Kelowna’s former city manger is weighing in on rumours Costco plans to move its Kelowna store to Westbank First Nation land on the west side of Okanagan Lake.
Ron Mattiussi, who left the city last May after 22 years—the first 11 as director of planning and last 11 as city manager—said he felt he compelled speak out because of what he felt were misconceptions about what has happened.
While Costco representatives have talked to the WFN and are eyeing land on Highway 97 near the intersection with Westside Road as a possible new location, Mattiussi said he believes the move could be a bargaining ploy by the company.
Sources with Costco, the WFN and the city all say no deal has been signed yet by the company and the WFN.
Mattiussi said when he was still with the city, he talked with Costco representatives and they wanted to build a new, larger store with what he called a “sea” of parking and a gas bar on land across Highway 97 from the Kelowna airport on the former Pier Mac property.
The city, however, was against the move saying a destination store such as Costco would generate much more traffic on the highway in the vicinity of the airport.
“And we’re not sure the Ministry of Highways would even allow it,” said Mattiussi.
He said no application for such a development was ever made.
The city looked at improving the intersection at Highway 97 and Airport Way.
Describing large commercial “big box” retailers as “predatory,” Matiussi said they locate where they feel is best for their business.
“All I know is that they were looking,” he said.
But he added he feels the city is doing the right thing opposing a move farther out of town because of the traffic it would generate on the highway and the impact on access to the Kelowna’s airport. He called support of such a move for the Kelowna store “bad planning.”
“The city is doing the right thing and protecting a key asset (the airport),” he added.
As for fears the departure of Costco will hurt the city in terms of its tax base and a loss of jobs, Mattiussi isn’t buying that.
He said he believes the site will be taken by another big box retailer and said the city knows of several large hardware chains looking for just such a location in the city.
In terms of jobs, he said he doubts employees will quit rather than drive across the bridge to the Westside.
“This is a region. I don’t think there is going to any major job loss.”
In the end, Mattiussi said he feels the company will do what it wants and locate where it wants in order to create what he described as the “sea of parking” and space for a gas bar that it says it requires.
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