From monorail to 'Metropolis': the failed attempts to persuade Prince George residents to live downtown

B.C.'s northern capital has seen many attempts to bring housing to downtown Prince George. Here are three of the most notable to never get off the ground.

Fewer than 300 people live downtown, perhaps because these plans failed to materialize

Investor Rod McLeod and realtor Clint Dahl unveil plans to build a Marriott hotel topped by condos in downtown Prince George in 2012. The project has been downgraded to a smaller hotel, without condos. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

On Monday, Prince George city council will vote on a plan to build condos near city hall, the latest in decades of plans to persuade people to live downtown.

According to the 2016 census, just 294 people live in downtown Prince George, which is an increase from 167 in 2011. The northern B.C. city has a population of about 74,000.

However, a 2009 report prepared for the city outlined a plan to bring 2,000 people to live downtown by 2035.

Bringing more housing to downtown Prince George has been part of the city's strategy for decades, including the 2009 Smart Growth on the Ground downtown project. (City of Prince George/Smart Growth on the Ground)

While hopes are high for the proposed condo plan, it won't be the first time Prince George has attempted to kick-start downtown housing.

Here are three of the most notable previous attempts that failed to materialize:

1967: Centrum Prince George

In 1967, Prince George was a boomtown. Buoyed by demand for lumber, its population had nearly doubled in five years and the upward trend was expected to continue with population estimates of 60,000 by 1985 and over 140,000 by the new millennium. In reality, its population has never passed the 90,000 mark.

In the 1960s, it was expected the growth of Prince George would be so large that by the 1980s the downtown core would be serviced by monorail. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

To accommodate the expected growth, the Downtown Business Association commissioned architect Des Parker to come up with a plan for a proposed re-design for the downtown, to be called "Centrum Prince George."

According to a news report in the Prince George Citizen newspaper, the plan called for enclosed shopping malls that would extend over multiple blocks, highrise office and apartment buildings and an elevated monorail, "which will afford the shopper that he is never far from the car."

Though several businesses have been established downtown, most of the plans for the Centrum project have not come to pass.

2005: Metropolis 3

In 2005, Belgian architect Yves Ghiai announced plans to revitalize downtown Prince George through a 13-year project titled "Metropolis."

Ghiai put a down payment on a property at 5th Avenue and Quebec, which he said would be home to high-end condos, commercial space and a parkade.

Though Ghiai told local news site 250news.com he had spent $100,000 on the plans, he never purchased the property, and by 2009, Metropolis was officially dead, although Ghiai still has a picture of him shaking hands with former mayor Colin Kinsley, and the plans for Metropolis are on his website.

2012: Luxury living

The most recent high-profile downtown housing announcement to fail to come to fruition was in 2012. In April of that year, local investor Rod McLeod announced plans to build a $40 million hotel and condo unit beside the city's downtown library.

At 12 storeys high, the top floors were to be set aside for 35 high-end condo units, ranging in price from $350,000 to $800,000 at a time when the average single family home cost $250,000.

Construction of the project stalled and by 2016 was downgraded to a still-under-construction hotel which, as revealed in an investigation by the Prince George Citizen, cost the city significant downtown development funds.

Committed to completion

Despite these failed attempts of the past, the developers behind the latest downtown housing project believe they have a winning model. Based out of Kamloops, A&T Project Developments Inc. recently built the Riverbend Seniors Community in Prince George and, at the same time, researched other housing needs in the city.

A 151-unit condo has been proposed for downtown Prince George on a lot near city hall and Connaught Hill. (City of 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," said A&T vice-president of sales and marketing Gary Reed.

"Before we go and spend a whole lot of money, we do our homework."

Should council approve the plans, Reed said construction will begin in 2018.

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George.