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Plan to move Interior Health offices gets resounding political support

Local politicians were brimming with enthusiasm Monday afternoon when Kelowna city staff brought forth a plan to  move Interior Health offices into the downtown core.

"This is the single biggest thing that's happened in downtown in its history," said Coun. Andre Blanleil.

"I think the economic spinoff-will help the condo market … and the businesses downtown."

Coun. Colin Basran was equally ebullient about the project's potential to forever change Kelowna.

"Everything will flow from here," he said. "Our downtown in three years will have a different look and feel. It will finally be the heart of our community."

If the city and the health authority jump through all the hoops that will allow them to move forward with the plan, it will definitely be busier downtown than locals have grown accustomed to.

Doug Gilchrist, Kelowna's corporate manager of corporate sustainability, explained that the plan is to sell 1.2 acres of city-owned land on Doyle Avenue to Interior Health for $2.75 million so for a community services and corporate building.

To accommodate that development, the city will take on a parking-expansion project that will see 702 new spots developed through an expansion an addition to the Library parkade on Ellis Street and a new parkade on the south east corner of the Memorial Arena.

"That would bring 1,000 employees and all the clients they serve (to the downtown)," Gilchrist explained.

These people will be riding transit, supporting businesses and possibly choosing to live in the neighbourhood, he explained.

"The project provides long term benefits for the downtown as a whole and is supported in the City’s Official Community Plan and the Downtown Plan.”

And the economic spin-off, even before the health authority's staff move in, he explained, will be hefty.

The building of office space as well as the city driven parkades that are required for the development would result in $45 to $50 million in construction.

The project is not without any financial risk on the part of the city, however.

To fund the parking lot development, the city will have to borrow $15 million, although Gilchrist said it won't impact taxpayers.

The project revenues will offset this borrowing, he said.

Ultimately, however, risk was always a part of the picture.

"Council was keenly aware that they'd have to look at downtown in a new way and get involved at the ground level," he said, of the impetus behind the project.

That means city staff approached Interior Health, they knew there would be challenges, but ones they had to take on if Kelowna is to be revitalized in the manner that's been set out in countless documents.

The City and Interior Health have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), declaring their intention to work together on the project and outlining project expectations.

The next step to seeing project materialize—after achieving council's endorsement Monday— is to move forward attaining ministry approval of the borrowing bylaw.

Then the community has to endorse the plan.

Contracts will then be signed with IH, and they'll then enter the RFP process.

If all goes well, the project should be completed within three years. For more information, visit kelowna.ca/council or interiorhealth.ca.

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