KELOWNA - With the new innovation centre set to open by the end of the month, Kelowna is well on its way to becoming a leader in the technology industry.
Jeff Keen, current board member and past president of Accelerate Okanagan and current member of Wheelhouse Ventures, has been a part of the planning process since the beginning. He says the building is all about bringing people together.
“We wanted a building that facilitated a lot of interaction - like a university campus,” he said. “We want to encourage collaborative collisions and information sharing.”
The new centre, located at the corner of Doyle and Ellis St. is modeled after technology centers in Silicon Valley, such as Google, Microsoft, DreamWorks.
Keen says he wants people to know that the Okanagan isn’t just about drinking wine and playing golf.
“When someone comes to the Okanagan and hears about our wine industry, you can take them around and visit hundreds of wineries, but when they hear about a tech community, where do you take them?”
Creating a hub where people could get connected with the tech industry is what started the process of the innovation centre, says Keen.
The building is meant to be more engaging than a typical office building, where the main interaction is typically in the parkade, elevator and lobby.
“When you walk into the building there is a large floor to ceiling atrium with a big skylight at the top,” he says.
Additionally, Keen says there is an internal staircase with glass railings.
“When you walk into the space you actually get a feeling that you’re a part of the building. You can get a sense and feeling of what’s going on.”
The $34 million centre has six floors. There is a restaurant, coffee shop and presentation theatre on the ground floor, as well as a rooftop park. There are even showers for those who run or bike to work.
The rooftop park is complete with trees, synthetic lawn, benches, a rooftop café and even a few fire places. It is currently only open to tenants and their guests, but in the long run, Keen says they would like it all to be open to the public. Currently only the restaurant and ground floor will be open to the public.
“It’s such a unique space - there’s nothing like it in the Okanagan, neither in Vancouver.”
Almost a third of the costs were donated by three tiers of government.
The municipal government donated $500,000 towards construction and owns the presentation theatre on the main floor. Additionally, the provincial government donated $6 million towards construction fees.
The federal government donated $3.5 million to go towards furniture and tenant improvement costs. The remainder comes from private investors in a group known as Kelowna Sustainable Innovation Group.
Keen says although he is excited about the building itself, he is more excited to see what it will do for Kelowna’s technology industry as a whole.
“It’s really about creating awareness about the benefits of entrepreneurship and technology and innovation,” he says. “I think within the next five years, it will be the number one industry in the region.”
The first tenant, The Business Development Bank of Canada is set to move in on Feb. 24.
The official community opening is expected to happen in April.
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