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The Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame is looking for a new home.
On Wednesday, the Hall closed its doors after 15 years at the Scotiabank Centre after being unable to come to terms on a new lease with its landlord, Armco Capital.
Hall of Fame CEO Bruce Rainnie said the lease was up in February and that their board was unwilling to take on what he called a ‘substantial increase’ in rent.
“The discussions continued through most of March until COVID hit and then eventually we had to make a decision. Our landlord, Armco Capital, wanted to raise our monthly rent substantially. As a charity, our traditional means of generating cash flow were severely compromised due to COVID. So our board voted unanimously to not accept the terms of the lease and to move, basically for the financial health and future of our organization.
“It was surprising, but it’s a business,” continued Rainnie, who has been with the Hall for just over three years. “They had an idea what the square footage was worth. It did not match what we thought it was worth and that I guess, is the essence of a deal falling apart."
Steve Darrow, vice-president of asset management at Armco, said an attempt was made to reach an agreement with the Hall, but ‘they rejected our last offer.’
“I should mention that the lease actually expired back at the end of February 2020 and we agreed to continue on a month-to-month basis until now.”
Darrow said Armco had ‘a few options, but no immediate plans’ for the space.
The search for a new location has begun and a few potential sites are being explored said Rainnie.
“We have three or four locations in mind. I don’t want to share because I don’t want to raise expectations among anybody. I can assure you we’re determined to emerge from this better than ever.”
The timeline for a new space could take anywhere from 18 to 24 months depending on the location and how much construction would be involved said Rainnie.
Rainnie said he hasn’t been able to entirely focus on the future because there was plenty of work to be done packing and storing the many artifacts on display at the Hall.
“My main focus was to get this place packed up. It’s not easy to pack up a 5,600-square-foot museum, but we have done it.”
The Scotiabank Centre location was a natural draw for fans of Halifax’s major sports teams, such as the Mooseheads, Hurricanes and Thunderbirds. The Hall would be filled with museum-goers before games and during intermissions.
While the location was great, the floor plan wasn’t perfect and Rainnie and his staff will be looking for a fresh layout.
“This Hall was a great location, but it was a strange sort of physical arrangement down here,” said Rainnie. “It’s sort of a letter H, with holes in the floor. We will come out of this with a more fluent, flowing Hall of Fame that makes more sense as a museum.”
Rainnie leaves with many great memories of his time at the downtown Halifax location.
“We’ve had a remarkably great 15 years here,” said Rainnie. “It’s been superb. Our relationship with Scotiabank Centre has been off the charts brilliant and generous, a wonderful sort of symbiotic thing. They have been a great partner for us.”
Virtual Hall for now
Without a physical space, Rainnie said the Hall will exist virtually on its website (nsshf.com), where all artifacts, inductees and programming can be found. The Hall plans to continue to offer its award-winning future Hall of Famers education program to students across the province when approved to return. Also, the annual induction night is scheduled to return in November of 2021.
“The thing we are most proud of is our future Hall of Famers education program and that is a mobile program that we take to schools across the province during non-COVID times. We try and reach close to 20,000 students each year with the stories of the athletes.”
Rainnie said the Hall’s biggest attraction over the years has been the Sidney Crosby exhibit.
“In terms of artifacts, our Sidney Crosby display has been the area of the Hall that has drawn the most attention through the years. I’ve seen literally hundreds of people come in here with Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys from cruise ships and race to his dryer to get a picture.
He said the Nova Scotia Top 15 athletes of all-time was a popular display along with the Avco Cup, the championship trophy of the defunct World Hockey Association. In the course of a year over 75,000 people toured the Hall said Rainnie.
“The rest of the displays are is ancient stuff from great boxers, basketball players, old hockey sticks. It’s a really good sports Hall of Fame. It highlights how great Nova Scotia is despite its small size.”
Museums affected by COVID-19
COVID hurt the Hall’s bottom line by taking away several key fundraisers, including April’s Women In Sports dinner.
“That dinner was practically sold out and I would say conservatively was going to make us $50,000 plus,” said Rainnie. “It was going to be a great night for us. The support for that event from the sponsors in the city and the athletes that were coming, it was enormous. That was a major blow.”
He also noted the annual golf tournament in Fox Harb’r had to be cancelled as well as a bingo partnership with the Halifax Forum.
“You add all that up and that’s a big financial hole to fill,” he said. “That’s a sudden stop to what was a pretty good cash flow.”
“This whole process has really steeled in me the absolute determination to come out of this bigger and better."
- Bruce Rainnie, Hall of Fame CEO
The museum industry has taken a major hit but Rainnie said good planning over the years has helped the Hall through this unsettling time.
“I’m keenly aware of a lot of museums and people of our ilk have had to shut down or suspend operations. We’re OK because of good management, both during and before my time.
“It’s tough, especially when you are a charity, but we’ve never gone to the province asking for an increase in grants. We have prided ourselves on being self-sufficient. We’ve been frugal through the years and saved our money.”
Rainnie said he has also secured the leadership of Hall of Fame member Dr. Bill Stanish to run a capital campaign in the near future.
“That excites me because Dr. Stanish is one of the most passionate Hall of Famers we have,” said Rainnie. “He’s just such a resourceful and smart guy. That’s a bit of good news going forward.”
Like the story of many of the athletes enshrined, Rainnie said the Hall will make a stirring comeback.
“This is a great gig,” said Rainnie, who credits his staff of five for keeping the ball rolling. “This whole process has really steeled in me the absolute determination to come out of this bigger and better. I know that sounds cliché but we’re going to emerge from this, not unscathed, but better than we’ve ever been. We are all committed to that and we will look back on this and say this happened for a reason.”