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‘Unrealistic’: Mayor on ambitious vision for downtown Kelowna

It would transform part of Kelowna's downtown---an ambitious vision has been revealed by a group of citizens for the site of the former RCMP building and surrounding area. The group is calling on the city to stop its redevelopment plans immediately so it can consider the bigger picture. But the city's mayor says the group's vision is unrealistic. Klaudia Van Emmerik reports.

A citizen’s group is urging Kelowna city council to stop its re-development plans on the site of the former RCMP building.

“Just pause and just allow maybe up to a year to then benchmark best practices for what other waterfront communities have done all over North America with their cultural districts,” said Philip Whealy, spokesperson for the Kelowna Legacy Group.

The Kelowna Legacy Group is made up of concerned citizens who believe more public consultation is needed to develop a more comprehensive plan along Doyle Avenue, between Water and Ellis Streets.

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“Our concern is that there is a bit of a rush on here to sell off piecemeal, what is potentially a really, really critical piece of real estate for this area,” Whealy said.

The Legacy Group produced a short video showcasing its vision for the area.

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“Let’s seize this opportunity,” Whealy said.

The vision includes four separate buildings on four city-owned parcels of land: the old RCMP station, the existing community theatre, the city hall parking lot and Memorial Arena.

“What we have laid out in our video is just a concept,” Whealy said. “We have no idea what that may end up looking like, but what it must do is put Kelowna on the map as a cultural powerhouse of Canada.”

Construction crew makes unusual find near Kelowna
Construction crew makes unusual find near Kelowna

The video shows four development phases.

Phase one includes a condo or hotel on the site of the former RCMP site, along with a four-level parkade, meeting rooms and retail space.

Phase two includes a new community theatre on what’s now a parking lot next to city hall. That structure also includes four-level parking, meeting rooms and more retail space.

Phase three shows a community centre with meeting rooms and retail space to be located at the corner of Doyle Ave., and Water St., where the community theatre is currently located.

The site of aging Memorial Arena would be phase four and would involve some type of mixed-use building.

The structures would all be connected by a giant, circular rooftop garden.

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Condo construction pace in Kelowna not slowing down
Condo construction pace in Kelowna not slowing down

The video also shows a ground-level, extended walkway connecting Kasugai Gardens to a civic plaza near the Rotary Centre for the Arts.

“We need a world-class performing centre. We have to have this,” Whealy said. “We need probably an area for people to meet, we may well need some residential, maybe condos, maybe a hotel, who knows?

“We need parking, we need a civic plaza, we need an extended art walk . . . we need all these cultural and community elements.”

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While Kelowna’s mayor said the amenities being proposed would be great additions, he questions the feasibility of it all.

“I just think it is unrealistic,” said mayor Colin Basran. “The amenities being proposed would be great additions to our community, but packed into one small area and who is going to pay for it, that’s the big question.”

“I think that council has a broader mandate in terms of projects and amenities throughout the community and not just focusing on one particular area.

“If we were to build what is being proposed, we wouldn’t have a dollar to spend anywhere else in the community, and even then I wouldn’t know where all the money would come from.”

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Basran also argued that the city has a civic precinct plan that involved significant public consultation for that area.

“It created a comprehensive plan for the area that we are talking about, which actually includes a new community theatre, which is one of the things the Legacy group is proposing,” he said.

“There is actually a comprehensive plan and we are just following that plan, so to say that the plan is out of date or being done piece meal is actually not factual.”

READ MORE: Big changes coming to downtown Kelowna

City staff are in the process of going through development proposals for the former RCMP site.

The successful bidder will have to prepay a lease for 80 years, provide at least 10 storeys of housing, build an art walk and amenity space.

While the Legacy Group has called for the re-development process on the former RCMP site to be put on hold, Basran said that’s not likely to happen.

“No, we won’t be putting the current process on hold,” he said. “There are no intentions as of now to stop the process and consider the Legacy Group’s project above the others that have been submitted.”