Waters: Development helping Kelowna grow up

Kelowna council is seeing more tall buildings in development plans being presented to the city.

Kelowna is growing up—literally.

While the city has had a few tall (by Kelowna standards) towers along Sunset, north of the downtown core, for several years, the appearance elsewhere of tall residential towers has been spotty.

And with the exception of the cluster of office towers at the Landmark Square high-tech ‘campus,’ nowhere else has seen plans for a grouping of towers more than 20 storeys high on one site.

Enter Graham Lee, the owner of the Capri Centre and Capri Hotel and the man behind the city’s major sports arena, Prospera Place.

Lee’s RG Properties has a grand plan to redevelop the Capri Centre site, moving it from a small shopping mall first conceived in the 1960s, to a large mixed-use neigbourhood filled with highrises, green space and retail shops.

The plans that city council gushed over Monday calls for the mall to be replaced sometime in the future with six storey buildings along the Harvey Avenue frontage and towers ranging from 22 to 26 storeys farther south from Harvey Avenue.

Unlike the past, where councillors viewed height with a certain skepticism, here it is being welcomed with open arms. That’s because they feel taller buildings will afford more space for said public amenities, such as parks and green space.

As Coun. Charlie Hodge put it, height itself is not the issue, location is and, in the case of the Capri Centre site, Lee may have found the tall tower sweet spot in the city.

There’s no question, in 20 years parts of Kelowna are going to look very different.

The Capri redevelopment, coupled with what’s happening on the Central Green site a few kilometres away to the west along Harvey Avenue, will play a part in changing the developed face of the city. Then there is—in the shorter term—the building that is already underway downtown, as well as  what’s planned to start later this year.

The walls of the new Interior Health building now loom large over the intersection at Ellis Street and Doyle Avenue, kitty corner to another new building under construction, the Innovation Centre. While not directly part of the city’s plans to see its ‘Civic Centre’ redeveloped, given their size and locations, they will likely be considered part of the mix by anyone viewing the area as a whole.

Throw in the construction of a new large parkade across the street and the addition to the existing Library parkade and the Ellis-Doyle intersection really is the city’s new Construction Corner.

Not to be outdone,the North End has the city’s new $54-million police service building under construction, a development considered a catalyst for that area of the city. And then there Westcorp’s plan to build a 24-storey hotel at the foot of Queensway to act as a virtual hotel bookend to the Delta Grand at the other end of Water Street.

Of course both the Capri Centre and Central Green developments will be market-driven, meaning the timing may be spread over a longer term than originally thought. That’ll depend on the economy. That has already been seen at Central Green with the lowering of the planned highrises along Harvey Avenue.

But there’s no doubt, Kelowna appears to be moving towards another building boom of sorts. The question is, how long will it take to complete?

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News