Downtown development picking up

Dead developments come back to life as Kelowna real estate market continues to build

Confidence in the local economy has prompted change, and even those persistent trouble spots are being dealt with...

From the dead-zone created by the vacant Bargain Shop on Bernard Avenue to the dirt-pile that was once dreamed to be a high-end hotel near the Cultural District and everything in between, Kelowna’s downtown has a few high profile blights obscuring the view of the many improvements that have taken root.

It seems, however, that confidence in the local economy has prompted change, and even those persistent trouble spots are being dealt with.

“There are a lot of people interested in investment in the downtown area right now,” said Ryan Smith, City of Kelowna community planning manager, adding there’s been a cultural shift in the city driving changes.

“If you’re out here on most nights, you see a real change in how it was from five years ago.”

People are out enjoying the increasing number of amenities, and new businesses are springing up to adapt to their demands.

And that’s having a cascading effect.

Clement and Sunset:

The dirt pile at the corner of Clement Avenue and Sunset Drive, across from Prospera Place is a reminder that even the best laid plans can go astray.

As city-spawned programs to spiff up the downtown got underway nearly 10 years ago, but construction of a loudly trumpeted, high-end hotel ground to a halt, leaving behind just a large mound of dirt.

In the years that followed, the bright posters signalling the construction of a new hotel faded away and most of the action on the site was from transients in their makeshift homes.

Now it looks like it’s getting some development-oriented attention again.

“It’s tied up right now,” Smith said. “Someone has a contract to purchase it, and I don’t know who that is. It’s a pretty key component of downtown.”

Smith noted that it’s great to see sites of this kind change hands as it comes with the promise that new owners will work on a development plan. As for what that plan is, that remains to be seen.

“It has mixed-use commercial zoning,” said Smith. “There was a restriction on title that a hotel use would be required on the site.

“That may be a component of what’s going there, but there will be some flexibility on the city’s part.”

1151 Sunset Drive:

The highrise project with a new and very geographically specific name is better known to longtime Kelowna residents as Lucaya.

The 21-storey project which failed when funding fell through in 2008 was one of the most high-profile victims of the recession and, much to the chagrin of area business owners in the years that followed, only got attention from area birds who chose to nest on the abandoned crane.

Late last year that all changed.

Developers who had purchased the site decided the real estate market in Kelowna had legs, and starting this morning they’ll be showing the community their plans for the space.

Sales will commence in September.

The public will have the chance to visit Kerkhoff Construction’s presentation centre to start previewing floor plans and designs. Sales of the homes will not commence until mid-to-late September, so previews are only with the intent of providing the public with more information about the recently resurrected site prior to making a decision to purchase.

The highrise will include 117 condominiums and seven townhomes, ranging in price from $309,900 to $347,900 for a one bedroom, $289,900 to $489,900 for a one bed and den, $399,900 to $504,900 for a two bedroom, $519,900 to $717,900 for a two bed and den, $739,900 to $899,900 for a townhome and $1,399,900 to $1,599,900 for a sub penthouse.

“We are happy to finally be able to show Kelowna residents some progress on the site,” said Leonard Kerkhoff, vice-president of Kerkhoff Construction.

“We are proud to be providing more prestigious housing in downtown Kelowna.”

Housing is something that Smith is predicting will be of greater demand as more downtown commercial plans fall into place.

On Doyle Avenue construction of the Innovation Centre and the Interior Health building is nearing completion, ensuring that a high volume of highly paid residents will be in the area.

“We haven’t seen a whole lot of additional housing in the last few years,” he said. “Now you are seeing more offices and commercial locations but in the next five to six years, you’ll see that translated into demand for condos.”

Bargain! Bargain! Bargain!

If anything caused downtown business owners to shake their fists in frustration, it was the Bargain! Bargain! Bargain! shop.

When 30 years of deals dried up at the end of 2010 due to what the business owner attributed to a “lack of sales” there were high hopes of something more dynamic would take its place.

Community speculation led some to believe that a live music venue would take its place, while others simply hoped for more retail so the space could continue on in the tradition that was started when it was a Woolworth.

Regardless, nothing happened and until recently it was a vacant building taking up some serious real estate.

“The land is up for sale now,” said Smith.  “

“That’s an area along our new Bernard Avenue, where there’s no real activity. New uses could include spill out patios, or retail…things that would make it a place where people want to go.”

Smith, however, is just speculating. Thus far, no proposals for the space have crossed the threshold of city hall.

“But, we’re positive,” he said.

We’re not quite sure what will come with that, if anything, but we’re positive that someone could buy it.”

The Packinghouse

The old BC Tree Fruits packinghouse on Clement Avenue may have one of the most controversial histories, when it comes to failed development projects.

It was only a few years ago, as the popularity of the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market really grew to new heights that a plan for a Granville Island-style market took root and fractured relationships within the organization.

Some farmers wanted to move to the site, others demanded to stay where they were and several volunteer boards rose and fell.

Within a year of all the tumult it became clear that the property wouldn’t likely be Kelowna’s homage to Pike Place Market and in February of this year, a listing for the building went up.

An ad listed the 5.33 acre property for $7.5 million. The property was said to have 900 feet of frontage on Clement Avenue, “a major arterial road in Kelowna which sees 20,000 cars go by each day.”

The newest chapter in the building’s plans is the least grandiose.

From Sunday, Aug. 21, to Saturday, Aug. 27, Clement will be limited to single-lane alternating traffic from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m., so crews can take down the old structure.

When it gets a new owner, however, there are all sorts of possibilities.

“From the city’s perspective, there should be an industrial component that lives on in that site,” said Smith.

“We, from a city perspective, are open to residential uses. It’s a transitional site, but there’s a great opportunity as the area redevelops with liquor manufacturing type uses…there’s some flexibility on the city of things.”

And There’s More:

RG Properties, which owns the arena and the land around it, is currently exploring redevelopment on parking lot land as well as the land on Ellis and Clement.

The idea of mixed use residential properties is what’s on their mind.

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