A new deal to build condos next to Prince George city hall could be the "missing piece of the puzzle" in a multi-decade effort to revitalize the city's downtown core, according to Eoin Foley, president of Downtown Prince George, the city's business improvement association.
The city has drafted a deal with Kamloops-based A&T Project Developments Inc. to build a 151-unit condominium on land near city hall and Connaught Hill in the downtown core.
The deal needs approval from city council to proceed, at which point construction would begin in 2018.
A&T vice-president of sales and marketing Gary Reed said the company became interested in the condo project while researching and building the recently-completed Riverbend Seniors Community in Prince George.
"We've looked at the Prince George market for quite a while now and think that's there's a real need for some nice condos downtown," he said.
Reed credited recent developments in the business community, including the opening of several new restaurants and a craft brewery, for making downtown Prince George a more attractive investment than in years past.
"Before we go and spend a whole lot of money, we do our homework," he said.
"We feel that that area has gained quite a bit of momentum."
Concerns over the state of downtown and the lack of people living there, have been a central part of municipal conversations in Prince George for decades.
Prince George city manager Kathleen Soltis said the city has been trying to get more residences downtown for "close to 30 years."
In 2008, over 600 peopled attended a rally aimed at drawing attention to the lack of development and improvement in the downtown area.
By 2009, the city had adopted the Smart Growth on the Ground Strategy which included the goal of increasing the number of downtown residents from approximately 200 to nearly 2,000 by 2035.
Foley, who co-owns two restaurants downtown, said housing is also good for business.
"It means more people downtown at all times of the day, more people walking around, creating that better, critical mass which ultimately leads to more retail activity, more people going to the restaurants and cafés downtown,and generally a safer downtown," he explained.
"It's what we've been looking for for years."
City-owned parking part of deal with developer
To get the condos built, the city has proposed a "partnering agreement" with the developer.
Under the agreement, the city would own a parkade beneath the condos, with space for 290 vehicles.
Approximately 130 of those would be given to condo residents at a discounted rate for at least 50 years — a rate valued at $94,914 annually.
Since the city would be foregoing potential revenue, the deal requires the approval of city council at its next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 18.
Soltis said the deal was negotiated because downtown housing is part of the city's long-term strategy.
"In order to have a rejuvenated downtown, you need to have people living there," she said.
"You can have lovely restaurants and so on, but you've got to have people who actually are there after five o'clock at night."
The news of the deal comes as the downtown business improvement association seeks to renew its tax levy deal with the city.
Under the agreement, which expires March 31, 2018, the city collects additional fees from commercial properties downtown to fund the association.
Council supported a seven-year renewal of the deal, so long as it doesn't receive significant opposition from affected property owners.