It only cost Kelowna $3,500 but the city is hoping its new “downtown prospectus” will generate millions in development and investment in the downtown core in the years to come.
The package, complete with pictures and brochures showing a vibrant, active lakefront city with young people enjoying themselves, is aimed at putting Kelowna’s downtown development potential into context for what the city’s executive director of business development, Jim Paterson, calls “destination” retailers.
“With so much happening downtown, we want to build on that,” said Paterson. “Success breeds success.”
The prospectus was the first task Paterson undertook after being named to the position by Kelowna council late last year. It was completed in time for the Downtown Kelowna Association, which was looking for such a package, to take to the annual International Council of Shopping Centres gathering in Whistler in late January.
The gathering is the place to be for any municipality, business organization or group trying to lure retailers and investors to their area.
And according to Paterson, the DKA booth, with its continuously changing slideshow of what downtown Kelowna has to offer, was a big hit.
Paterson said he does not expect the push to market downtown will produce results overnight but he said it is helping address some of what he calls the myths surrounding the perception of Kelowna in other areas of the country. “At the city, we have to play the long game,” said Paterson who, prior to coming to Kelowna, helped rejuvenate Winnipeg’s downtown.
He said the myths Kelowna is fighting include:
• Kelowna is a sleepy little city, mainly acting as a tourist resort with “beaches and peaches” and little urban development. He said at the Whistler show, many were surprised by the amount of urban development here
• Kelowna is overbuilt and there are better places to invest. Paterson said despite public perception, the supply of available condominiums here—once considered a glut—has dwindled and most purchasers now are “real owners,” not the investors and speculators who once were the market
• Kelowna’s population is an aging demographic living on fixed incomes. Paterson said while we have our share of seniors, Kelowna remains one of the fastest growing cities in Canada and serves as a retail destination for an estimated market of nearly 400,000 people (including from the north and south Okanagan and the Kootenays) despite the local area population being just 180,000.
There is an estimated $40 million in public investment alone in the downtown in recent years including the current revitalization of the city’s main downtown street, Bernard Avenue; construction of a new Kelowna Yacht Club and expansion of the club’s marina making it the largest of its kind in North America; plans for a new public pier and commercial dock; expansion of Jim Stuart Park; a new parkade; a proposed new tourist information building in City Park and plans for private developments such as the new office tower headquarters for Interior Health and proposals for several highrise offices, commercial and residential towers. With these the city is making its case as a desirable place for investors to consider.
While still using the “It’s happening! Downtown” logo for the changing face of the downtown core it used during the Bernard Avenue revitalization, Paterson said the new sales campaign will switch names to “We Are Kelowna” as the plan roles out.
The city has focused much of its attention on the downtown in recent months, but it also plans a similar sales push for the Rutland area as well,said Paterson. That campaign should be ready be early 2014.
There it will work with the Uptown Rutland Business Association, as well as the Central Economic Development Commission and commercial realtors.
“We have got to the point where we are now comparing ourselves with places like Saskatoon, Regina and even Calgary,” said Paterson, adding recent multi-million additions to Kelowna General Hospital—the $28-million patient care tower and construction of the $380-million Interior Hearth and Surgical Centre—as well as the growth of the UBC Okanagan campus, has helped make Kelowna an even more attractive destination.
In recent years, the city has also moved to make downtown an attractive option by providing incentives for developers with inducements such as lower development cost charges than in other parts of the city, a revitalization tax exemption program, rental housing grants across the city, lower parking requirements, cash-in-lieu of parking provisions and business and residential property tax rates that the city claims are some of the lowest in B.C.
Paterson called them nice incentives but said they will not get the job done on their own.“It has to be a multi-pronged approach,” he said.
The strategy—called Downtown First—is attempting to counter what has been a sluggish local economy in recent years as a result of the global, national and provincial financial downturn.
One of the visuals the strategy uses is an aerial view map of the downtown to put the city in context and highlight proposed and in-progress projects, as well as significant development sites. Included are the large former KSS site, now known as Central Green, and the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative’s 12.7-acre property on Vaughan Avenue in the North End.
That property has been sold, but the closing date isn’t until September and details of the deal are not being revealed until it’s complete. It includes the co-operative’s downtown Kelowna packinghouse and offices and the retail store located on Clement Avenue, as well as storage facilities on Vaughn Avenue.
The city, however, is expecting the new buyer to come forward with a an application to develop the property. There is also a large former trucking company site next door to the co-operative’s site that is already zoned industrial.
Other potential sites include one the city says could be home to a new hotel at Manhattan Drive and Sunset Drive and a larger site that the city wanted to see a new hotel built on in past years across from Prospera Place at the corner of Clement Avenue and Sunset Drive.
“Council has made it clear, one of its main objectives is to grow the city’s economy and one way to do that is to market the downtown,” said Paterson. “That is what this strategy is doing.”
He said he expects the “Team Kelowna” approach—using the DKA, city, chamber of commerce, economic development commission, commercial realtors and local developers—to do just that.