Strategic Urban Partnership to hold Cogswell Interchange consultation

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By Hilary Beaumont

Blow it up? Tear it down? And then what?

The Strategic Urban Partnership plans to ask Halifax residents what they think should happen to the Cogswell Interchange.

On Thursday, a council standing committee voted to allow the group to host an “ideas expo” to ask Halifax residents what they want to see on the nearly six-acre property separating the North End from downtown. The Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee also voted to incorporate the resulting ideas into HRM’s future decisions regarding the Cogswell Interchange.

After her presentation to council, SUP member and co-founder of The Hub Joanne MacRae said consultations could kick off around April, and that the process would resemble the HRM by Design engagement model. CBC Nova Scotia is set to co-host the effort.

MacRae said the “ideas expo” would be “part fair, part Pecha-Kucha [and] part regular meeting.”

Since January last year, HRM has been a $55,000 cost-sharing partner with SUP, and has provided the organization with $25,000 in funding. Businesses and organizations represented in SUP’s membership include NSCAD, Neptune, CarShare, the Ecology Action Centre, the NS Housing Trust, CoLab and Fusion Halifax. Art of Hosting advocate Tim Merry and Dalhousie School of Planning director Andy Fillmore sit on the seven-member organizing committee with MacRae.

The SUP presenter said the group hasn’t picked anyone to host the consultations yet.

Built in the late ‘60s and widely regarded as an ugly structure, the Cogswell Interchange has served to cut north end foot traffic off from the downtown, and has never carried the heavy traffic it was intended for.

The alleged economic facilitator and its concrete sister, Scotia Square, were built to tempt “cash and carry” drivers into the downtown. A highway around the peninsula, which was never built, was meant to provide a scenic route for drivers. Pedestrians were an afterthought, at best.

Since north end residents made it clear to former Councillor Dawn Sloane in 2000 that the eyesore had to go, HRM has solicited studies and looked for reasons to demolish the structure. But its demise only became a major priority last year in the run-up to the municipal election.

In October 2012 after several years of putting it off, HRM published a Request For Proposals for the site. And in December 2012, new Mayor Mike Savage identified the Cogswell Interchange redevelopment as a “legacy project,” and one of the first steps toward revitalizing the downtown.

When he was HRM supervisor for heritage and design in October 2011, Fillmore said council was waiting for one of three triggers before they would consider ripping the interchange down:

1) The maintenance costs outweigh the cost of demolition
2) A major structural problem makes it unsafe or unstable
3) The city receives a major public or private financial boost specifically targeted at the interchange

From 2009 to 2011, HRM spent $1 million repairing the structure. That work is meant to tide the interchange over until its demolition, or 2019. Whichever comes first.

Oddly enough, MacRae’s personal opinion of what should replace the interchange sounds a lot like what was there before; a residential neighbourhood was razed to make room for the interchange.

“I think there needs to be more people there,” MacRae said. She described a neighbourhood with townhouses. “For me it’s like, bring on the people.”

What would you like to see on the Cogswell Interchange site? We’d like to hear your comments below or on Facebook, here.

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