Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The big Box backlash doesn’t rule the day

I must admit I thought this was already a given, that the shopping village out on Highway 16 would be a go. So it was a bit of a surprise to see the issue rise up again like a hydra, ready to attract front page attention in the ole Podunk.

In the end, the yea’s again smited the nays (quite handily as it turned out), and eventually it seems we’ll be able to add a trip out on the highway to the shopping itinerary. However, as it always seems to be the case when it comes to change around here, the road was littered with procedural potholes on the way to shopping nirvana.

With a rezoning bid up for debate, the forces against the expansion by Royop Coroporation of the Highway 16 development (indeed they aren’t at all impressed with the original concept let alone the new and improved version) had one last kick at the dirt before the project received its approval.

With only Councilor Joy Thorkelson in the contrarian corner, the remainder of council on hand, passed the application by Royop developments to provide a significantly larger shopping destination on the B C Hydro site. Prior to the application getting the green light, the debate in council chambers featured those for and against the idea. As those against the idea, trotted out the usual arguments of a death for the downtown core of shops on Third Avenue. On the other side of the debate, there was a reminder of the shopping choices that lure Rupertites to Terrace on a weekly basis as well as the cautionary tales of Williams Lake and Quesnel which went through a similar debate not to long ago, which didn’t end well for Williams Lake by all accounts.

The Daily News featured the thrust and parry of the debate as well as some background on the whole issue in their Monday edition.

Rezoning paves way for a 25 acre shopping centre development
By James Vassallo
The Daily News
Monday, December 18, 2006

Pages one and three

City council has approved an application by Royop that will allow a significantly larger shopping mall on the highway. The move will open the door for the company to complete a deal with B. C. Hydro and expand their proposed development from 16 to 25 acres.

“Our message as a council has been that we are open for business in Prince Rupert,” said Coun. Sheila Gordon-Payne at last week’s council meeting, “Our community needs activity, and this will be a positive move.”
Prior to the decision a public meeting was held where several Rupertites expressed opposition to the larger shopping centre.

“Suburban shopping malls, I don’t believe they’re sustainable particularly in Prince Rupert, at least not in the near future,” said Alora Griffin, architect. “If the stores close here because of the competition with the big box stores and the shopping mall… we’re going to lose tax money here, we’re going to lose people here who have struggled for years – these are people who have invested their lives here, some have lived here for generations.

“Typically, locally owned business invests in the community while corporate profits go to the shareholders.”

Griffin noted that at least seven downtown businesses have closed in the last year and the development may only exacerbate the situation. As well, she pointed to the environmental impact of increased traffic, noted the population base was not such at this point that it could support this kind of development and questioned the large land use – noting it is almost half the size of Phase one of the port development – for the project in light of the small amount of land available on Kaien Island.

She was supported by several other citizens in the idea that the project be done in two phases, allowing the city to pull back if the first 16 acre development pulled business away from downtown.

By contrast, Mario Castelli related how labour, the chamber of commerce, downtown merchants and city council in Williams Lake banded together to stop a big box development from coming to that city = and the disastrous consequences that resulted.

“The big box store went next door to Quesnel. All the wonderful stories, all the congratulations and pats on the back because they stopped it. They didn’t stop it, it didn’t mean a thing,” Castelli said, noting he was speaking on his own behalf and not for the local labour movement. “They made sure that any jobs that were created were created in Quesnel, not Williams Lake.

Now, on a Saturday, those that can afford it get in their cars and drive to Quesnel. They have lunch there, they buy things there… the money they spend doesn’t go around Williams Lake.

“And the merchants that they were trying to protect, close anyway. And the jobs they were trying to protect disappeared. But if you go to Quesnel… it’s vibrant. I believe we’re faced with the same sort of situation here – Quesnel, for us is Terrace.

Council for the most part sided with Castelli’s view, with Coun. Tony Briglio noting that the tax revenue generated by the development could help revitalize downtown and Coun. Nelson Kinney, a downtown business owner, adding that competition was healthy and the move would encourage other businesses to do better. Coun. Joy Thorkelson, who has regularly expressed her opposition to the project, was the only councilor to vote against the rezoning.

“That downtown in my belief is our centre, she said. “I find it difficult to believe downtown wouldn’t be impacted.”

As to when the development will be open and who the tenants will be, Royop is still unable to provide firm answers.

“As a developer, sense of urgency is always there. We are dealing with third parties that we’ll be developing for and they’re probably in control of the timing more than we are.” Said Melvin Foht, vice-president of development for the Royop Corporation. “We are urging them to move as quickly as possible,”

Foht said there’s solid interest from anchor tenants in the development, and pre-development work, including receiving all the necessary site of approvals from various levels of government, would likely be completed in the Spring of 2007.

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