It will likely be 2018 before anyone’s down at the Khyber.
A staff report coming to HRM Regional Council on Tuesday is once again recommending to sell 1588 Barrington Street, but this time under the city’s “community interest” category.
That means a community group will be able to buy the property at less-than-market value, but not before a competitive application process and public hearing. Even in a best case scenario city staff warn that will take between 18 to 24 months.
That’s a long wait for the Friends of the Khyber and 1588 Barrington Street Building Preservation Society, who have been working over the last year on plans to renovate and expand the storied heritage property. The consortium of community activists submitted a proposal to the city earlier this winter, but needed HRM to delay any decision on selling the building for one year to allow time to fundraise. It was then hoped Halifax would sell the Khyber to the group for a less-than-market value of around $1 (what the city paid for it originally).
As good as that proposal may or may not have been, HRM has no way of selling property to a single potential buyer at less-than-market value.
“There is no program of council that enables staff to negotiate exclusively to donate a building,” acting director of operations support Peter Stickings writes.
Friends of the Khyber organizer Emily Davidson says she has faith in the process, despite the risk of opening the building’s future up to other potential proposals.
“This is kind of the best case scenario in terms of the building eventually coming into the hands of our group,” she says. “We think that we’ve really integrated a bunch of communities that have a stake in the building...I feel excited about the possibility of it being in the community stream.”
The city could also sell the Khyber to the community group at market price, but that would require a tremendous amount more fundraising, on top of renovation costs.
Asbestos, lack of accessibility and deteriorating conditions lead tenants Heritage Trust and the Khyber Arts Society to vacate 1588 Barrington Street in early 2014 while HRM assessed what was needed for renovations. The KAS moved to Cornwallis Street temporarily before heading down to Hollis Street. City staff estimated it would take $4 million to bring the building up to code, and instead recommended the property be sold as surplus.
Public outcry lead Regional Council to instead direct staff and community groups to figure out some way—any way—to save the building and manifest the downtown arts incubator that council has repeatedly asked for.
If the Friends of the Khyber’s extensive proposal is approved, it would be quite literally a new lease on life for the 127-year-old heritage building.
In the meantime, HRM is paying roughly $35,000 annually in security and utilities on the Khyber building while it sits empty.