Okay, Stop (Waterfront Development Edition)

CBRM council seems to have righted a three-year-old wrong during its July 6 meeting by declining to extend a waterfront pre-development agreement with Martin Chernin’s Harbour Royale Development Ltd (HRDL) — an agreement that included a new central library.

As Mayor Amanda McDougall explained to council, this does not preclude them negotiating another waterfront development deal with HRDL, but it does remove the library from the mix, allowing them to consider other potential locations for the building, which, she said, everyone knows is badly needed.

I’ve written about this situation at length, but the long and short of it is that back in 2017, CBRM council issued a request for proposals to develop the Sydney waterfront from the Holiday Inn to the Cruise Pavilion, HRDL submitted a bid that included a new central library and council approved it. HRDL openly declared the public library was to be the “catalyst” for a private development that was to include a residential tower, a commercial tower, a “marine interpretive centre” and an expanded Holiday Inn housing a casino.

Harbour Royale Development Ltd's Sydney waterfront plan.

Harbour Royale Development Ltd’s Sydney waterfront plan. Note casino located in expanded Holiday Inn.


The writing has been on the wall for HRDL since March, when the development firm made an hour-long pitch to councilors, attempting to convince them to seek funding for a design and scope of work study for a new central library on the waterfront. Had council approved this, it would have nailed down the waterfront location of the library (and HRDL’s continued involvement in the project.)

But council refused to approve it, in fact, council defeated it soundly, by a vote of 10 to 3, for a variety of reasons, as I reported at the time:

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.

But HRDL still had its agreement and that agreement still included the library — something Deputy Mayor MacMullin took pains to point out during the July 6 meeting, explaining that as long as the agreement was in place, council could not, legally, pursue the library on its own.

In a letter to council dated 23 June 2021, Chernin requested the agreement, set to expire June 30, be extended another 18 months  (they’ve already had one 18-month extension) blaming council’s lack of “clarity” on the waterfront library for HRDL’s lack of progress of any description on the waterfront.

I was just going to report this straightforwardly, but Chernin’s letter has inspired a summer game of “Okay, stop.” (I’m just going to respond to some selected highlights here but will attach the entire letter at the end for your perusal.)


Dear Mayor and Council,

Re: HRDL-CBRM Waterfront Pre-Development Agreement (Agreement)

As you are aware, the Agreement is under threat of expiration pursuant to Agreement section 5(v).

Okay, stop.

Nice dramatic touch, but “the Agreement is about to expire, as we all knew it would after 18 months,” would do equally well.


The entire vision embodied in the CBRM approved Proposal was built around a new waterfront central library. HRDL continues to believe that the best and highest use of the waterfront lands includes the new central library. It is not alone in its assessment, as evidenced by the strong level of support from advocacy groups, First Nations and members of the public.

Okay, stop.

I fully admit the fault here lies with council which should never have allowed HRDL to include the library in its “vision.”

And while there are certainly people who support the waterfront location for the library, there are also people who worry that to build on the waterfront in 2021 is to run the risk that, as the writer Jeff Goodall puts it, “Mother Nature won’t respect the design specifications.”

There are some who think the extra expense of building on the waterfront (CAO Marie Walsh put it at $3 million) is unnecessary and some, like the Spectator‘s own Michelle Smith, who think the focus on the library as an “iconic” piece of architecture rather than a place for people is wrong-headed.

And there are some — I would venture to say “many” — who simply support the idea of a new library, wherever it might be located.

CBRM Zoom meeting 6 July 2021


Based on HRDL’s now three year involvement with and countless discussions with funding partners at both the political and staff level, its assumption continues to be that with a $7M cash contribution from CBRM, and the planned community library capital campaign…

Okay, stop.

There, in a nutshell, is the problem with this approach to the new central library.

The “funding partners” Chernin is referencing are the provincial and federal governments. Why should a private developer be negotiating PUBLIC funding for a PUBLIC building? It makes no sense, never has.

And while I’m sure they’d prefer to forget it, HRDL’s recommendation was not always that CBRM’s contribution would be $7 million in cash. When John Phalen, former CBRM economic development and major projects manager, wrote to council about the library in July 2018, he said:

…we can foresee a contribution of land and capital. Land could possibly be as much as an estimated three million and three million is possibly earmarked for CBRM Capital funding pending budget discussion and Council approval, and secured funding from the other levels of government.

