes, one each for outbound and inbound traffic and a third for busses to run inbound weekdays between 7 and 9 a.m. and outbound between 3 and 6 p.m.
Parking and loading will be prohibited during those peak times, a concern consistently raised by local businesses and acknowledged by one of the Councillors for the area in tabling the final plan.
Councillor Lindell Smith believed changes at the committee level adequately addressed concerns raised by the North End Business Association and said work continued to mitigate future potential problems.
“I’ve got many e-mails from people who are against but I’ve got many e-mails from people who are for this,” Smith said.
“I feel at this point we’ve done a lot and got to a place where I’m happy what we see.”
Overall, eight parking spaces on the east side of Gottingen will be lost during peak times as staff continues work on a parking mitigation plan.
Staff is also examining whether some of the transit traffic could be re-routed to Barrington Street, though the issue remains whether busses can physically make a right-hand turn onto the Macdonald Bridge. A consultant is currently studying the issue.