Sports groups knock Common plan

While many support changes to the North Common, the city's plan to hold more concerts on the space strikes out with sports groups


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The Common as it looks today.

The City of Halifax is hoping to continue attracting large concerts to the North Common, a decision that has some sports groups crying foul.

Halifax Regional Municipality held an open house Wednesday to gather public thoughts on a multi-year $3-million plan to make changes to the North Common. The full proposal included everything from adding more landscaping to trying to make the Common more cyclist-friendly. But it was the continued commitment to hosting large concerts and the plan to eliminate a softball diamond to set up a plaza for such events that has attracted the most reaction.

"I think it's amazing that the city thinks they have enough green space to start taking it away," said Neil Hooper, athletic director at the University of King's College.

While he didn't attend the meeting, he said the city needs more places for recreational sports. Hooper says the Commons is a great place for students who want to get involved in sports, but are unable to book time on the busy university facilities.

Enlarge Image Enlarge image
A map of the city's overall plan for the North Common, to be completed over several years.

What it will cost

The cost breakdown for the project, according to the presentation the city gave Wednesday night:

  •  $915K –   Electricity - Light on paths, permanent power for concerts
  • $950K –    Improve and widen paths
  • $835K –    Beautification - Entrance plazas, landscaping, seeding, public art
  • $50K –     Tree planting
  • $250K –   Sport Field improvement

Total - $3 million


"This is the kind of place where a bunch of guys get together, find whatever space you can, throw down a few cones and play a game of touch football," Hooper said. "That's why our teams stopped [using] the Common, there was just so much going on there."

The most controversial part of HRM's plan is to eliminate the softball field that sits on the corner of Cogswell and North Park streets. In its place would be a small paved area, to be constructed later this year, which city planners say is to provide a place for community events and local artists.
But some of the work is also intended to make it an attractive spot for promoters wanting to hold large concerts on the Common. The plan would include features such as a permanent power hookup and a plastic grid under the grass that would support large equipment .

"Where there is already a real shortage of softball fields in the city, this really hurts," says Andrew White, who runs the Halifax Sport and Social club, which organizes recreational sports for adults in the city.

He says being able to play sports on the Common is great for students, many of whom are new to Halifax.

"We get people who come to the city and may not know people," he said. "They can get out and play sports and be social."

White says he's behind most of the plan, saying it does have some ideas on how to revitalize the space. But he fears continuing to hold large shows on the North Common will disrupt what he says is "prime real estate for sports groups."

Carolle Roberts, one of the architects that worked on the project, acknowledges that big events on the Common will affect people who use the space. But, she says while some play sports there, others like using it for other events.

"It's all a balancing act to try and have all of these activities on the Common and still make it work," she said.

Roberts says local sports aren't being ignored by the plan. Part of the money is being used to improve drainage on some of the fields, as well as to re-sod and level some of the diamonds in need of repair.

The plaza was put near the corner of North Park and Cogswell streets to minimize the impact on local athletes, she says. The field that is being scrapped was the least popular one, and is on the south-east corner, far away from most of the softball diamonds.

"There will be a disruption in the scheduling of [some] fields," Roberts said. "I think that's our strategy, to put it in the corner to affect the least number of fields."

But Beverly Miller, founder of the Friends of the Halifax Common, says any impact on the surrounding fields and paths is too much. She says that she's behind the idea of having a plaza set aside for small community events and local artists. But the big concerts have to moved somewhere else.

"That is public land. It's supposed to be for people. Blocking it off and selling tickets ... I don't think that is what it was put there for," Miller said.

She says a lot of the ideas the city has put forward, such as adding more landscaping and lighting in the green space, are encouraging. But the public consultation on the project "was not adequate," and the city isn't giving enough weight to the damage done by large shows.

White agrees, saying he's not sure that large concerts and recreational athletes can share the space.

"We'd love to be able to play on the Common," he says. "But right now, it's basically sit and wait until someone gives their spot up, or [the city] builds new space."


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