Kelowna group wants to slow sale of old RCMP building in favour of grander plan | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna group wants to slow sale of old RCMP building in favour of grander plan

The Kelowna Legacy Group had this image of downtown in their pitch.
Image Credit: SUBMITED/KELOWNA LEGACY GROUP
October 03, 2019 - 10:31 AM

KELOWNA - A group of high profile residents banding together under the name the Kelowna Legacy Group, wants to delay the sale of the old RCMP headquarters at 350 Doyle Ave. so something a bit grander in scale can be considered. 

The Legacy Group is asking that the city's Request for Proposals process be put off for a year and submitted a letter this week to HM Commercial, City of Kelowna staff and City Council explaining their intent. HM Commercial is managing the RFP process for the city and Sept. 30 was the cutoff date for groups seeking to participate in the RFP process. No date has been set for awarding the RFP.

Kelowna Legacy Concept - 2019 from Les Bellamy on Vimeo.

Citing the need for more public consultation to develop a comprehensive plan for the entire area, including the four civic areas — including old RCMP station, existing community theatre, City Hall parking lot and the Memorial Arena site — the Kelowna Legacy Group said that the existing Civic Precinct Plan did not include review of the Simpson Covenant, two civic properties within the Kelowna Trust area.

The group said in a press release this morning it is short-sighted to not look holistically at all four of these properties synergistically when planning future community space in this prime location and are recommending that the Civic land at 350 Doyle Ave. could be utilized, along with other city-owned sites, to develop a world-class performing arts centre, a much-needed community meeting space and required residential space, if future use of all of these properties is considered.

The legacy group did talk to Sharron Simpson, the former city councillor who speaks for the Simpson family that sold the land where City Hall and Memorial Arena sit to the city and put a covenant on it to keep it for civic uses in perpetuity.

“I am thrilled the community has come forward and said, ‘come on city council, get off your butts and get some vision here,’” Simpson said when contacted by iNFOnews.ca. “I am so thrilled to see an alternative vision that the city seems impossible to come up with.”

She’s taken the city to court, and won, over plans to develop lands covered by the covenant and calls it short-sighted that the city built the arena parkade on some of that land rather than looking at a grander plan.

The current city plan, developed in 2015, calls for part of the RCMP site to be leased to a developer for a high-rise residential tower that includes some community cultural space. It leaves other parts of the site for a future rebuild of the Kelowna Community Theatre.

That plan is five years old and it’s time to reconsider it since so much has changed in the meantime with multiple high-rise residential towers being built nearby, Philip Whealy, spokesman for the legacy group, said at the news conference.

“It’s time to start thinking big,” he said. “It’s time to start thinking world-class. It’s time to start thinking legacy.”

He also pointed out that the city’s plan would mean the existing theatre would be closed for a year so it could be torn down and rebuilt. He suggested a new theatre be built, instead, on the City Hall parking lot.

Simpson agreed and argued the arts groups need to be involved more than they have in the past.

“If you talk to any of the arts groups, they have no recollection of being consulted,” she said. “They are also in a bit of bind because the city funds a lot of them. But there are a lot of people in the arts community who are appalled that the city says the community theatre is perfectly adequate. The building was built in 1963.”

While Simpson staunchly defends the wording of the covenant and would not agree to have residential or commercial use on that land, she feels the family can work with the legacy group and the city to come up with a new plan.

The lands north of Doyle – where the theatre and former RCMP site sit - are not part of the covenant and can have retail and residential uses.

Whealy stressed that this initiative is in the very early stages – he just found out about it Sunday. The next step is for the group to start getting public input into what is a very preliminary plan.

While Mayor Colin Basran said, in an email, that he welcomes the legacy group’s input, he argued that the current Civic Precinct Plan is not dated. It was adopted by council in March 2016 after about a year of public consultation, including input from 27 stakeholder groups, two workshops and two open houses.

He also pointed out that the plan covers the entire area bounded by Clement, Queensway, Water and Ellis Streets, not just the four properties identified by the legacy group.

“The Plan identifies key sites for future mixed-use development (the RMCP site on Doyle Avenue, Interior Health site on Ellis) and protects sites (Kelowna Community Theatre, City Hall Parking Lot, Memorial) for future civic uses to support a dynamic Cultural District,” Basran wrote. “I will note that the Kelowna Legacy Group is singularly focused on four properties while Council must be mindful of the entire community, and the Civic Precinct Plan considers multiple sites and the needs of all our residents.”

Graham Hood, the city’s strategic land development manager would not tell iNFOnews.ca how many responses were submitted for the RCMP site other than to say there were “multiple proposals.”

City staff are reviewing those and will negotiate with some of the applicants before taking a recommendation to an in-camera or private council meeting in the next few weeks.

To see one way the project could be rendered watch the above video. 

Members of the Legacy Group include Ken Bessason, Al Hildebrandt, Les Bellamy, Norm LeCavalier, Laura Thurnheer,  Paul Mitchell, Q.C., Tom Dyas, Lorraine Caruthers and Phil Whealy.

— With files from Rob Munro

 — This story was updated at 11:58 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2019, to add comments from Sharron Simpson and Philip Whealy and at 3:40 p.m. to add comments from Mayor Colin Basran and city staff member Graham Hood.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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