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Densification of downtown Kamloops: 'If the downtown dies, that affects the rest of the city'

A senior's housing project being developed on 6 Avenue and Victoria Street in Kamloops.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Mackenzie Berry
October 24, 2020 - 6:03 PM

Kamloops resident Irene Klossner has worked and lived downtown for a decade, giving her a birds-eye view of some of the city's most significant changes.

“If you look at the older part of Nicola Street, houses started being replaced by duplexes and small little quad-type living," she said. "Slowly you could see that density seeping into the neighbourhood, 10 years ago versus now."

Klossner wanted to live downtown for its walkability and to be closer to events, she said. She lives in one of the first highrise buildings to go downtown and is pleased others are cropping up.

There's still room for change, however.

“We need people downtown and we need people to be walking around downtown because ultimately it was kind of a ghost town. At 5 to 6 p.m. things kind of shut down,” Klossner said.

Construction is ongoing at The Hive Commercial Complex at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Landsdowne Street.
Construction is ongoing at The Hive Commercial Complex at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Landsdowne Street.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Mackenzie Berry

Roughly 3,940, people live in downtown alongside some of the largest government infrastructure in the city, like the Royal Inland Hospital and the Kamloops Courthouse.

Housing in the East End character area is largely composed of single-family homes that were originally constructed in the early 1900s. In recent years, residential suites on single-family lots and multi-family development achieved through land assembly have increased density in the neighbourhood, according to the City of Kamloops.

With several blocks zoned for the highest permitted residential density in the city, the nine-block area bound by 3rd and 6th Avenues, Columbia Street, and St. Paul Street contains a significant stock of multi-family development constructed from the 1960s onward, including a mix of townhouses, apartments, and residential towers up to 14 storeys tall.

The downtown’s population is expected to double in the next 20 years, reaching a projected 6,790 residents, according to the downtown plan and the housing stock to meet that need is starting to build.

Recently, plans were released for a new $140 million development for the Nicola and Battle streets that could change the face of downtown Kamloops.

READ MORE: Proposed $140M development would change the face of downtown Kamloops

Kelson Group's City Gardens will have a 22-storey and an 18-storey tower, three four-to-five storey apartment buildings, and six townhomes, according to a Kelson Group media release.

The current design concept has 445,000 square feet of residential space for over 435 units.

“Obviously our challenge is parking and people shy away from downtown because they don’t want to pay for parking…. But that’s a lot of units. If you look at 1.5 people in there, they’ll be using the downtown more than they think they will because they’ll be used to having the shops and stores close by,” Klossner said.

She’s happy with her downtown living setting, and others are as well, she said.

Other residents around the downtown are noticing the changes.

Construction is also underway for the Hive commercial development, located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Lansdowne, in the former Delta Kamloops parking lot, will eventually include three buildings, offering commercial space and retail space on the ground floors. A six-storey affordable senior's housing complex is also being built at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Victoria Street.

Coun. Denis Walsh who lives downtown and also owns The Vic Downtown and MovieMart said the area is doing well, aside from COVID-19.

“It was on a really excellent trajectory in the sense of development and new businesses coming on track… usually if a business closed, another almost opened immediately,” he said. “My concern with COVID, is that it’s going to be a while before some of those holes are filled.”

“I think there’s a lot more development now than in the past. The key part of the downtown is obviously densification and we need to attract people and that means having developers to build the housing and that’s happening a lot now. We’re getting a really good mix of development.”

Years ago, Walsh tried to put in incentives for people to build on top of commercial buildings on Victoria Street and is glad to see mixed-use buildings like the Kelson Group's being proposed, “because unless you go into restaurants there’s not enough activity (downtown). So the key is densifying and bringing more people living in the downtown core to support these businesses,” he said.

Walsh noted that the downtown also needs a public school to attract young families.

In December 2019, a Kamloops downtown plan was released to serve as a guiding document for the downtown, Sagebrush and West End Neighbourhoods for the next 20 years. In it, the city says it will work with the Kamloops school district to monitor population growth in the area and continue to assess the need for a downtown school.

Walsh is also in favour of a performing arts centre downtown. 

“That goes with the vibrancy of downtown as a cultural centre and we’re a bit lacking of facilities and events to draw people to the downtown core,” he said.

A referendum for a centre for the arts, which would be located at the old city-owned Kamloops Daily News site at the corner of 4th Avenue and Seymour Street has been postponed due to COVID-19. The city has also outlined plans to make improvements to Seymour Street and eventually develop a 4th Avenue pedestrian plaza.

“Density is the foundation… but then you have to give people reasons to come downtown,” Walsh said.

He would like to see some free parking offerings as well that will entice people to go downtown, as some avoid it due to parking issues, he said.

Image Credit: City of Kamloops

Downtown is home to many of the city’s most prominent entertainment and cultural amenities, heritage sites, parks, and recreational facilities, according to the city’s plan. Victoria Street is the city’s pre-eminent street-front retail corridor and serves as a key commercial, business, and cultural district for the community.

Jason Locke, community planning and sustainability manager at City of Kamloops, echoed what people who live downtown have always known — more people need to be there.

“It’s to try to help to revitalize and refresh the strategy of how we can continue to have people living downtown and also support the businesses, provide more office development. Like any city, if the downtown dies that affects the rest of the city,” Locke said.

The city is providing tax incentives to encourage private investment in the downtown, he said.

Downtown plans include densification with mixed-use complexes and multi-family developments, encompassing Lorne Street to 1st Avenue, stretching east to 6th Avenue, and along Victoria and Seymour Streets.

Future land use.
Future land use.
Image Credit: City of Kamloops

And development projects city-wide doesn’t seem to be slowing down, despite COVID-19, he said.

The number of single-family dwelling permits including duplexes, secondary suites and mobile homes issued by the city has fallen compared to the previous year, from 126 units issued in 2019 to 111 in 2020. By comparison, multi-family sites have nearly doubled, from 394 in 2019 to 600 in 2020 so far.

“We’re going to have a record year in terms of building permits in 2020 and I think 2021,” Locke said.


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