© Nigel Armstrong - The Guardian
Robert Vessey, from left, minister, transportation and infrastructure renewal, joins Gail Shea, Egmont MP and minister of national revenue, and Premier Robert Ghiz as they prepare to cut a giant cake designed like the P.E.I. Convention Centre which held its official opening Wednesday.
It was a project years in the making, but the P.E.I. Convention Centre finally hosted its official grand opening and ribbon cutting Wednesday on the Charlottetown waterfront.
Tourism Minister Robert Henderson said the new facility will be an enticement for groups and conventions that want to come to P.E.I.
“This is going to be a faboulous asset,” he said.
Initial plans for the 3,240-square-metre convention centre were announced in 2010 with Islanders getting a first look at an artist’s rendering of the building’s curved design and glass walls that face the capital city’s waterfront.
The project cost about $24.3 million, with $15.7 million from the P.E.I. government and $8.6 million from the feds.
Plans moved closer to fruition in March 2011 when the federal government signed over a parcel of land that used to be home to the Fisheries and Oceans Department next to the Delta Prince Edward.
The official opening ceremony started in the old ball-room area, now called the Sir John A room. After speeches, followed by the cutting of a massive cake in the shape of the new centre, panels opened and guests saw into the dramatic new convention space. They were also greeted by an aerial performance in the nature of Cirque du Soleil, followed by sampling of exotic food and a live painting performance by an artist.
The centre’s plan called for the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC) to own it while the Delta managed it as an extension of its existing conference facilities.
When the plans were first announced, the centre was expected to be finished by the fall of 2012. However, there were delays along the way, including when a steel seawall buckled under the pressure of fill dumped onto the site.
Along the way there were also lawsuits and counter lawsuits filed between the CADC and several contractors over allegations of unpaid bills and problems with the work.
Although Wednesday was the centre’s grand opening, the facility opened for business earlier this month for the wedding reception of Premier Robert Ghiz’s sister Joanne Ghiz to Jamie McGuinty, who is former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty’s son.
It was a prime location for a reception as guests would have had a wide-open view of the waterfront on three sides, including the Charlottetown Yacht Club that was previously hidden by DFO offices.
Before the three-hour grand opening got underway Wednesday, Henderson said people want to come to P.E.I. and the convention centre is going to be a facility that will give them a reason to.
“I think it’s a great opportunity here to grow our tourism industry even greater than we have in the past.”
P.E.I. has had trouble attracting bigger conventions because of space limitations that made it hard for meetings with more than 300 exhibitors to gather under one roof.
Henderson said the convention industry is competitive and P.E.I. wants to be able to compete against other markets with large facilities.
“It’s going to be a tremendous asset to the community,” he said.
Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, who was also at the convention centre for the grand opening, said she thought there was a market for conventions and recalled a meeting she was part of several years ago at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
About 900 people tried to pack into the building and it was elbow to elbow, she said.
“It wasn’t very comfortable.”
The land transfer from DFO happened under Shea’s watch and she said a lot of people didn’t get to see the waterfront from the convention centre’s point of view before it was built because there were buildings in the way.
Shea said the land transfer was the right move.
“Other cities have developed other waterfronts into just a major part of the attraction of their cities so I think this will bring Charlottetown certainly up there,” she said.