New state-of-the-art LEED marketplace already needs overhaul

Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market is about to undergo a multi-year renovation – something that wouldn’t be unusual if the massive waterfront building was aging.
But the 45,000 sq. ft. market is a state-of-the-art environmental show-piece built to LEED platinum standards only three years ago at a cost of $14-million. The obvious question is, why is such a relatively new structure already facing an overhaul?
Talk to market executive director Julie Chaisson and the renovations sound benign. The two to three-year project includes removing a central staircase to the building’s second floor to make way for a double-width garage door entrance that will open the building’s interior to the outside; adding utilities such as water and electricity where they currently don’t exist; and changing the interior layout of the building to improve the flow of traffic within.
Already, the living wall – a vertical garden sandwiched between two large windows that climbed the height of the market – near the entrance has been dismantled. “It didn’t have overhead light. It was difficult to water and no matter what we did, we couldn’t get it to grow,” Chaisson said.
No matter what we did, we couldn’t get it to grow: that just as easily sums up the problem for the Seaport Farmer’s Market. In many ways, the market is the victim of its own success. Founded in 1750, it is the oldest continuous operating market in North America.

14 homes since 1750
The market has had 14 homes in its long history. Before moving to its current building, it was in a claustrophobic warren of rooms in the Keith’s Brewery Building on Lower Water Street.
On Saturdays, thousands of people would pour into the brewery building, shouldering past buskers lining the tight corridors and would spill into the different rooms to fight for space in front of the many vendors.
The crowding led to the idea of a new, spacious building, which quickly began to take on incredible dimensions. The new market would not just be larger, it would be greener; in fact, it would be the greenest! The list of things the market should incorporate ballooned – and so did the cost.
That the new building – the work of architectural firm Lydon Lynch and landscape architect Vollick McKee Petersmann & Associates – is an environmental showpiece is undeniable. In Sustainable Architecture and Building Magazine, writer Jim Taggart lauded the market “as a step forward in our understanding of sustainability.”
Among the features he cited were the building’s green roof, the second largest in Canada, incorporating 100 mm depth of soil planted with 10 species of sedum; and “the four micro-wind turbines mounted on the roof [which] provide a total of 10 kilowatts of electrical power when operating at full speed.”
The market also boasts 23 solar panels, 18 geothermal wells, a radiant floor system, a rainwater collection system used for toilet flushing and even wood salvaged from local forests following Hurricane Juan, which ripped down entire swathes of trees when it tore through Atlantic Canada in 2003.
Business model not sustainable
Yet for all that, the business model proved…well, less than sustainable. In May 2012, the group operating the market – the City Market of Halifax Cooperative – voted to turn control of the civic market over to its landlord, the Halifax Port Authority, the Halifax Chronicle Herald reported.
Triggering the change in ownership was a $12-million debt and a lawsuit that Bedford’s RCS Retail Construction Specialists Inc. filed for $220,000, alleging unpaid fees and interest over the work it had done as the building’s main contractor, the paper reported.
The actual hand-over of the lease took place in December 2012. The Port Authority retained New York.-based, non-profit consulting group, Projects for Public Space (PPS), to first survey customers and the market’s vendors and then generate a report with recommendations. Titled The Halifax Seaport Farmers Market Repositioning Plan, the extensive document showed a troubled space indeed.
The consultants noted that when the market opened in 2010 “it did so with unrealistic expectations that a six-days-a-week market (growing from one day a week in the previous iteration) could generate sufficient sales to pay off some $9 million in construction debt and cover its operating costs.” Rather, PPS pointed out that funds badly needed for marketing and promotion were being diverted to servicing debt, “which itself is more than the market can pay.”

Market faces internal turmoil
PPS found many challenges facing the market. They included the fact the business ran through three managers in less than a year; little demand for the market’s services outside of Saturdays and sometimes Sundays; and problems with both the management of the market and the infrastructure itself.
“While the building is widely touted and has even received awards – and is indeed much loved by customers and vendors for its overall ambience – it has many functional flaws from a market perspective that need to be addressed for the sake of customer comfort and convenience and vendor efficiency and sales,” the PPS consultants wrote.
They went on to recommend design and layout improvements meant to “address functional problems” with the market. Most of them relate to signage, lighting, new doors, and tenant guidelines for stalls.
Even so, the consultants stated “the changes will add up to a significant price tag.” Chaisson said it’s too early to say what the cost will be, but media reports have suggested several hundred thousand dollars.
It’s anyone’s guess whether the renovations will fix the market’s woes. But the consultants noted most markets open up and operate debt-free. They cited Vancouver’s Granville Island Public Market, Winnipeg’s Forks Market and Kitchener’s new $24-million market, among others.
Added PPS: “Rescuing the HFSM from its suffocating debt is a small price to pay for a historic market that reliably pumps over $25 million in direct sales into N.S. urban and rural economies per year.”

Industry Events