When SHIP Met EllisDon

Say you’re a former advertising executive turned “port developer” and February 2022 finds you in the seventh year of your exclusive contract to turn the Port of Sydney into a transshipment hub for ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs) with pretty much nothing to show for yourself.

Initial deals with the Chinese have fallen through, financial arrangements with American infrastructure funds are no longer discussed and although you claim to have “shippers” ready and willing to call at your Sydney terminal, you apparently can’t convince a government or a private sector entity to restore the rail connection between your port and the rest of North America.

What to do?

Well, if you’re Albert Barbusci of Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP), you team up with EllisDon Inc to form a new entity called SHIP.ED and fire off a proposal to develop the Sydney waterfront between the cruise pavilion and the Holiday Inn.

How do I know this? Because I FOIPOPed the CBRM, asking to see the three proposals it received in response to its RFP for Sydney waterfront development and—credit where credit is due—although the municipality took the full 30 days to provide its response, that response included the release of two proposals “with some severing.” The third proposal remains subject to review by an unnamed “third party” but I should know by May 25 whether I’ll be granted access to the records “with the required redactions.”

The CBRM did not charge me for the documents I’ve been sent, including the winning proposal from Doucet Developments, which we’ll discuss in detail next week, and the runner-up from SHIP and EllisDon (or as they’re calling themselves, SHIP.ED) which we’re going to sink our teeth into right now.


Who’s Who

I don’t know how SHIP.ED is pronounced but I really hope they’ve opted for the slightly Shakespearean “ship-ed”—as in “wither hast thou ship-ed my containers?”—over than the more prosaic “shipped.”

The SHIP.ED team consists of:

Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP), which was “established to develop and market Novaporte, the Port of Sydney’s new deep-water container terminal and adjacent logistics park, Novazone” but:

By way of this expression of interest, in partnership with EllisDon, SHIP is expanding its mandate to the other side of Sydney Harbour…

Because why not expand your own mandate? Especially when your bio makes it sound like your work at Novaporte is done?

EllisDon a “world-leading, employee-owned and sustainability-focused construction and building services company” that “completes in excess of $5 billion of work annually, in every market sector and across the globe.” (I’ve taken a closer look at EllisDon in a separate article.)

“Supporting” the SHIP.ED team are:

Membertou Development Corporation, “an equity partner with SHIP in the Novaporte development” that will work closely with SHIP.ED to “influence the final make-up and design of the waterfront development.”

Trifos Design Consultants, an “Architectural/Interior-Design Firm providing a broad range of services.”


Some assembly required

As you will no doubt recall, Martin Chernin’s Harbour Royale Development Ltd (HRDL) has been threatening to develop something on the waterfront for over a decade now and Chernin owns some of the property on which SHIP.ED was proposing to build.

Sadly, details as to how the necessary land was to be assembled were redacted from the proposal, leaving us to guess at the meaning of fragments like this one from Section 04, “Coordination with Other Land Parcels & Development”:

In advance of this submission, [REDACTED] adjacent to the municipally owned parcels and have had positive discussions with the Port of Sydney to collaboratively incorporate their development plans for Fisherman’s Cove to further densify the most northern end of the Development.

Or this one, from Section 01 (iii) (6), which implies the land has been assembled, although we’re not permitted to know how:

Text from a waterfront development proposal.


Picture this

Did SHIP.ED strike some sort of deal with Chernin? Is that why Trifos Consulting is working with them? Because Spiro Trifos has spent over a decade drawing pictures of our waterfront for Chernin’s HRDL.

Here’s some of his earlier work:


HRDL’s $46 million “Spanish Gates” complex was to consist of 43 condos, a 124-room hotel, retail space and restaurants and be “probably no higher than seven stories.”

