Letter: West Kelowna city hall developer has a say

Our vision to re-develop this unsightly parcel of land … has the potential to be realized and we are excited about moving forward with it.

To the editor:

I have watched with interest as the NO side in the [West Kelowna city hall] referendum debate have adjusted their message over the past few months. During the alternative approval process process, they said they weren’t necessarily opposed to the city hall but needed a referendum. To get people to sign petitions they used outrageous claims that the project would triple in cost and taxes were going sky high, even though they knew it was a fixed price contract and those claims were false.

Now that those claims have been disproven with the facts they seem to be scrambling to find any issue with which they can get press and make traction, such as the water in Lakeview Heights.

As a representative of the land owner and potential developer of the project I felt it was important to set the record straight with facts.

Strategic Development Group acquired the land in question some 10 years ago. At the time, the six-acre parcel contained an old fruit packing plant and a number of unsightly shacks and abandoned houses. Our goal was to re-develop the site and put something there that both the owner and the community would benefit from.

The first phase of our development vision resulted in the creation of The Heritage Seniors Assisted Living Facility, now a beautiful home to approximately 150 seniors.

In 2011 after a years-long review and consultation process, the city adopted the Westbank Centre Revitalization Plan to encourage new development and increased tax revenue in the Westbank Centre area and, hopefully, transform what was becoming a dying neighbourhood with many boarded up businesses.

Approximately three years ago, as a continuation of the Westbank Centre Revitalization process, the city conducted a ‘market sounding exercise’ to find a suitable site for a new city hall. Out of approximately 20 potential applicants who replied to that initial request, a total of nine landowners were invited to participate in a Request for Qualification. Of those nine a total of four qualified for the final step in the process—a much more sophisticated Request For Proposal, where participants had to expend considerable funds to establish a bona-fide development plan and project proposal. After considerable thought and analysis on the part of the city and their consultants, the strategic proposal was chosen as the winner and we entered into serious negotiations with the city to proceed.

Now, after almost three years, with considerable resources in time and money having been spent by all parties, we are at a crossroads. Our vision to re-develop this unsightly parcel of land, that had become a target of arsonists, has the potential to be realized and we are excited about moving forward with it.

Working with City of West Kelowna staff has been a long drawn out process involving countless meetings, thorough evaluations and negotiations. Every step of the process has been carefully discussed, reviewed and evaluated on the basis of value for money. Never once did we hear the word “Taj Mahal.”

On the contrary, city staff have been clear from the start that this project was to be built with taxpayers in mind—every dollar thought out and accounted for.

The city already owns a half acre parcel of land on Elliott Road immediately adjacent to our land. They acquired this parcel so that an eventual extension of Gosset Road could be connected through to Elliott Road. One of the many reasons they chose our proposal was because we incorporated land already owned by the city into our development thus reducing the requirement for the city to acquire any more land than necessary.

With our proposal, the city will only need to acquire an additional approximately half acre to contain the entire city hall and parking required. All remaining portions of the development, including the public plaza, will be built and paid for by the developer. The city is not contributing any money to the private portion of the development and the city will have a ‘right of way’ in perpetuity over the public plaza meaning that it’s there for public use forever.

The developer is also upgrading both Elliott and Gossett roads with sidewalks and services on all land abutting the project. Again, at no cost to the city.

The city has negotiated a great deal on their portion of the project. Contrary to what the NO side may try to say, there is no smoking gun here and no hidden agenda to enrich the developer. In point of fact, the developer will need all the stars aligned to make a reasonable profit for all the risks taken.

For its part the city will be getting a quality, functional administration building at a very affordable price and one that the citizens of West Kelowna can be proud of. Any funds required to be borrowed will be at rates that will likely never be this low again. And with a fixed price contract the risk of any potential cost overruns fall to the developer.

I believe that most people in West Kelowna understand that something must be done to house city staff in a proper location. Current council were elected to do a job and they are doing it. The citizens of West Kelowna can be proud of their staff and council for being wise stewards and judicious managers of our tax dollars, just as they proved in constructing the new RCMP building on time and under budget.

I encourage all citizens to assess the real numbers and facts by going to the city’s web site or by talking to members of staff or council. This proposal puts the new city hall within a block of the geographical centre of the City of West Kelowna. There are many valid reasons why this project should go ahead and few valid reasons to say no. It is the right time, the right place and the right price and it will never be cheaper to do it than right now.

I hope that all citizens of West Kelowna will study the facts, separate the rhetoric, and vote YES on Sept. 17.

Rob Moyor, managing director, Strategic Development Group