Funny thing about that — land was not considered an “eligible contribution” under the federal funding stream they were attempting to tap and the application fizzled, causing then Mayor Cecil Clarke to declare the library “dead.”

As for that community capital campaign, why haven’t we launched it already? Money is site agnostic — we don’t need a location or a design to start piling it up as a show of public support for the library.


…CBRM can realize the most important piece of civic infrastructure in a generation on the waterfront, as a catalyst to private sector investment and downtown revitalization, and should it choose to embrace the opportunity presented by First Nations at a time when Reconciliation in the aftermath of the Residential School experience is firmly in the national discourse, an important statement about how the community sees itself in Unama’ ki.

Okay, stop.

Civic: Of, relating to, or belonging to a city, a citizen, or citizenship.

The library is an important piece of civic infrastructure which is precisely why HRDL, a private developer hoping to use it as a “catalyst” for a private development, should not be involved in this process.

The reference to “the opportunity presented by First Nations,” is unfortunately phrased, but I think they’re trying to say the library represents an opportunity to make some amends for the horrific legacy of the Residential Schools, in which case, I would echo what Deputy Mayor MacMullin pointed out during the discussion of the design and scope of work study in March; namely, that all 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.


This letter will be followed later this week by a Development Plan Application (DPA) that will include a new central library and a multi-residential apartment building. The DPA is being submitted to cover the eventuality that this extension request is refused, providing an alternative means of keeping the Agreement alive.

Okay, stop.

Say what, exactly?

Chernin has been talking about a residential development on the waterfront for over a decade now, and this particular iteration, the apartment tower, since at least 2016. So one interpretation of this DPA is that it’s Chernin cutting to the chase and admitting there was never any real plan to convince the Holiday Inn to expand or the casino to move or to build a marine interpretative center or even an office tower — the plan has been to use the library as a catalyst for a residential building he’s been about to break ground on for years.


If the decision is made to proceed with a new central library on the waterfront, and to seek design development funding as a stepping stone to a capital funding proposal as your prospective funding partners have requested, then as your contractural development partner selected through a competitive process that has met all its obligations and owns all of the relevant design development data, HRDL expects to continue to lead the design development exercise and to be appropriately compensated in accordance with the applicable industry standards used to establish the design development budget. Should CBRM go on to achieve project funding and eventually tender for library construction, it could determine at that time whether there was any further role for HRDL in this part of the waterfront development.

Okay, stop.

So even if the contract is not extended, should the CBRM decide to build the library on the waterfront land it owns, HRDL expects to lead the design process and be compensated for it?

Presumably, these were the legal implications council went in camera during the July 6 meeting to discuss with regional solicitor Demetri Kachafanas. I have no idea if this would hold up in court, but it could serve as an argument for building the library somewhere else.

And what “relevant design development data” does HRDL own? No official design work has been done. As far as I can tell, HRDL “owns” a bunch of computer-generated pictures of a library.




HRDL wishes to continue to work on this important waterfront development site with CBRM, in a renewed spirit of cooperation and collaboration, and believes it is entitled to do so whether or not CBRM has changed its mind about the inclusion of a new library. It is time for candour and decisions from CBRM as to its intentions regarding the library.

Okay, stop.

“Entitled.” Indeed.

Let’s see if I understand this correctly:

HRDL wanted an extension to its pre-development agreement to continue working on developing the entire waterfront, including the library.

Failing that, it wants approval for a development plan that includes a private apartment building and a public library and it wants to lead the design process for the library and be compensated for its efforts — a deal that would put us, as a community, in precisely the same situation we are already in with regard to the library.

Finally, if council won’t go for this, and decides against situating the library on the waterfront, HRDL still wants to “work on this important waterfront development site,” although its vision for the site was “built around” the library and the library was to serve as the “catalyst” for the entire development. (Somebody’s going to have to make a trip to the vision store by way of the catalyst store.)

End tape

Council, as noted, went in camera for 45 minutes to discuss Chernin’s request, then came back and voted 10-3, without any further discussion, against extending the contract.

Deputy Mayor MacMullin had earlier moved a motion asking staff for an Issue Paper on next steps for the library, but withdrew it to allow council to first vote on the extension of the HRDL contract. She didn’t reintroduce this motion during the July 6 meeting, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens next in this page-turner.