CBRM council actually modified the North End Development plan, which it was in the process of drafting at the time, to accommodate Spanish Gates (including reducing the number of protected harbor view planes from six to four) but the development never materialized. In 2015, Chernin announced plans for a scaled-back proposal—a residential tower with retail space on the ground floor—but that never materialized either:

sketch of a residential tower



HRDL’s 2018 proposal to develop the Sydney waterfront from the Holiday Inn to the cruise pavilion included an office tower, a residential tower, a marine interpretive center, an expanded Holiday Inn, a relocated casino and, of course, a 40,000-square-foot public library:

Harbour Royale Development Ltd's Sydney waterfront plan.

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


Trifos would later elaborate on the office tower, residential tower and library:

Artist's rendering, new CBRL Central Library, Sydney waterfront.

Artist’s rendering, new CBRL Central Library, Sydney waterfront.

Chernin was granted an initial 18-month pre-development agreement in 2018 and then an 18-month extension, but when he returned for a third extension in 2021, council turned him down and initiated a new RFP for waterfront development proposals.

Which apparently led Trifos to team with SHIP.ED, abandon his computer and pick up his colored pencils to re-imagine our waterfront one more time. Prepare to be dazzled.


Waterfront 3.0

The “curving, sculptural and dynamic architectural elements” first glimpsed in Trifos’ library sketches now envelope the entire waterfront where they are intended to:

…generate a unique persona and modern identity for the waterfront, echoing the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which ultimately feed the beautiful Sydney Harbour by which the Development is to live.

(To say nothing of the waves that might one day rise up and smash this glass utopia to shards.)


Sketch of a waterfront development.


From left to right, we begin with the “signature book-end” for the development—a residential block with “ground-level retail kiosks accessing the civic plazas and desirable apartment units.”

Trifos has, with the permission of the Port, incorporated his design for their Fisherman’s Wharf kiosks into the SHIP.ED plan, doubling their number while he was at it.

Between the two blocks of kiosks is the “Mi’kmaw Cultural Park and Amphiplaza” including a sweat lodge, a ceremonial fire and a wigwam light sculpture.  I guess these features have the approval of Membertou Corporate, but I am finding it hard to come to grips with the idea of a sweat lodge as a tourist attraction. According to the Mi’kmaw Culture website, sweat lodges are for “spiritual cleansing” and are best located in a private place “to ensure that there will be no interruptions or distractions.” Smack dab in the middle of a “mixed-use urban development” on the Sydney waterfront doesn’t seem like that place. (And wouldn’t it be like building a church or a temple or a mosque as a tourist attraction?)

As for the next building, it really deserves a closer look:

Sketch of a waterfront condo.

This is a 50,000-square-foot commercial office space block (5 stories) and an 80,000-square-foot condo block (4 stories) with 23,500-square-feet of ground-level parking and commercial units and a Cyclops eye trained permanently on Westmount.

Next is a “grand staircase” at Dorchester Street which has been lifted directly from Chernin’s 2015 office tower plan.

Then there’s a convention center with a 20,000-square-foot cultural center on its roof and a two-level parking garage with 300-vehicle capacity in its basement, but as for what’s in between (and next door):

A block of redacted text.


I really don’t think the censor’s heart was in it, because while they carefully excised any reference to the name of the hotel, the drawing clearly shows a link between the fantasy buildings and the existing Holiday Inn. (Chernin’s 2018 plan, you’ll recall, called for the Holiday Inn to expand and house the relocated casino.)

And a reference on p. 11-12 states:

The conceptual cultural museum is adjacent to the Dorchester/Esplanade Grand Stair, linked to the new convention meeting facility, casino and hotel EXPANSION [emphasis mine].

And the information that was redacted from the first drawing is visible in a subsequent drawing:

Sketch of a waterfront development.

Unless SHIP.ED thinks it can convince the Holiday Inn to link itself to a competing waterfront hotel, I think we can assume the hotel is the Holiday Inn.

I don’t know what’s been redacted in the lower right-hand corner of this sketch.

