News: Old City Hall Sale and a New Museum

If you haven’t noticed the for lease sign on the second floor window yet, Dartmouth’s Old City Hall has been sold. The building was declared surplus by Council in 2015 after an analysis revealed that it wouldn’t lend itself well to being reused as a heritage museum. The new owner is Starfish Properties. Starfish is a large landowner in HRM, but most of their properties are on the Halifax side. The company owns the Roy Building, Morses Tea, G.M. Smith Building, the old Sam the Record Man, NS Furniture Building, Brander Morris Building, and the old Carsand Mosher. Basically, a large swath of Barrington Street.

This is Starfish’s first venture into Downtown Dartmouth and it’ll be interesting to see what they plan to do with Old City Hall. They’re generally in the business of renovations and in yesterday’s All Nova Scotia report, owner Lou Resnick indicates that’s their plan for Old City Hall. Starfish could pursue a more ambitious project in the future as the site does have development potential. The height limit allow for two more floors on top of the existing building and the building could also be extended on the King’s Wharf side of the property. HRM has retained ownership of the plaza that goes down to the Ferry Terminal, the trail along the back, and there are restrictions to protect the view from Alderney Drive. The sale price hasn’t been publicly released yet, but I can report that it was fair and I’m pleased with the result.

Survey Plan. Property sold outlined in red. Grey area is the existing building. The red shaded area is subject to restrictive covenant preventing construction of anything above the grade of Alderney Drive.

Thanks to a 2015 motion by Gloria McCluskey, the proceeds of Old City Hall will be set aside in a capital reserve for a new heritage museum. After the Cultural Heritage Priorities Plan is complete (currently underway), HRM will undertake a Feasibility Study for a new museum. This work is planned for 2018-2020, meaning that Dartmouth’s long lost museum could become a possibility after 2020 as a new Regional Museum. HRM’s long-term capital plan has $12,000,000 planned for 2020-2022. This timeline could of course change since it’s only the barest of estimates right now.

I know for some 2020 will be “too long.” I can understand the frustration. I served on the board at the Dartmouth Heritage Museum and know the back history of the condemned Wyse Road site (2002!) and the collection’s current home in a Burnside warehouse. Unfortunately, new public buildings don’t appear overnight. The Central Library, for example, was a project that was a decade in the making, as is the upcoming Sportsplex expansion. Dartmouth’s Bridge Bus Terminal was also a multi-year endeavour. What’s different now about the museum, which was never the case before, is there is money set aside and a plan to get there. What I’m hoping to see over the next four years for the museum is progress. With work finally underway on the planning side, an early 2020s opening would put a museum right on par with the timeline for other public institutions in HRM.


  1. We had been informed that the new museum would be on a site located near the Alderney waterfront area. Where is it to be located?

    • That would be something that’s sorted out as part of the Feasibility Report. The fleet vehicle parking lots at the corner of Alderney and Ochterloney is a possibility.

  2. As great as it will be to have a Museum back up and running in Dartmouth, it would kill me to have it along the water front, almost as much as it bothers me a library is on the most expensive piece of real estate.. A couple of blocks away from the water front would be awesome…

  3. Thanks Sam. We know that you will stay on top of this file and not let Council deviate too much or become distracted. We are looking at the possibility of a temporary display space which will bring higher public profile to some of the valuable treasures now languishing in the warehouse. Is there any flexibility among Councilors to assist with this?

    • Yes. The Museum Society is a non-profit so it’s eligible for funding from Councillor’s District funds.

  4. So happy to hear this building has finally been sold. I hope the sale price is decent. The Heritage Museum is one of the treasures of Dartmouth and greater Halifax. We have an interesting history and really need a new museum to tell more of our stories.
    Thanks, Sam, for this update.

  5. I am overjoyed to hear this good news!! Many Dartmouth Heritage Museum volunteers and Dartmouth residents will be so happy to see a new Museum rise up! Thanks for sharing the good news, Sam Austin!

  6. Sam, I wish I shared your optimism that a museum can be built for $12-million and be open by early 2020’s.

    But I do read that you are referring to a new museum in the singular form, as in one building. A staff report from 2016 reads, in part: “…does not presuppose that it be one single, purpose-built facility, but rather could conceivably be a strengthening and a strategic resourcing of the existing community museum network.”

    Are you indicating the desire of staff is to construct a single facility as a replacement of the demolished Dartmouth Heritage Museum?

    • You’re right, that option of a series of museums hasn’t been ruled out. For me I don’t see it as viable because we don’t have an existing facility to act as central hub to encapsulate our history. We have a series of scattered museums and there are many gaps. $12 million is a bit of a placeholder as we don’t know what the eventual cost will be. It’s simply an estimate for planning purposes. What I see is one day a Regional Museum in Dartmouth to replace the lost Dartmouth Heritage Museum and plug other gaps in our collective history that aren’t being told.

      • Might I suggest a more realistic value of $30 million be embedded as the placeholder. Logic being no one will have to arduously defend “exceeded estimated value” when the (presumably)arbitrary value is far below what the actual cost might be.

        By comparison, the Central Library was what … $60 million (?) and that doesn’t allow for a 10 year price creep.

        • The Central Library cost has usually been set at $50-55 million including all contents.
          On the assessment role the property is now assessed at $76.4 million and was above $74 million in the two prior years.

          • the total estimated project cost of the central library was$57.6 million. One will have to do some digging to realize the cost over runs, but this is not a debate for a museum in Dartmouth. My point remains: Park a value that is reflective of the cost. In 2020 when a staff report comes forward estimating a cost as $30-35 million it will be far too easy for Council to say “But we were told it would only cost $12 million” and walk away from the project. It is best to be realistic in the expectation from the start, this way no one feels blindsided. BTW, I think the museum discussion is a good one to have and is long over due. Thanks Sam, for bringing it forward – now pleas keep it alive.

    • Looking in Property Online, the deeds were registered on May 5. On the deed, it lists the price, $2,482,000, which is close to the listing price of $2,600,000. Considering this was the fourth offer on the property, I was worried that there would be a big gap between the list and the sale, but that proved not to be the case. It was apparently a condition of the sale that the price and identity of the buyer not be disclosed until the deal was complete. Now it’s all on the public record.

      • Thanks for the prompt reply. I don’t have online access to property online,too expensive.

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