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‘Now is not the time’: N.S. premier puts new Halifax art gallery project on hold

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WATCH: A multi-million dollar project that would see a new art gallery on the Halifax waterfront has been put on hold indefinitely. Nova Scotia’s premier says rising construction costs is the reason. Ashley Field reports – Jul 27, 2022

Construction of the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia building is “paused indefinitely,” Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston announced Wednesday.

The project, first announced in April 2019 under the previous Liberal government, was supposed to break ground this year on the Halifax waterfront.

Read more: New home announced for Art Gallery of Nova Scotia on Halifax waterfront

In a release, the province said the project was originally supposed to cost about $137 million, but a recent independent estimate projected a cost increase of at least $25 million, “most likely significantly more, due to rising inflation and increased construction costs.”

It did not say who conducted the independent estimate.

The gallery was supposed to break ground on the Halifax waterfront this year. KPMB Architects

“We value the arts and want to make sure there is a home for art to be shared and displayed in our province,” said Houston in the release.

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“But now is not the time.”

During a scrum at the legislature Wednesday afternoon, Houston reiterated that it’s not the right time, saying the cost is getting “out of control.”

“We’ll look for a time when things are more stable, and it’s not now,” he said, citing construction material costs and labour shortages.

During a scrum Wednesday, Houston said the cost of the gallery is ‘out of control.’. Alexa MacLean/Global News

The province had committed $70 million to the project, the federal government $30 million and Halifax Regional Municipality committed $7 million.

As well, the Donald R. Sobey Foundation and the Sobey Foundation pledged $10 million for the project in November 2020.

In November 2020, KPMB Architects won the competition to design the new art gallery with a Mi’kmaw-inspired design. A spokesperson for KPMB declined to comment on the news Wednesday.

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Read more: Mi’kmaw elder left speechless as KPMB chosen for new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia design

In a statement, Grant Machum, the acting chair of the board of governors for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, said he was “disappointed by the news” but appreciated that rising construction costs and the prioritization of health-care infrastructure is “forcing the province to reprioritize.”

“We strongly believe that a new Gallery is a key piece of the arts and culture sector in the province, a large part of what attracts people to Nova Scotia and contributes to the provincial economy,” said Machum.

“The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is a space for community that supports wellness, education, and growth through the visual arts. The new building and our programming is intended to work towards reconciliation and the development of stronger relationships with communities across the province.”

Machum said he was “personally assured” by the premier that his government remains committed to a new gallery, “but that this was just not the right time.”

“We will continue to work with the province and our Capital Campaign Council to bring this important project back online,” he said.

Building on momentum

In an interview, Paul MacKinnon, the CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, said he understood there are “competing priorities” for funding, but he was disappointed by the news.

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MacKinnon said as the city and province recovers from COVID-19, governments of all stripes need to make “smart investments.”

“I think it’s undeniable that the Halifax waterfront is one of those things that’s certainly driving tourism, it’s driving economic recovery,” he said.

“Downtown was absolutely hammered through the course of the pandemic, and frankly, it needs to recover.”

He noted that construction and labour costs “aren’t going down anytime soon,” and disagreed with the notion that it’s not the time for a new art gallery.

“This is actually a good time to be building on the momentum that we’re seeing in terms of our downtown recovery,” he said.

“This isn’t a project just about downtown Halifax. This is the natural place to put it, but this is about economic recovery for the whole province.”

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