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Population gold rush: Halifax expands downtown with more apartments, condos

The new Roy under construction in the downtown Halifax core in July.

The number of people living in downtown Halifax is set to expand as more apartment and condo buildings are opening in the coming years.

The Roy, The Pearl and The Alexander are only a few of the projects in progress across the downtown.

And according to Mike Turner, president and partner in Turner Drake & Partners Ltd., it’s turning the core into a more people-friendly place and changing perceptions of it to a pleasure area from a business-only locale.

“Downtowns are very important in that they define the city,” said Turner in an interview with the Chronicle Herald

“Without a downtown, I guess you could argue that a city doesn’t have an identity.”

The real estate industry insider said that while there has been 17-per-cent growth in the office market in the Halifax Regional Municipality, the number of businesses remaining downtown is shrinking.

Business parks on the municipality’s outskirts are seeing a 35 per cent increase, while the core is seeing a decrease in demand.

“There has been a sea change in the way people work,” said Turner. “You have to have a reason for businesses to be downtown.”

In the secondary municipal planning strategy for the downtown, the HRM made residential development one of its top aspirations, with the plan to have 16,000 people moved downtown over the next 15 years.

Midtown Tavern co-owner Eric Grant said when more people move downtown, there can only be a benefit to those already situated in the core.

“It’s finally coming and it’s finally here and I think anything that’ll bring people back down to living downtown, it’ll make it better,” said Grant.

While pricing for some of the coming residential buildings may be expensive, he added, just being downtown might prompt more people to walk through his doors, only a few blocks away from The Roy.

“I’m sure we’ll get people who say, ‘Let’s walk up to the Midtown for supper tonight.’ Or you can have a couple extra drinks because you’re not driving — you live two blocks away,” said Grant.

“It’s got to be positive for everybody down here.”

However, with the number of developments downtown now with finish dates set for 2017, 2018 and beyond, the street closures and cranes dotting the sky aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. That means the amount of foot traffic seen by downtown businesses has decreased, causing revenues to drop.

Carleton Music Bar & Grill owner Mike Campbell said the various projects, both commercial and residential, have had some negative results.

“A lot of that stuff has done nothing except make it hugely difficult for people to get downtown in the first place,” said Campbell.

“The city, like everybody else, keeps saying ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’, but so far this has been long-term pain for maybe long-term gain.”

With the projects taking several years, he said, it’s making it more difficult to carry on business, though there are no plans to shut the doors anytime soon.

There are benefits, however, to the number of people who will move downtown.

Campbell said that, with the out-migration to suburban areas in previous years, having people return downtown is a good thing.

“Anything that brings people back to the downtown core, certainly in the Peninsula, I welcome it,” said Campbell.

Those who go downtown every day say the biggest issue they face, aside from walking through scaffolding, is reduced parking and increased traffic.

But Chase Murphy, who spoke to the Chronicle Herald outside The Roy building Friday, said even with the issues the construction is causing and the problems he has seen with parking, the future benefit is worth the wait.

“It obviously amps up the population down here,” said Murphy, who works downtown and visits his girlfriend there.

“So I guess bringing more people into the city can benefit work and the city as a whole, as a community.”

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