It’s a tale of two cities for businesses in downtown Halifax. Spring Garden Rd. is going strong while the downtown core regroups ahead of several major planned developments.
Bernard Smith, head of the Spring Garden Road Business Association, says sales along Halifax’s prime pedestrian shopping area have been rising for 18 months and they’re expecting last year’s “very good” Christmas to be repeated this year.
“I have a waiting list of people to get in,” he says of retailers. “Principal among these is a hardware store, which I can’t accommodate because we just don’t have the square footage.”
While the Thirsty Duck and Minstrels have failed on the east end, Smith says the strong performance of Your Father’s Moustache at the opposite end shows that bar/restaurants can thrive in the area.
Smith is excited about spreading business up Spring Garden’s side streets, with plans for “The Mews” by Saint Mary’s Cathedral, a string of smaller shops that would link Spring Garden to Barrington St.
The other big news is the Central Library, which will replace the current library on the corner of Queen and Spring Garden. Smith says businesses in the area are hoping not to lose parking south of Spring Garden as the city sells real estate to pay for the new facility.
“We’re trying to make sure the city doesn’t take two of them out at the same time, which would be fatal,” he says of the lots.
Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, says there was a lot of buzz 18 months ago as downtown office vacancy rates hit an all-time low.
“It looked like there was a lot of development that was going to happen, and I guess it’s a little bit less optimistic than it was,” he says.
Some of those projects, like Twisted Sisters and the Waterside Centre, are cleared to go, but haven’t started. “There’s maybe a little bit of a race between some of these projects moving forward. I think we’re more optimistic about some than others,” MacKinnon says.
Other empty spaces, like the Sam’s store on Barrington, have businesses who would like to operate in the space, but the property owners want to redevelop the sites first.
The downtown core could get a major jumpstart next spring, with plans expected for a new convention centre.
“That’s really going to provide a catalyst for the entire downtown, both retail and office space, and certainly hotels,” he says.