I first saw what is now UBC Okanagan while flying into Kelowna in the early ‘90s, the jet flying right over what was then Okanagan University College.
The campus was notable for where it was, beside the airport and where it wasn’t, which was anywhere near downtown Kelowna or the institution’s downtown campus on KLO Road.
Aside from a coffee shop inside the airport (which was a lot smaller then, itself) there was no commercial hub, not a strip mall, nothing around for miles other than the big red and white gas station at historic Reid’s Corner where Rutland Road meets Old Vernon Road.
It had great ice cream, and just about anything you would expect from a large general store and was about the closest thing to a retail experience anywhere near the university college campus.
Fast forward 25 years and the big old gas station is long gone and so is Okanagan University College, at least in name. The original campus was absorbed in 2005 when the University of Britisih Columbia opened its first-ever branch plant outside Vancouver.
Once isolated, the campus is now twice the size and counts a substantial international and out-of-town cohort amongst the 8,000 or so student in attendance.
Kelowna International Airport, back then a much more sleepy little provincial airport, has established itself as the 11th largest and one of the fastest growing airports in Canada.
Both emerged as engines of economic growth and since spawned their own entourages — service businesses for the airport, R & D for UBCO — which in turn have helped bolster growth in the commercial and industrial zones around Reid's Corner (and indeed Kelowna in general).
More than that, where once the university dorm was the only accommodation within miles, there is now a sizeable residential off-campus neighbourhood marching up the crest of the hill and back down toward the campus.
Both market and purpose built rental housing have sprouted along the aptly named Academy Way, enough so that Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran now says the entire area is now on the city’s radar as the next town centre.
Pumped as he is on the city’s most recent town centre plan for Capri Landmark, it’s not unexpected the mayor would be willing to commit planning dollars and resources to developing a town centre plan for Reid's Corner (my name is much sexier than UBCO/Airport).
The town centre concept is the backbone of urban planning in Kelowna and has been used to end sprawl and knit together a more dense community from the city’s much more rural roots.
Pandosy and Rutland town centres are probably the most successful of those the city has identified (Downtown, Mid-town and now Capri Landmark are the others).
Challenges abound creating something resembling a neighbourhood from the area, bordered as it is by a major highway with an unlovely sprawling industrial sector and a noisy airport as anchor tenants, but then again that’s the whole point.
One factor in its favour is proximity to the Okanagan Rail Trail which 25 years ago was a rusty but working railway with no glimpse of its future obselescence.
More than any other part of Kelowna, the neighbourhood is positioned to take advantage of the emerging rail trail as a community-building artery that can link its pieces together.
The city has already acknowledged the importance of the airport, highway and rail trail as a critical juncture in the regional transportation network with the establishment of the Okanagan Gateway concept.
Growth in the area, residential as well as commercial, is not going to stop and the city needs to get ahead of what has emerged as the city’s newest — and in some ways, one of its most important — neighbourhoods.
— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at email@example.com.