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‘Excited to get it to this point’: Feedback sought on Halifax Forum redesign

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After years of talks and reports, it’s beginning to look like plans to redevelop the aging Halifax Forum may soon come to fruition.

The city is asking for public input on its plans to fix up the almost 95-year-old structure, which “has functional challenges and does not meet modern facility accessibility standards.”

According to a page on the Shape Your City Halifax website, the proposed redevelopment “includes a complete replacement of all the recreational facilities and an extensive renovation of the Halifax Forum, which is a registered heritage property.”

The complex would feature a preserved façade of the Halifax Forum Arena, an added greenspace, a multipurpose and event space and a concourse.

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The proposed redevelopment includes the preserved façade of the Halifax Forum Arena and greenspace. City of Halifax

Paul Card, the chair of the Halifax Forum Community Association’s redevelopment committee, said the new facility will be “airier” and will have “way more room.”

But most importantly, he said, the changes would bring the building up to modern accessibility standards, meaning more people will be able to use it.

“Something that was built coming on 95 years ago simply didn’t have the accessibility that buildings need, require and should have,” he said.

‘The most analyzed building on the peninsula’

Built in 1927, the iconic Georgian-style red-brick building opened in December of that year and was the first artificial hockey arena east of Montreal at the time.

It was sold to the city of Halifax in 1948 and designated as a heritage property in 2003.

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The concept for the Halifax Forum’s concourse and streetscape. City of Halifax

Card said the plans to redevelop the facility have been a long time coming, encompassing more than a decade and three municipal councils.

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“We’ve hit some hurdles. At one point, staff was recommending to tear it down,” Card said. “It’s complicated. I think it’s probably the most analyzed building on the peninsula.”

The changes will be big, and so is the price tag. According to the most recent staff report from August 2021, costs could run up to $89 million.

But Card said the costs are worth it.

“People look at the cost to repair it, and sometimes that frightens people,” he said. “We think the cost is quite reasonable overall.”

The concept art for the proposed new multipurpose and event space. City of Halifax

He took note of the forum’s historical significance, and said it has played an “integral role” in Halifax’s entertainment and recreation scene over the years.

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Card said the facility attracts 500,000 visits per year, not counting ice-related visits.

“It’s been used by the citizens of the municipality for a long time,” he said.

“We’ve maintained it, but over time, when things are 95 years old, it needs significant support, significant investment.

“And what happened is it didn’t get that investment 15, 20 years ago, so things have progressed.”

The redeveloped Halifax Forum would include two NHL-sized ice surfaces. City of Halifax

Part of the municipality’s proposal includes a plan to offset the costs by selling a portion of the complex at the corner of Windsor and Young streets for private development.

“These high-density residential lands, in addition to helping offset the costs for redeveloping the historic Halifax Forum, will additionally provide more opportunity to support the demand for housing in the Halifax region,” the city said on its website.

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The staff report from 2021 noted this sale would have “implications” on the number of on-site parking spots available, reducing them from 500 spaces to 150.

Members of the public can provide feedback on that issue, as well as on other aspects of the proposed redesign, online until April 30.

The proposed site plan for the redesigned Halifax Forum. City of Halifax

With the latest round of public consultation underway, Card said he hopes construction can begin soon.

“We’re excited to get it to this point, to have it moving forward,” he said.

“Hopefully, after the consultation, we make adjustments and tweaks the municipality needs to make, then we start turning shovels, hopefully, when council gives the final approval.”

If all goes well, he said he believes work can begin within a year, though he noted that with such a big project, it will take a while to get it finished.

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Card said there will be a public open house on April 19 between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. for people to share their feedback and their vision for the forum.

“It’s a hub of activity now, and we want to see it being a hub of activity for 94 years in the future,” he said.

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