Will a redeveloped Capri mall be an Okanagan game changer like it was 60 years ago? - InfoNews

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Will a redeveloped Capri mall be an Okanagan game changer like it was 60 years ago?

Today, the Capri Centre's most visible feature is the Coast Capri hotel.
January 17, 2020 - 7:30 AM

When the Capri Centre became the first shopping mall in B.C.’s Interior, it changed not only the face of Kelowna but the whole of the Okanagan Valley.

Now, historian Bob Hayes refers to it as dated.

Owner Graham Lee of R.G. Properties proposed a major redevelopment of the mall a few years ago but, since then, many major commercial and residential projects have shifted the focus back to Kelowna’s original downtown core.

“I think it (Capri) separated Kelowna from Vernon and Penticton,” Hayes, the president of the Okanagan Historical Society – Kelowna Branch, told iNFOnews.ca.

“Up until then, Penticton was traditionally the biggest of the three (Okanagan) cities. Vernon was the oldest and most established and it had the Bay and Eaton’s. Kelowna was just a town you passed through when you were on the way to somewhere. I don’t think people took Kelowna seriously."

That changed when Cap Capozzi and his three sons built the Capri shopping centre in what was then the separate town of Glenmore.

“The fact that somebody would build a shopping mall, the first between Vancouver and Calgary, was huge,” Hayes said. “It meant Kelowna was definitely expanding eastward."

When it first opened in 1959 or 1960, the Shop Easy grocery store was the key tenant.
When it first opened in 1959 or 1960, the Shop Easy grocery store was the key tenant.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Old Kelowna

PRE-CAPRI

Back in the late 1950s Kelowna was a small town of about 10,000 people clustered around Bernard Avenue with some housing stretching down Pandosy Street.

The town essentially ended at Richter street, although the actual boundary was Glenmore Drive (now Gordon Drive). Beyond that was the largely rural town of Glenmore.

Cap Capozzi was a successful local businessman whose holdings included a couple of grocery stores.

“A bold new supermarket called Shop Easy was looking for a place in Kelowna and the sons (of Cap Capozzi) knew they could land the tenancy if they could provide a building,” Tom Capozzi, one of the sons, was quoted as saying in a 1990 newspaper insert found in the Kelowna Archives marking the centre’s 30th anniversary.

Capozzi bought the Pridham orchard, reported to be the largest pear orchard in the British Commonwealth and combined the two family names – Cap and Pri – to create the Capri name.

The Capozzis thought the project would be more viable if they could get a liquor licence for a hotel and pub but Glenmore was a dry town. A plebiscite was voted on by Glenmore residents to change that rule. It passed.

Glenmore, while incorporated as a town, was mostly farms so had little in the way of a tax base. That meant it fell to Kelowna to provide services like water and sewer to the mall.

The Old Kelowna Facebook page says the mall opened in 1959, but the 1990 newspaper supplement marking its 30th anniversary makes the opening date 1960, the same year the two towns merged into one.

It was called a boundary extension – likely the first in B.C.’s history – and was of mutual benefit, Hayes said. Glenmore needed the tax base and Kelowna needed the land.

The Capri Hotel in 1967
The Capri Hotel in 1967
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Old Kelowna

THE SHOPPING CENTRE

When it opened, the Capri was a strip mall with the doors all facing west towards Gordon Drive, Hayes said.

Shop Easy was the anchor tenant but it also included a Bay, Metropolitan, Longs drugs and an A & W (in the location where it currently sits). Auto-courts and motels lined the other side of Gordon Drive.

“Provincial rules in the late 1950s were that a new hotel must have more first-class rooms than what currently existed in the largest establishment in town,” Tom Capozzi is quoted as saying. “The Royal Anne had 30 rooms; I think we planned 32.”

Since Kelowna was a growing area, the government regulatory agency insisted on 60 rooms to go with the liquor licence.

“We were unhappy…but it wasn’t long before we had to expand,” Capozzi said. “So the government was right.”

At 10¢ a beer, the pub thrived. It was eventually named Angie’s after long-time bartender Angelo Rossi and became a landmark of its own for many years.

Capozzi said they "almost had to drag people out here" to shop since it was so far from downtown and business owners there felt betrayed by Capozzi. The hotel also struggled for the first two or three years with its $8 rooms but, in the mid-1960s, a tower was added and the mall became enclosed a few years later.

The Capri pool, from a late 1960's post card.
The Capri pool, from a late 1960's post card.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Old Kelowna, postcard found on delcampe.net.

THE IMPACT ON KELOWNA AND BEYOND

“The Capri was a huge recognition that Kelowna was up and coming and was not going to be a tourist town based on main street Bernard Avenue,” Hayes said. “It solidified this whole thing about expanding out into Glenmore.”

It pulled development away from Okanagan Lake and into what is now the busiest part of the city — one of many markers of urban sprawl for the city and a sign of more to come.

“It caused a lot of people in Kelowna to shop locally,” Hayes said. “As a kid, it wasn’t uncommon to travel to Vernon to shop. The Capri mall made people realize we could shop in Kelowna and Kelowna was not the poor relation.”

But its success went beyond the Okanagan.

“This was a recognition that you didn’t have to be Vancouver or, if you were in Alberta, Calgary, to have a mall,” Hayes said. “Smaller centres could have malls. You weren’t limited to five or six blocks of Bernard Avenue or onto Lawrence or Leon (Avenues). You could actually go way out of town, as that was at that point.”

Other smaller cities saw similar “out of town” malls spring up.

There’s no better example of that pattern than Orchard Park mall, which opened in 1971, even further from downtown. Hayes said that wouldn’t have happened if the Capri hadn’t gone first.

A rendering of the Capri Centre Mall site as imagined by the developer.
A rendering of the Capri Centre Mall site as imagined by the developer.

INTO THE FUTURE

It was back in 2014 when Graham Lee (who bought the mall in 1989) presented a massive redevelopment plan to city council, calling for 15 new buildings ranging up to 26 storeys, a park and skating rink.

A comprehensive zone for the Capri lands was approved by council but, when more detailed plans were presented in 2018, council had some reservations and deferred a decision on the overall plan.

But, it did agree to issue a development permit for one 22-storey tower in the southeast corner, next to Sutherland Avenue and Capri Street.

Nothing visible has happened since. There has to be substantial work on the foundation by mid-April of this year or the permit expires and Lee will have to re-apply.

Hayes thinks it’s time for a change.

“I think Capri has seen its best times,” Hayes said. “It looks very dated. I’m an historian and I like history but I think it needs to have something injected into it.”

But he doesn’t want to throw away all its history.

“I hope we can still, in some way, recognize the importance it has played in our community,” he said. “People talk about the bridge being a game changer. Yes it was. I think Capri was not quite as significant but certainly an indication that times were changing.”

Now it’s up to Lee to make the next change happen.

“We are still working on it,” Lee said when contacted by iNFOnews.ca in December. “We are just re-aligning tenancies to make this work and we still plan to proceed with this very exciting project.”

He would not say when he plans to take the next step.


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