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Province undecided on funding for $300M convention site

As the debate intensifies, the province has set a deadline on whether to fund a new convention centre for downtown Halifax.

As the debate intensifies, the province has set a deadline on whether to fund a new convention centre for downtown Halifax. But that deadline could be worrisome for development advocates.

Infrastructure Renewal Minister Bill Estabrooks said Thursday he plans to bring the contentious issue of whether to support an estimated $300-million convention centre on Argyle Street to his cabinet colleagues on April 19.

The date falls weeks after the provincial budget will be released. That would seem to imply there’s no convention centre money set aside for 2010-11, but Estabrooks said that’s not necessarily the case.

“You can’t take that as a given,” he said. “To be truthful, I’m not sure of the details of it, but we’re proceeding along as we make the final decision of whether this is going to be a go or not.”

Estabrooks described the April 19 meeting as a “potential off-ramp” on whether or not to go forward with a new centre. He also said there is no guaranteed money from the federal government, which could put much more strain on a province already running a half-a-billion dollar deficit.

Developer Joe Ramia is already underway demolishing the old Chronicle Herald and Midtown Tavern buildings to make room for the potential new trade centre.

Those for and against the centre have increasingly divided into camps in recent days. Trade Centre Limited estimates Nova Scotia has lost 70 conferences and $4 million in tax revenue over the last three years. One online petition to support a new centre has gained over 730 signatures in the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, the Coalition to Save the View from Citadel Hill released data Thursday from a University of Texas professor showing event attendance for conventions has been dropping.

According to the coalition, Dr. Heywood Sanders’s research shows attendance dropped in the top 50 Canadian events by one-third between 1998 and 2008, despite exhibit space growing by 11 per cent.