KELOWNA - It wasn’t long ago that Ellis Street, one of downtown Kelowna’s primary north-south roads, was known for, well, not much.
But with two high profile construction projects recently completed and several more on the drawing board, Ellis Street is taking on a new look, more like that of a street in Vancouver’s Yaletown and skewing downtown’s traditional east-west axis.
Add in a few hot new restaurants, some trendy beverage bars and a bunch of new parking and Ellis Street is suddenly threatening to overshadow Bernard Avenue, Kelowna’s main drag, as the centre of attention.
At the core of this renaissance is the intersection of Ellis Street and Doyle Avenue, anchored by the Okanagan Innovation Centre and the Interior Health building, and the 1,000 plus workers they bring to the area.
Marked by a parking lot and a blank square of grass just three years ago, it's now the most urban intersection between Vancouver and Calgary.
“Ellis Street represents a cultural transition in Kelowna,” Meghan O’Mara says, vice president of sales and leasing with HM Commercial Group.
She has seen a new interest in downtown in the last two years and Ellis Street in particular.
“With the opening of the Interior Health building and the Innovation Centre you are bringing a new, young demographic into downtown, a lot of of people and daytime traffic and generally a new vibrancy," she says.
O’Mara says the opening of BNA Brewing Co. and Eatery at Ellis and Coronation Avenue has lead the burgeoning microbrewery movement in Kelowna, one that fits in particularly well with the millennial cohort she says is driving downtown’s demographic change.
She points to the new Blenz coffee shop on the ground floor of the Innovation Centre as proof of corporate interest in the street and hints at deals yet to come, with another restaurant set to open in the street-level space at the front of the Memorial parkade.
Rumours are also flying of another major Ellis Street development with the pending sale of the Okanagan Food Bank building.
O’Mara gives credit to the City of Kelowna’s drive to increase density in the downtown core and its foresight in developing the cultural district, which is bound by Ellis Street on its east side.
“All those scenes are attractive to that demographic and it’s all starting to come together,” she says.
Downtown’s renaissance figures prominently in the company's fall 2017 commercial report and three of the major projects it mentions are either on Ellis Street or just around the corner.
If built as planned, the three projects would add 615 condo units on Ellis. What would be Kelowna’s tallest building, One Water Street, has just opened its sales office for the 36- and 29-storey condo towers it is planning for Ellis Street and Clement Avenue, while at the south end, the 20-storey Ella residential tower is set for construction at Ellis Street and Lawrence Avenue.
Across the street from One Water, beside Prospera Place, permitting is proceeding for another 14-storey residential building, adding to the already substantial number of low-rise condo suites built along Ellis Street before the 2008 recession.
One of the key reasons for the new confidence in downtown, the report notes, is the completion this summer of two new city parkades on Ellis, Memorial and Library, adding hundreds of long-term parking spaces.
Success has its price and downtown lease rates for retail space are climbing, up $22 to $38 per square foot this year from $28 to $34 per square foot in 2016.
Unlike Kelowna’s residential vacancy rate, the report notes the City’s office vacancy rate is just under 12 per cent which is expected to take some time to reduce.
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