Vision for former KDN lot requires outside-the-box thinking

Plain Rhetoric
By Bill McQuarrie
October 24, 2017 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — During last month’s by-election, there was considerable interest and discussion surrounding the old Kamloops Daily News building, previously known as The Bay.  

The site was a contentious issue, with conversations focussed on the waste of money. Others were concerned about the lack of planning while still others lamented the missing component: a solid vision for the future of that half square block.

Of course it didn’t help matters that throughout the election, the KDN building was being torn down, brick by slow brick. It was a painful reminder of, “there is no plan B” and was happening at the worst possible time.

But rather than dwell in the past and rehash the obvious, maybe it’s time to start talking about the future of that site. It is an opportunity we didn’t necessarily ask for, but still, it is an opportunity and a chance to reshape and change the character of our downtown.

Personally, I feel it is not the right location for any revival talk of a Performing Arts Centre. A PAC spends much of its time dark, so is unable to contribute to the daily hustle and bustle of a downtown core. No large influx of office workers spending lunch hours downtown. No new residents living there and supporting local merchants. No sense of a neighbourhood.  

A ‘hood with a mixture of work and daily life adds not only dollars to the community but provides a natural vibrancy along with a sense of ownership and pride. Downtown cores that are 24/7 and resident driven are downtown cores that grow and thrive. A performing arts centre that only comes alive on performance nights doesn’t provide that kind of sustaining and constant neighbourhood energy.

That half square block filled with new retail shops and public plazas on the ground level, offices above that which in turn are topped with a floor or two of condominiums, changes all of that. And in the process provides the kind of foundation a downtown needs to grow and thrive.

In this case, it also anchors Seymour St. and kick starts its redevelopment and return to a viable and active city core street.

Some have suggested slowing things down on Seymour by returning it to two-way traffic but I’m still unsure. Yes, it would slow things down but that in turn would have considerable impact on traffic heading from the North Shore.  

The counter argument to that states we shouldn’t be building cities for cars but instead should be building them for people. So I’ll leave that discussion/argument to you and the comments section.

Speaking of arguments though, here’s another development idea to consider. Currently and rightly or wrongly, the City (that’s us) owns that property. It is prime real estate and generating zero revenue for us. On top of that, we can’t expect to recover the money spent on the site anytime soon. There is a huge gap between what the City has spent (acquisition, demolition, development) and what the property is currently worth. Yet we need to start making money and let’s face it, parking stalls are not going to do it for us.

So if we can’t sell it to a developer for enough to recover costs, why don’t we put it on the market as a 99-year lease property? The City gets some money back but at the same time retains ownership of the land, which is an appreciating asset that stays on the City’s books. And once developed the City finally begins collecting some long overdue property tax revenue on some prime downtown property.

99 years later the lease expires, the City still owns the land and again it gets to renew a lease.

It is no longer a white elephant but an asset that constantly generates revenue and is owned by the people of Kamloops. Of course, this is not necessarily the way bureaucracies think or work but perhaps it is time for the City to start thinking in a way that moves us from the old concepts of 19th Century real estate deals (think Monopoly) and into the global realities of the 21st Century.