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Rogers buys naming rights to Halifax plaza on site of former public street

September 27, 2017 - 1:52 PM

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says he's "comfortable" a city block sold to a developer will now carry the name of a telecommunications company.

Rogers Communications announced Wednesday it acquired naming rights to an outdoor plaza at the Nova Centre, a million-square-foot complex that includes the new Halifax Convention Centre, office space and a hotel.

"The synergy of putting together a public and private development has probably given us the advantage in terms of cost," Savage said. "It would have cost more to just build a convention centre without being part of a $500 million-plus project."

Branding the outdoor venue -- which will now be called Rogers Square -- is part of the telecom's push to make bigger inroads in a province traditionally dominated by Bell Aliant and EastLink Communications. But it could cause a stir reminiscent to a debate that engulfed Toronto when the SkyDome was renamed the Rogers Centre.

The Halifax plaza — it will be surrounded on both sides and above by the Nova Centre — was previously part of Grafton Street, a downtown public thoroughfare running parallel to the base of the Halifax Citadel.

In a private meeting three years ago, Halifax council voted to sell the one-block section of Grafton to Argyle Developments Inc., the developer behind the Nova Centre.

The sale defied the city's own urban planning rules, which cautioned against merging street blocks.

"In the past, streets have been closed and blocks have been consolidated to enable large scale development projects," the municipal planning strategy says. "The traditional street grid provides a high level of connectivity and is an important characteristic of the downtown."

In fact, the city's planning playbook points out that the Cogswell Interchange, a massive concrete traffic structure dividing downtown from the city's north end, is set to be torn down to restore a more "desirable pattern of smaller scaled streets and blocks."

Still, council took the extraordinary step of declaring the street "surplus to municipal needs" and sold it for $1.9 million.

Now Argyle Developments has sold the naming rights to the block.

Joe Ramia, president of Argyle Developments, would not disclose details of the branding deal.

"That we can't discuss. That's confidential," he said. "We bought the street from the city a few years ago. It is on private land."

Ramia added: "There isn't really a public stake in this building. Basically the convention centre has a lease for 25 years. It's all private money that's in this development."

The $164-million convention centre, part of the Nova Centre development, is cost-shared between the city, the province and Ottawa.

But Savage said that although a "big chunk" of the development is the convention centre, he said there is a large private component as well.

"Those details are between the developer and his customer," he said of the naming rights deal.

In addition to naming the public plaza, which will host outdoor festivals and events, Rogers will be the Nova Centre's telecom provider, outfitting the building with thousands of kilometres of secure fibre technology and providing free Wi-Fi for visitors.

Meanwhile, the new convention centre is slated to open in December, with the Liberal Party of Canada holding its national convention at the new facility in April and the Conservative Party of Canada booked for August.

"Those are all 3,000-plus conventions and that's the beauty of this for us," Savage said. "We couldn't have hosted the national Liberal or Conservative conventions before.

"We didn't have the capacity and that's what this building does for us," he said. "On top of that we can do smaller conventions stacked together, which was not possible to do in the old convention centre."

The burst of development activity in Halifax hasn't been without controversy. Surrounding businesses have complained about the dust and disruption caused by the massive construction projects, with some pulling up stakes and moving.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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