News that a prime site for redevelopment in Kelowna’s downtown core has finally been sold is being greeted with relief and excitement by both the city and the association that represents downtown business.
The Mission Group, a local developer, announced earlier this week it has bought the former Bargain Shop property at the eastern end of the downtown portion of Kelowna’s main street, Bernard Avenue.
“Obviously, we’re happy,” said Ryan Watters, communications manager with the Downtown Kelowna Association. “We’re excited to see what the Mission Group has planned.”
Watters said his organization would like to see the site redeveloped with a major residential component, something the city would also like to see.
Ryan Smith, planning manager with the city, said while no redevelopment proposal for the site has been submitted to the city yet, Kelowna’s downtown plan clearly outlines the type of development that would be preferable at the site—mixed-use development, with a strong commercial component at the ground level and residential units above.
The city’s Downtown Plan and OCP identify the maximum height for any new building on the site at 26 storeys high.
“Height is always an issue and everyone seems to want to go higher nowadays,” said Smith. But he said the city would likely not be supportive of a building taller than 26 storeys at that spot and, besides, the developer may not even want to go that high there.
The Downtown Plan calls for building heights to be stepped back from the lakeshore and while the majority of Kelowna’s taller buildings are now located in the Sunset Drive area just to the north of the downtown, recent plans have called for taller buildings on Bernard or in the immediate area. One of them, the 21-storey Ella tower, is planned for the corner of Ellis Street and Lawrence Avenue and will be built by the Mission Group. That building is slated for what is now a ground-level parking lot just a few blocks from the former Bargain Shop site.
Calls to the Mission Group were not immediately returned but company vice-president Luke Turri has said publicly that the company does envision mixed-use commercial-residential on the site.
If that happens, it would add to the changing face of the city’s downtown core, which was once primarily lower level buildings housing almost exclusively commercial and retail.
But development plans call for several high-rise residential towers along Sunset and plans for more, including the 21-storey 1151 Sunset tower, which is currently under construction, plans for the city’s two tallest buildings, the 36- and 29-storey towers at One Water Street next door. Then there is the aforementioned Ella tower and the planned 32-storey Westcorp hotel at the foot of Queensway, as well as several other lower level residential building at other downtown locations. The city is literally growing up, and with it, the downtown density that city hall is looking for.
“It will be interesting to see when it all comes together,” said Smith.
Still, some are concerned about the movement south of the tall buildings.
Smith said that was anticipated by the Downtown Plan, when it was adopted 10 years ago and addressed with the step-back-from-the-lake scenario. The planned height allowances even found their way into the city’s Official Community Plan.
He noted that while the Sunset area has been successful in attracting developers willing to build high-rises, Bernard Avenue has not been as successful.
The street’s first planned high-rise, a tower called 24, never materialized. It was scrapped after the company behind it took over the Sopa Square development in South Pandosy after it stalled in order to finish the residential component there.
Several other lower-level residential buildings, including at Central Green, in the south Mission at Sarsons, near the UBC Okanagan campus and the Ella building are all Mission Group projects. That is one reason Smith believes redevelopment of the Bernard Avenue site may not start up right away.
“They seem to have lots on their plate right now,” he said.