Developer plans to convert downtown Halifax office space into housing

·3 min read
The Centennial Building in Halifax takes up half a downtown block from Sackville Street northward, between Hollis and Granville streets. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
The Centennial Building in Halifax takes up half a downtown block from Sackville Street northward, between Hollis and Granville streets. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

A Halifax development group is planning to convert vacant downtown office space into apartments.

The conversion will happen at 1660 Hollis St., a 54-year-old office tower known as the Centennial Building.

Elliot MacNeil, president of Sidewalk Real Estate Development, said about 30 per cent of the building was vacant when purchased earlier this year and he expects that rate to increase to about 50 per cent with upcoming lease expiries.

As those commercial tenants clear out, about half the building will be renovated into one-, two- and three-bedroom loft apartments.

The project is one of three announced by the province last week as the recipients of more than $6 million to partially subsidize rents on some units.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Sidewalk, formerly known as the Bruno Group, redeveloped several buildings on Portland Street in downtown Dartmouth over the past few years.

"1660 Hollis is one of our larger redevelopment or adaptive reuse projects that we have coming up," MacNeil said in an interview.

He expects the flip to be complete in the next 18 to 24 months. The building is already zoned for residential use.

According to property records, the Hollis Street building was bought in August for $16.65 million.

Cost of rent to be determined

Sidewalk vice-president Joe Nickerson declined to say how much he expects the conversion will cost, as designs are not finalized. He said the $1.9 million from the province is the only government funding the project has received so far; it is otherwise funded by "an appreciated group of investors."

Nickerson said it's also too early to put an exact figure on what residential tenants will be charged in rent. Generally, though, he said rents will be on par with market rates for the area.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation survey of the private rental market in 2020 found average rents for the southern half of the Halifax peninsula were:

  • $1,270 for a one-bedroom apartment.

  • $1,758 for a two-bedroom apartment.

  • $2,029 for a three-bedroom apartment.

As part of the provincial deal, Sidewalk has agreed, for the first 20 years, to rent 38 of 100 apartments for at least 20 per cent below the average rate reported by CMHC. Nickerson said there will be no design differences between the units designated for affordability and the other 62 apartments.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Last week, Advanced Education Minister Brian Wong, speaking on behalf of Housing Minister John Lohr, said it would be up to landlords to make sure units designated as affordable "are going to the right people that qualify."

Nickerson said Sidewalk is waiting for more guidance from the province on how it should do that.

"Part of our pitch for this funding was that we're not looking to do … ultra-low income housing in the downtown core," he said. "What we are looking to do is create a more affordable unit for the people that create a healthy downtown."

Nickerson said he imagines that will include university students, artists, new entrepreneurs and people who work in bars and restaurants.

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