By Colleen Isherwood
HALIFAX — Scott Armour McCrea’s father, Ben, built the Historic Properties in Halifax; and Scott sees the Queen’s Marque project, well underway and due to open next year, as having a similar cultural impact on the city. In addition, it will kick the city’s office, retail, residential, hotel and restaurant offerings up a notch.
The Armour Group is a Halifax-based real estate investment company involved in most asset classes — the largest owner of office space in Halifax, and also involved in retail, residential and hospitality.
“We’re a craft developer,” said McCrea. “We build, own and manage our own assets. We’ve never sold an asset. We’re a multigenerational firm specializing in complex projects and heritage projects that can’t be easily commoditized.”
Like Zita Cobb, founder of Fogo Island Inn off the coast of Newfoundland, McCrea sees Queen’s Marque as a “place-making” project. For a start, the location of Queen’s Marque is the most historic site in Halifax. Known as Queen’s Landing, it was the site of the earliest battlements, right in the centre of the city.
The name of the new development retained the “Queen’s” part of the original designation, but added the word “Marque.” A “marque” is the letter the King or Queen would hand to people giving them licence to seek their fortunes.
The promise of the future is integral to this project. “There’s a sense of reinvigoration in Nova Scotia, and particularly Halifax,” McCrea said. “At the time [of the age of sail prior to Confederation], Nova Scotia was one of the richest places in North America. Two major banks [CIBC and Scotiabank] were founded here. It is critically important that we express that idea because it is alive today, particularly in Halifax. There is a sense that this region is prosperous, can be prosperous and can reach out to the world. There’s a sense of growth and economic buoyancy.
“We want to take that expression and put it into modern form — telling the Nova Scotia story through form and place.”
Armour Group’s $200-million Queen’s Marque development is the largest and most ambitious project underway in Halifax today. The complex draws on platinum LEED certification standards. Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects created the primary design and the overall project is led by Fowler Bauld & Mitchell.
The 450,000-square-foot project on two hectares of waterfront adds an additional 120,000 square feet of office space to the downtown. It will also have room for shops, restaurants, a boutique hotel, apartments and 75,000 square feet of public space that features a central plaza, natural amphitheatre on a pier, and a climbable light installation.
It will include 150,000 square feet of Grade A office space, which is “essentially fully leased,” according to McCrea. There will be 145 high-end rental residential units, which share the amenities of the hotel. The complex will include 60,000 square feet of food and beverage and retail, all on the ground floors.
The 4.5 to 5.0 star luxury hotel will have 110 rooms, 400-sq.-ft. each, jutting out onto Halifax Harbour, so that each room has a view of the harbour. The hotel will have its own brand — as yet unnamed — which will reinforce the power of place. “It’s born of this place,” McCrea said.
The hotel is aimed at sophisticated, independent travellers, both business and leisure. “We’ll have service standards and overall offerings at that level — currently not available in the Maritimes,” said McCrea. “Think Fogo Inn meets Ritz-Carlton,” McCrea added.
Historical and cultural elements are integrated in the room design: salt and pepper Nova Scotia granite; abstract tartans and hooked rugs; bespoke furniture and fine joinery. At the same time, the rooms and a series of suites will have all the modern conveniences and services.
The common areas will include a living room, but also a main salon offering three meals a day. The food in the 150-seat restaurant will consist of modernized versions of Nova Scotia classics, adding to the sense of place.
Services include 8,000 square feet of wellness amenities including a vitality pool area, a very large-scale gym, and a series of wellness pools. There will be a cold plunge, sauna steam room, and Nova Scotia salt therapy or halotherapy. This will consist of a room lined with Nova Scotia sea salt, which when warmed up, detoxifies the body.
In addition, the hotel will have its own yacht and runabout for water excursions, plus some unique group room space.
There will be a residential/members only bar on the third level, and guests will have their own dock.
Queen’s Marque will include about 900 tonnes of Nova Scotia sandstone slabs excavated from Wallace Quarries on the north shore of the province.
The primary heating and cooling systems will use heat- pump and chilled-beam technology, where seawater is drawn from the harbour and circulated throughout the buildings.
Nova Scotia granite steps that descend into the harbour reimagine the site’s historic slipway, formerly called Queen’s Landing.
The north and south wharf buildings are meant to be emblematic of ships docking on the waterfront.
At the apex of the rising pier building, an as-yet-to-be-designed and named “harbour light” art installation will be built, a glowing tower which people can enter and climb.
Timeline for the development
Now that much of the exterior work has been completed, they’re starting to focus on the interiors. Most of the development will be completed in mid-2020, with the hotel being the last piece and opening in fall 2020.
“We’re really at Ground Zero in Halifax — our project would be like building in Union Station in Toronto,” said McCrea. “We’re looking at how we can transform the waterfront and the CBD [central business district]. We see the whole destination as a cultural institution.”
Needless to say, McCrea is excited about the development. “I’m hopeful it can have the same impact as the Historic Properties,” he told CLN. “Our family built that, and it made a meaningful change in the psychology of Halifax. Hopefully this project will do the same.”