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Building permits show how Thompson-Okanagan communities weathered the pandemic

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

Everyone in B.C. remembers the world shutting down in the spring of 2020 as the mysterious novel coronavirus spread around the world.

Stores closed. Airplanes sat on the ground. Nobody got their hair cut.

Throughout it all, essential businesses like grocery stores, gas stations and liquor stores stayed open.

So, too, did the not-so-essential but economically vital construction industry keep going. It’s just that it was stronger in some Thompson-Okanagan communities than in others.

Building permits issued by the City of Kelowna in 2020 dropped by about 40% from 2019 but, in Kamloops, the permit values actually went up during the worst of COVID by about 45%, because of one major government-funded project.

On the other hand, when it came time for the economy to open up more into a recovery mode, the value of permits in Kelowna tripled in the first half of 2021 versus 2020 while Kamloops saw a 57% decline over the same time period, based on data from the Province of B.C.

Provincially, the value of building permits fell about 22% from 2019 to 2020 to $16.8 billion.

The Greater Vancouver area had the biggest share of building permits in the province at just over $10 billion in 2020. That includes $2.9 billion in Vancouver and $1.4 billion in each of Surrey and Burnaby.

Building permits issued on all of Vancouver Island in 2020 totalled $2.4 billion and the Thompson-Okanagan issued $1.9 billion in permits.

The entire Kootenays and the Cariboo (including Prince George) regions each issued less than $0.5 billion worth of permits in 2019.

READ MORE: Kelowna breaks the $1 billion mark in building permits issued this year

The data shows $182 million in institutional and government permits in Kamloops in 2020, compared to $56.4 million the year before and $25.8 million in 2018. That huge increase was triggered mostly by a single project, the expansion of Royal Inland Hospital.

Construction of the $417 million hospital tower began in 2018 and is to be finished by next summer. By the end of June this year, only $89 million worth of permits were issued.

READ MORE: Concrete section completed for patient tower at Royal Inland Hospital

Penticton was hit hardest by COVID with permit values being cut in half to $89 million but it has rebounded strongly this year with $130 million issued in the first half of the year. That puts it well on the way to breaking its previous high of $193 million in 2016.

Vernon and West Kelowna fared the best during COVID, only dropping by about 18% but West Kelowna is bouncing back much more strongly this year than is Vernon.

Vernon issued $105 million worth of permits in 2020, down from a peak of $149 million in 2018. In the first half of 2021, it issued permits worth $85 million

West Kelowna issued permits worth $112 million in 2020, down from its peak of $135 the year before. By the end of June, it was up $123 million.

READ MORE: Some Kamloops, Okanagan businesses temporarily closing, adjusting hours due to staff shortages

Building permit values can vary significantly from year to year and can be heavily influenced by a single project. Two highrise towers permitted in Kelowna this year added more than $100 million to its permit total.

In smaller communities, a single big project can have an even bigger impact.

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