JL Jackson proposal falters

Shopping: Other retail development plans curtail interest in site.

School District #83 went fishing, but no one took the bait when it came to proposals for commercial development on the site of the former J.L. Jackson school.

After previously putting out a request for development proposals for the site and not receiving a single response, the school district extended the deadline in hopes of getting some interest.

Once again, nothing came forward.

“I’m disappointed, because for this property, I think a mixed-use development really makes sense, especially considering this is part of the designated downtown area,” says Bruce Hunt, project manager for School District #83.

“We proactively contacted some developers to see if they might be interested, but nothing.”

The mixed-use plan for the site includes commercial and retail space, residential including affordable housing, and the possibility of new offices for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District and School District #83.

Hunt points to three factors limiting the viability of the commercial portion of the site: the approval of the SmartCentres development west of town, the expansion and renovations of Salmon Arm’s grocery stores, and poor economic conditions overall.

“Certainly, a project the size and scale of SmartCentres has had an impact on the viability of this project,” said Hunt. “Potential investors are concerned that such a large commercial development would saturate the market for retail space at this time.”

Loblaws grocery stores had previously expressed an interest in locating on the site. Hunt now says they and other national grocery chains appear to see little advantage in locating in Salmon Arm given the expansion and re-branding of the Save-On-Foods in the Mall at Piccadilly, the impending addition of a new, larger Askew’s Foods on the east side of town and rumoured renovations of the Safeway in Centenoka Park Mall.

Hunt says a general malaise in the economy is also limiting interest.

“In these times, developers are being extremely cautious about growth in such tough conditions,” he says.

“The timing of these things has really conspired against us.”

Hunt says the issue will be brought to the school board at an in-camera meeting on Oct. 25 for discussion. The long-term lease of the property is very desirable for the school district, as the rental income can go back into revenue for this district’s education budget.

“We will be looking to the board for what direction they might give,” says Hunt. “I don’t think we will be looking at issuing another RFP (request for proposal) in the short term. I think we need to wait and get more clarity on the SmartCentres plans or the economy improves.”

In the meantime, plans are still proceeding for affordable housing on the site.

City of Salmon Arm staff have completed an RFP for the development of affordable housing on a one-acre parcel of the Jackson site. The RFP was brought before council last Monday at the Development and Planning Committee meeting.

“I notice we have plenty of… outs, so we’re not bound in any way, which I thought was great. But at the same time, a lot of options are provided for how it’s to be done, what’s to be done, densities, location, everything,” commented Coun. Chad Eliason.

“So I think if there is an appetite to provide affordable housing and manage it, it will be done properly. Their background will be checked, the proposal will be checked, and the school district and the city will be very flexible with how it’s delivered.”

Development services director Corey Paiement said staff would ask at the Oct. 15 council meeting for approval to go public with the RFP. The closing date for submissions will be Dec. 15 and, by April 1, 2012, the city would be required to tell the school district who has been selected as the site’s developer.

Paiement also noted the RFP makes clear that the prospective developer cannot expect to receive financial assistance from the city.

A study into the feasibility of the CSRD and School District #83 developing joint office space on the site is also underway. Stantec was hired in August to look at the potential needs and savings of a joint-proposal, much like the shared facilities between Salmon Arm’s city hall and the courthouse. This study won’t be complete until the new year.

“Nothing’s written in stone,” says Hunt. “After this study, the CSRD will have to consider it, as well as the school board.”


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