Following several weeks of campaigning by those who wished to keep Halifax’s Khyber Building as a publicly owned arts facility, Halifax City Council voted unanimously today to remove the building from a possible list of surplus properties.
City staff had suggested in the spring that the building be declared surplus, with the result that the building could be sold at market value while still possibly trying to retain some facets of being an arts cultural centre. City staff also estimated at the time that the building, originally constructed in 1888, required $4.15 million in recapitalization and repairs, but is only valued at $1.36 million.
But a group called Friends of the Khyber struck back with petitions and campaigning, stating “we believe that Halifax deserves a cultural and creative hub in a well-maintained, publicly-owned Khyber Building.”
The group’s cause gained national profile this morning with Jian Ghomeshi’s opening essay for his CBC radio program Q, in which he asked that the Khyber be saved from private development. “Here’s hoping that Halifax, a city that cares deeply about its past, can also look to its artistic future,” Ghomeshi said.
A few hours later, just before a packed City Council meeting that would decide the fate of the building, the Friends of the Khyber handed off a petition with 2,000-plus signatures to Councillor Waye Mason. The Khyber building sits in Mason’s district, and in his history prior to becoming a councillor, he programmed many musical acts for the space.
Supporters of the Khyber also wore “Khyber Forever” T-shirts to today’s Council meeting, but—in a strange turn—were told once in session that they would have to remove or reverse them because they violated Council’s “no sign” rule.
In any case, Council voted 16-0 to defer listing the Khyber as surplus pending other staff reports—particularly one following up on a 2010 suggestion that city staff work with longtime arts-org tenants of the Khyber to determine the possibility of developing an arts incubator there. (In his case to Council, Mason argued that the 2010 recommendation had never been followed up on adequately in the first place.)
“I think Khyber supporters should recognize how much political power they have, and keep applying it,” tweeted veteran journalist Tim Bousquet via the Halifax Examiner.
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