In its response to my FOIPOP, the CBRM informed me that information would be severed in accordance with subsection 465 (2) of of Nova Scotia’s Municipal Government Act, which states:

The right of access to a record does not extend to information exempted from disclosure pursuant to this Part but, if that information can reasonably be severed from the record, an applicant has the right of access to the remainder of the record.

The excuse for all the redactions (including Section 02, “Preliminary Costing and Timeline,” which is redacted entirely) is 481 (1), which allows bodies to refuse to disclose information for a variety of business-related reasons, although the person doing the redacting didn’t feel the need to specify which business-related reason was being invoked.


All’s well that ends well?

Council didn’t choose this proposal.

I find that interesting, given it came from their port promoter Albert Barbusci and had the support of both the Port of Sydney and Membertou Corporate. This is the same council, after all, that renewed SHIP’s contract for three years in 2021 on the strength of Membertou’s involvement in the deal. Is it possible the bloom is off that particular rose?

Maybe the inclusion of a convention center set off alarm bells. Convention centers are so 1980s—the original plan for Centre 200 was a convention center with dining and meeting facilities attached to its 5,000-seat multipurpose arena. EllisDon likes convention centers, though, because it was involved in the construction of Halifax’s Nova Centre, which encompasses the Halifax Convention Centre.

Architect's sketch of a glass building.

Source: Nova Centre

EllisDon also clearly assumes news from Halifax doesn’t make it as far as the CBRM, and that our councilors hadn’t heard that completion of the Nova Centre was delayed repeatedly, that it came in over budget and that Events East, the Crown corporation that runs the Halifax Convention Centre, lost $5.5 million in 2019-2020, $11.3 million during the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020-2021 and $7.5 million in 2022-2023.(Events East doesn’t characterize these as losses but as “shareholder contributions,” meaning, injections of funds from the Province of Nova Scotia and HRM.)

Looking back at the Halifax Examiner‘s coverage of the convention center saga, I found myself reading the minutes from a 9 November 2010 meeting of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) council, during which Dr. Heywood Sanders, a professor of public policy at the University of Texas (San Antonio) presented to council on the proposed convention center.

In 2010, that is, 13 years ago, Sanders warned HRM councilors that:

…the Convention Centre market in North America is in decline and that the economic impact of building or expanding convention centres in the current market is overstated.

As recently as 2022, Sanders was “poking holes” in Austin, Texas’ $1 billion plan to expand its convention center, telling city councilors that other than the major convention hubs of Chicago, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Orlando:

…convention centers across the country are fighting each other with room and rental discounts for bookings that haven’t kept up with expansion plans. And business for those cities had stayed flat for more than 20 years through 2019 even though all four had expanded their facilities’ square footage by 61 percent in total.

Sanders’ presentation demonstrated the lengths to which convention centers were going to attract business—including a letter from the Montréal Convention Center to organizers of the 2020 Organization for Human Brain Mapping offering a 50% discount from the convention center, a fixed contribution from the Tourisme Montréal, and a room rebate from the hotels which reduced the rental from $192,724 to $0. (The event was eventually held virtually.)

Picture of a virtual polar bear peering down at a city street.

The Coast captioned this architectural drawing of the Nova Centre “A terrifying vision of HRM’s future?”

But the convention center is just the most egregious aspect of the SHIP.ED proposal’s “If you build it, they will come” vibe. The proponents offer literally no evidence, for example, that Sydney is in need of 50,000 square-feet of commercial office space.

They get around all this with a disclaimer on page 8 that states:

SHIP.ED’s concept for the Development will be refined and further detailed at the second stage of CBRM’s review process and, if selected, we intend to undertake a feasibility study as well as solicit feedback form the community on our vision and the public spaces we will ultimately be developing along the waterfront.

But as I said, council wasn’t buying it.

I would love to have heard the debate over this proposal—and I continue to maintain that we should have heard it—but council chose to consider the waterfront development proposals it received in camera. And it selected the one submitted by Doucet Developments, which we’ll consider next week.

Here’s the full SHIP.ED proposal: