BY BILL PHILLIPS
In 2016 the city had a record year in terms of building permits with $128 million worth of permits issued.
While great, everyone thought it was a one-off accomplishment. Then came 2017.
At the end of November, $115 million worth of building permits had been issued. The 2016 will likely remain the record year, but 2017 was pretty darn good too.
“This is historic for us,” Mayor Lyn Hall told a Prince George Chamber of Commerce luncheon before Christmas. “If you would have asked me last year, I would have said we wouldn’t get close to $128 million again this year. This is fantastic.”
In addition, he said about 95 per cent of those building permits are from the private sector.
“Whenever you can get private sector investment, it shows a confidence in the city and what we’re doing,” he said.
Successive councils have had a focus on developing the downtown core and it seems the current council will have some of the best success in doing just that. Just before Christmas council approved a partnership with with A&T Development that paves the way for a $37 million, 151-unit condominium and parkade development downtown.
“We are very proud of that,” said Hall. “It’s a very interesting and exciting project.”
The deal will see a city parking facility below the condominiums that would provide nearly 290 new underground parking stalls downtown, with an additional 64 surface parking spaces. The proposal includes a provision that 133 of the new underground parking spaces would be reserved for condominium residents at a reduced rate. The value of the city assistance to be provided during the 50-year term of the agreement is estimated at $94,914 per year.
Another nine-unit condo development on Seventh Avenue between Winnipeg and Vancouver Street is nearing completion.
The project took advantage of the incentive package the city has developed in conjunction with Northern Development Initiative Trust. Also in December, the city amended its agreement with NDIT by providing further incentives for developers to invest in downtown housing, which will serve to attract residents to the city centre to live.
Northern Development’s board of directors approved the allocation of $1.8 million and amended agreement in October in support of the development of residential housing downtown.
The amended agreement now increases the total funding available, via a $10,000 per door grant, in order to provide financial support towards the development of targeted projects such as affordable housing, seniors and student housing, mixed-use (residential and retail), market rental housing, and market condominiums.
“This is about us being competitive in the marketplace, throughout the province, throughout Canada,” said Hall. “There’s tough competition from locations like Kelowna, Kamloops, Nanaimo. The deal with NDIT puts us in a competitive position.”
Hall also pointed to UNBC Wood Innovation Research Laboratory under construction on Fifth Avenue downtown, pointing out it uses all-wood construction.
“It really says a lot of what we’re about in our community and that’s forestry,” he said.
Looking forward to 2018, downtown will continue to change with a new entrance to the library which, after years of being on the books, is finally going to be built. The Marriott Hotel, being built adjacent to the library, is slated to be opened in the spring.
And there are, of course, the biggies, replacing the Four Seasons Pool and Firehall No. 1. Next year will involve much planning for the two project, but the firehall will likely be demolished in 2018.
“We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do with the current location of the pool,” said Hall. “That will likely be up to the next council … We’re trying to create a different feel and a different landscape downtown.”
He said the new pool and firehall will create about 200 construction jobs in the city.
He added the city is still looking at trying to get student housing located downtown and helping Studio 2880 look for a new location downtown.
On top of that, there will be plenty of city work going on in the new year as infrastructure investment continues.
“It’s not the sexy part of our operation,” said Hall. “You don’t see it, but it’s the underground stuff that keeps us ticking.”
He said that even though the city staff was stretched to the limit dealing with more than 10,000 forest fire evacuees over the summer, they continued to get the infrastructure work done that need to get done.
Last year there was 3.5 kilometres of waterman installed along North Nechako, $5 million put into road rehabilitation, and $1 million into sidewalks.
In addition, the city completed a comprehensive parks strategy.
“It will enable us to make strategic decisions on our parks,” said Hall. “We have some parks that are quite old and the equipment that isn’t safe. We’re looking at removing that equipment and replacing it. We also have a number of areas that are treed, and there’s no designation but the assumption is it’s parkland. We’re going look at those as well.”
He said the $4.2 million refurbishing of Masich Place Stadium will be a benefit to the city as well.
“It lends itself to give us the opportunity to attract more and more high level sporting activities to the community,” he said.
The $800,000 pavilion in Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park will be a focal point for the community.
“What I hear consistently is that there’s a buzz in town, a new feeling,” said Hall.