If you haven’t noticed the for lease sign on the second floor window yet, Dartmouth’s Old City Hall has been sold. The building was declared surplus by Council in 2015 after an analysis revealed that it wouldn’t lend itself well to being reused as a heritage museum. The new owner is Starfish Properties. Starfish is a large landowner in HRM, but most of their properties are on the Halifax side. The company owns the Roy Building, Morses Tea, G.M. Smith Building, the old Sam the Record Man, NS Furniture Building, Brander Morris Building, and the old Carsand Mosher. Basically, a large swath of Barrington Street.
This is Starfish’s first venture into Downtown Dartmouth and it’ll be interesting to see what they plan to do with Old City Hall. They’re generally in the business of renovations and in yesterday’s All Nova Scotia report, owner Lou Resnick indicates that’s their plan for Old City Hall. Starfish could pursue a more ambitious project in the future as the site does have development potential. The height limit allow for two more floors on top of the existing building and the building could also be extended on the King’s Wharf side of the property. HRM has retained ownership of the plaza that goes down to the Ferry Terminal, the trail along the back, and there are restrictions to protect the view from Alderney Drive. The sale price hasn’t been publicly released yet, but I can report that it was fair and I’m pleased with the result.
Thanks to a 2015 motion by Gloria McCluskey, the proceeds of Old City Hall will be set aside in a capital reserve for a new heritage museum. After the Cultural Heritage Priorities Plan is complete (currently underway), HRM will undertake a Feasibility Study for a new museum. This work is planned for 2018-2020, meaning that Dartmouth’s long lost museum could become a possibility after 2020 as a new Regional Museum. HRM’s long-term capital plan has $12,000,000 planned for 2020-2022. This timeline could of course change since it’s only the barest of estimates right now.
I know for some 2020 will be “too long.” I can understand the frustration. I served on the board at the Dartmouth Heritage Museum and know the back history of the condemned Wyse Road site (2002!) and the collection’s current home in a Burnside warehouse. Unfortunately, new public buildings don’t appear overnight. The Central Library, for example, was a project that was a decade in the making, as is the upcoming Sportsplex expansion. Dartmouth’s Bridge Bus Terminal was also a multi-year endeavour. What’s different now about the museum, which was never the case before, is there is money set aside and a plan to get there. What I’m hoping to see over the next four years for the museum is progress. With work finally underway on the planning side, an early 2020s opening would put a museum right on par with the timeline for other public institutions in HRM.