News / Halifax

Incomplete Halifax Convention Centre hosts grand opening almost two years late

The convention centre was first slated to open in January 2016, nearly two years ago. It’s funded by about $169 million in taxpayer money.

Cape Breton fiddler Kyle MacDonald plays as people arrive for the grand opening of the Halifax Convention Centre on Dec. 15, 2017.

Zane Woodford / Metro Order this photo

Cape Breton fiddler Kyle MacDonald plays as people arrive for the grand opening of the Halifax Convention Centre on Dec. 15, 2017.

Politicians heaped praise on a Halifax developer on Friday as the city’s long-delayed convention centre held its official grand opening.

The Halifax Convention Centre, part of Joe Ramia’s Nova Centre, hosted 600 people, including dozens of current and former Nova Scotia politicians like former Mayor Peter Kelly and former premier Darrell Dexter.

The convention centre was first slated to open in January 2016, nearly two years ago. It’s funded by about $169 million in taxpayer money, half from the federal government, and a quarter each from the province and the municipality.

Former Halifax mayor Peter Kelly, centre, at the grand opening of the Halifax Convention Centre on Dec. 15, 2017.

Zane Woodford/Metro

Former Halifax mayor Peter Kelly, centre, at the grand opening of the Halifax Convention Centre on Dec. 15, 2017.

“This has been a long road,” Mayor Mike Savage said during his speech at Friday’s event.

“Joe (Ramia), you have persevered with class, with dignity. But by the remarkable number of bookings that we have ahead of us, we can see that this convention centre is poised to be a huge success.”

Carrie Cussons, president and CEO of Events East, the Crown corporation that manages the Convention Centre, said Friday that it’s on track to meet all projections.

There are 90 conventions booked for 2018, more than three times as many as the old convention centre used to host, she said.

An unfinished escalator at the Halifax Convention Centre on the day of its grand opening, Dec. 15, 2017.

Zane Woodford/Metro

An unfinished escalator at the Halifax Convention Centre on the day of its grand opening, Dec. 15, 2017.

Though it had its grand opening on Friday, the convention centre wasn’t quite complete; walls still needed to be drywalled or paneled, and there were escalators and elevators not yet working.

Cussons said she’s confident those finishing touches will be done by the time the facility opens for public events in mid-January.

Ramia said the building as a whole was 98 per cent complete. He said he has a hotel operator, but wouldn’t say who it was or why the announcement has been so delayed.

“These things take time as you know. Nothing comes easy, so we hope to have it announced in the next few weeks,” he told reporters.

Argyle Developments CEO Joe Ramia speaks to reporters after the grand opening of the Halifax Convention Centre on Dec. 15, 2017.

Zane Woodford/Metro

Argyle Developments CEO Joe Ramia speaks to reporters after the grand opening of the Halifax Convention Centre on Dec. 15, 2017.

In his speech, Premier Stephen McNeil credited Ramia’s development for kick-starting a development boom in Halifax.

“It is the impetus for the development you’re seeing all over this city. It wasn’t that long ago you wouldn’t find a single crane in this city. Now you can’t get one,” he said.

“We’re only standing here today because of Joe Ramia … We are indebted to you for hanging in there. We’re indebted to you for all the work you’ve been doing on behalf of all the citizens of this province, and I for one, want to congratulate and thank you for your vision in this beautiful facility.”

Nova Scotians really are indebted to Ramia, though the clock hasn’t started ticking yet.

People protest the Halifax Convention Centre outside its grand opening on Dec. 15, 2017.

Zane Woodford/Metro

People protest the Halifax Convention Centre outside its grand opening on Dec. 15, 2017.

The provincial government hasn’t finalized its lease for the convention centre, which won’t be signed until the building reaches substantial completion.

Transportation and infrastructure renewal Minister Lloyd Hines told reporters Friday it was expected that would happen in mid to late January.

When it does, the province will enter into a 25-year lease with Ramia’s Argyle Developments to pay off more than $50 million owed by Nova Scotia and Halifax Regional Municipality.

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