The Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s latest State of The Downtown Report provides a concise snapshot of the success of the combined effort of business, development and municipal & provincial government’s plan to reverse a trend of decline in downtown Halifax.

The stakeholders recognized a need for change in how to make the downtown attractive for work and living.  Downtown Halifax’s tight geographic design was ideal for a generation that demanded a new balance between work and personal life.  Designing a community to, not only accommodate those that are attracted to the work and live lifestyle of downtown, but to continually attract suburban dwellers and visitors alike to enjoy the attractions, amenities and events of downtown. This did not happen by accident.  It was all part of the long term vision of those that have accepted the challenge to save the downtown core and build Halifax’s brand equity in Canada.

Although one may interpret graphs in the report differently, relevant statistics don’t lie.  Despite the shifts and changes in demographics, economy and governments, and throwing in a couple of natural disasters and a worldwide pandemic, the vision remains consistent and the graphs show results.  

Despite not wanting to dwell on any “downside” to any positive efforts of the stakeholders, it was encouraging to see that the report did not ignore the negative forces that continue to exist in the growth of downtown.  

Retail in the core declining over the period is not exclusive to the downtown as the retail world is at our fingertips and delivery trucks at our door. However, post pandemic numbers show a positive momentum.

Halifax downtown “foot traffic” is the 2nd highest recovery in the Canadian markets, with 75% of workplaces being back to office. Office vacancy is still not as high as other periods in time and not as high as currently experienced in other major markets.  It’s not fair to dwell on this as the business and government worlds adjust to the unknowns, and the lingering effects of COVID restrictions. The resolve to this dilemma lies somewhere between having everyone back to work to changing the use of excess office space.  Any and all of these solutions come with social, financial and physical challenges that will prevent any easy solution from being implemented quickly.

The chart on “how do people get downtown” is interesting.  The move from auto to foot and transit illustrates the increase in downtown population either living or living and working downtown.  What is surprising, is that after millions of dollars spent on improvements to roadways to make cycling safer and more accessible, the use of bicycles to get downtown hasn’t changed in five years.  Was the effort a waste of money and resources or insufficient money and resources being allocated to these costly projects?

Downtown Halifax area grew its residential population by 26.1%, which makes downtown Halifax the fastest growing across the Country. With this and the fact that over half of our population is ages 15-34, would indicate that the young professionals that once would leave the Province to other major metropolises for the downtown life they want, are remaining in Halifax and growing its landscape and economy. This is great news for business growth and employment, which in turn will stabilize our commercial real estate portfolios.

Together, public and private interest will keep the vision of a better downtown on the right path despite new hurdles, as well as some of the old hurdles, always trying to slow the momentum.

Read the full State of the Downtown Report 2023 here: