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Group urges council to approve sale of Halifax's old Khyber building

The old Khyber building
The old Khyber building - Google Earth

A community group is hopeful Halifax regional councillors will ignore a staff recommendation and give the go-ahead on the proposed purchase of a 130-year-old heritage building downtown.

The 1588 Barrington Preservation Society is offering to buy the old Khyber building for $1, but the group says it needs about $345,000 in grants and tax concessions to start turning the facility into an arts and cultural hub.

Part of that funding is needed to hire a professional fundraiser.

Built in 1888 by the Church of England Institute, the four-storey Victorian Gothic building has an assessed value of about $1.5 million. Two hazardous materials assessments found asbestos, lead paint, mould and fixtures possibly containing PCBs or mercury,according to a municipal staff report. It needs about $3.2 million in renovations to become an effective incubator and hub for arts and cultural organizations, with performance and gallery space set aside for artists, said Emily Davidson, president of the preservationsociety.

“As a non-profit organization, which is currently entirely volunteer- run, we know that running a capital campaign is a really big job and so that’s something that we would want to hire a professional to do,” she said.

In a paper scheduled to be presented to regional council on Tuesday, staff suggest the designated municipal heritage property could be sold to the society, depending on the contents of an updated five-year capital and operating budget, including confirmed sources of funding.

“There’s sort of a catch-22 happening with the motion as put forward by staff,” said Davidson.

Under the staff proposal, the society would have to confirm funding sources first, but federal and provincial grants can’t be confirmed until the society has control of the building, she said.

“In our correspondence we’ve outlined that conundrum and are hoping that councillors will see our research on how the funding structure works and realize that if we want to move towards this project, even if federal and provincial bodies are open to funding it, that those bodies actually need the assurances that the city is willing to sell to the society.”

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