KELOWNA - Right now, visitors to 350 Doyle Ave. are usually of the reluctant kind, brought there in the back of a police cruiser or paddy wagon.
But if the goals of the civic block plan are realized, 350 Doyle Ave. — current home of the Kelowna RCMP detachment — could find favour within a few years as one of Kelowna’s premier residential addresses and a centrepiece of downtown redevelopment.
After months of public consultation, city planners say they have a good idea of what locals want to see done with the civic block and it includes a mixed-use condominium high-rise from 6 to 13 storeys on the site, once the RCMP move to their new headquarters in two years.
“We think it has a lot of potential. It’s critical to the success of the civic block plan,” city planner Ross Soward says.
What the city gets is both straightforward and intangible. Depending on density, the sale of the site — or more likely a long-term land lease — could return as much as $2.6 million to city coffers.
They will also be able to leverage construction of other amenities such as a civic plaza and the extension of the Art Walk through developer concessions.
The intangible lies in the benefit of getting more people to live downtown — long a goal of Kelowna’s downtown redevelopment plan — breathing life into an area that has long emptied out right after 5 p.m.
But there are risks on any project exposed to the vagaries of the open market, especially when trying to predict where real estate prices will be four years from now, which is about the earliest the project could get to market.
If the real estate market crashes or even undergoes a strong correction, Kelowna risks having the site languish undeveloped for years. Worse yet, is the spectre of a developer going broke during construction and leaving behind an ugly hulk of a half-finished building.
Neither of these scenarios are unknown in Kelowna.
The city-owned Central Green site on Highway 97 sat undeveloped for years after the crash of 2008 made it unviable until earlier this year when Al Stober Construction and the Mission Group announced plans for a scaled back project.
And the former Lucaya high-rise stalled around the same time, its rusted half-completed foundation blighting the streetscape on Sunset Drive until it was resurrected earlier this year by different developer.
“There is always going to be a risk but the direction of downtown development is such that we believe this will be attractive to developers,” Soward says. “It will require a qualfied and willing partner from the development community who understands what we are trying to achieve here.”
Soward says some interest has already been shown in the site during the public consultation process from developers and design professionals.
“There is some definite recognition that this is an attractive site."
Another worst case scenario is if the condos are purchased, not by the urbanites who might live and work downtown, but by well-heeled investors who leave them sitting largely empty.
“Our goal is to have the residential component add to the activity and street life of the area,” Soward says. "That’s something we could look at during requests for proposals. We’re looking to attract different demographics to the area so would want to see more than just one-bedroom condos.”
Soward says the city is keenly aware of the importance of the project, given its prominent location.
“It’s critical that we get it right. There will be a lot of scrutiny. The public have a lot of expectations. The city knows that a successful project will set the foundation in the long-term for the build out of the civic block plan."
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