O’Keefe discounts warnings issued by Nova Scotia’s auditor general
The St. John's Convention Centre is getting a $45 million expansion. File photo
St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe is undaunted by a not-so-rosy outlook for the convention business noted by Nova Scotia’s auditor general recently.
“Everything is positive and I’m looking forward to opening the (expanded) convention centre,” O’Keefe told The Telegram.
Construction of the expansion to the St. John’s convention centre — which began this fall with the demolition of a group of buildings and houses — is expected to be completed in 2016 and will now cost $60 million.
In November, the Nova Scotia AG tackled the Crown corporation Trade Centre Ltd.’s advice in support of a new convention centre in Halifax.
“This information lacks appropriate analysis and doesn’t meet the standard of rigor required in such a significant proposal,” Jacques Lapointe told media at the time.
While being careful to point out he was not giving an opinion on the merits of a new convention centre, he cautioned the Nova Scotia government it needs the best information to make a sound decision.
“The Trade Centre’s market projections include growth and market share assumptions that are not adequately supported. Some industry realities were ignored, including the over-supply of convention centre spaces in Canada, new competitors and the stagnant convention market,” LaPointe said.
“The assumption that international convention business in Canada will continue to grow at pre-recession 1999-2008 levels is not supported and, given international economic conditions, may be doubtful.”
O’Keefe said Halifax and St. John’s are entirely different markets — St. John’s is competing against Altantic Canada destinations such as Charlottetown, P.E.I., and Fredericton, N.B., while Halifax is going up against big players such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
“We’ve done our studies and our homework. We’re not going into it blindly,” O’Keefe said.
The current convention centre hosts 10-15 conventions a year, but the city’s studies have shown solid potential to double that as well as boost the hotel business, O’Keefe said.
He said the city is a popular destination that now has meetings and conventions confirmed into 2016.
In St. John’s, the province will chip in $15 million, the federal government will contribute $15 million and Destination St. John’s will pay the rest.
The city’s share will initially be borrowed, and will be paid for over time with a hotel levy.