On the Waterfront? Not So Fast…

Here are the important takeaways from this morning’s CBRM special council meeting on the proposed new CBRM Central Library:


Aurevoir, HRDL?

Council took a major step toward ending the agreement that has given a private developer, Martin Chernin’s Harbour Royale Development Limited, control over the proposed new library.

At the end of a 3+ hour meeting that included an hour-long presentation by HRDL (no word of lie, architect Spiro Trifos started his “update” on the project in 1785), District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald moved that council agree to seek funding for a design and scope of work study for a new Central Library on the waterfront.

Brian Shebib

Brian Shebib presenting to CBRM council on March 31 on behalf of HRDL.

Council defeated the motion soundly, by a vote of 10 to 3. The only councilors to vote in favor were Eldon MacDonald, District 8 Councilor James Edwards and District 7 Councilor Steve Parsons. The rest of the councilors — and Mayor Amanda McDougall — voted against the motion.

CBRM is still bound by its exclusivity agreement with HRDL, which won a tender to develop the Sydney waterfront in 2018 with a plan that included the public library, but that agreement expires in June and in answer to a question earlier in the meeting, CAO Marie Walsh said there was no reason why council could not carry on its pursuit of a new Central Library without HRDL — perhaps in another location or at a lower cost.

HRDL admitted during the meeting that it has made no real progress on the overall waterfront development, the first phase of which was to include the public library plus a private residential tower and private office tower. Brian Shebib, speaking on behalf of HRDL, blamed this on the CBRM’s delay in committing to the waterfront location for the library. The group had hoped to use the public building as a “catalyst” for the rest of the development.

Councilors, who all agreed the CBRM needed a new central library, gave various reasons for voting against the motion. Deputy Mayor Earlene MacMullin said she needed to be more comfortable with the municipality’s ability to afford the increased operating costs of the new building while District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie wondered if it might be possible to consider other locations, a step in the process that never actually took place.



Council was apparently told by the province to provide “clarity” on the proposed location for the library if it hoped to access funding, which is why Eldon MacDonald proposed his motion. The province has yet to agree to fund the library and CAO Marie Walsh said Chief Terry Paul of Membertou has also informed her they cannot provide funding for a building they won’t own. Senator Dan Christmas, who spoke to the potential of the library as a symbol of Reconciliation during the meeting said, politely, that it would hardly be a true symbol of Reconciliation were the Mi’kmaq required to pay for it.

In terms of potential federal funding, Wayne MacDonald, manager of engineering and public works, said the feds are in the process of establishing a funding stream for “Green and Inclusive Community Buildings” and the municipality has been requested to complete a questionnaire to help inform the process.

The municipality was asked to provide feedback on the types of projects it would seek to fund, and council this morning approved the following list (taken from a laundry list of potential capital projects drawn up in 2020) for inclusion:

CBRM Projects

Listing this projects on the questionnaire does not, as multiple councilors were careful to clarify, in any way lock the CBRM into providing funding to any of these projects, it’s the “very preliminary” beginning of a process that will see the federal government determining the criteria for the program.


Land contribution

The CBRM had planned, earlier in this process, to use the waterfront property as part of its contribution to the project.

In presenting this plan to council, then-economic development manager John Phelan valued the property at $3 million.

Senator Dan Christmas

Senator Dan Christmas presenting to CBRM council on March 31 on behalf of HRDL.

This morning, under questioning by District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie and District 8 Councilor James Edwards, CAO Marie Walsh said that the land had not been formally assessed, that she did not know where the $3 million number had come from and that assessments they’ve had done for other nearby waterfront properties suggest its value may actually be $2.4 million.

District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald said he believed the $3 million figure had come from NS Property Valuation Services.

It was noted that Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway had sent an email to council stating that property could not be considered as part of the municipality’s contribution to the project. District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald claimed that might change when the federal government established the criteria for the new funding stream.


Speaking of numbers

HRDL had estimated the cost of the design and scope of work study at $1.5 million which, were the costs shared equally by three levels of government, would put the CBRM on the hook for $500,000.

District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie asked how much the CBRM had spent on previous library studies and no one had the figures to hand so I thought I’d look them up:





It was also mentioned during the course of the meeting that the McConnell Library is in need of $50,000 in roof repairs, but as District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger noted, these repairs would have to be done even if funding for a new library came through tomorrow.

Finally, it was noted that building on the waterfront would add an estimated $3 million to the costs of the new library.



I thought I’d have to recap everything the HRDL “so-called team” (as project manager Jim Wooder referred to them) had to say today but clearly, council wasn’t particularly swayed by what Shebib, Trifos and Chamber of Commerce CEO Kathleen Yurchesyn were selling.

Or maybe more correctly, they mostly realized, as Deputy Mayor MacMullin put it, that all of the benefits associated with the new central library in terms of Reconciliation and economic development and place building and service to the community will be true of it no matter where it is built.

I’ll probably have more to say about this next week (I’m taking Good Friday off), once I’ve had time to digest this. But I have to say, CBRM council impressed me today.