Yellowknife mulls plan to sell a parking lot for $1 to build 180 housing units

Real estate company Holloway Lodging made the pitch to Yellowknife city councillors on Monday. Most councillors were in support of their initial proposal, expressing hope that it could revitalize the downtown area.

'I am supportive of this project. I think it's a very good use of land,' says Mayor Rebecca Alty

The vacant lot at 50 Street and 50th Avenue in Yellowknife. Real estate company Holloway Lodging made a pitch to Yellowknife city councillors on Monday to buy the parking lot for $1, so it could build 180 apartment units. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Yellowknife may sell a vacant downtown parking lot to a company that wants to build at least 180 new housing units  — for only $1. 

Holloway Lodging Corporation, which already owns half of the city's Centre Square Mall, is proposing to build the housing development on the nearby 50/50 lot, named for its location at 50 Street and 50th Avenue. 

"We're very invested in the area," said Robert Sherman, Holloway's chief operating officer, in a pitch to Yellowknife city councillors on Monday. "With what we already own downtown, it makes a lot of sense for us to see that area improve." 

The city first purchased the lot in 2014 and has been requesting proposals since February 2019, with the goal of building a development that will help revitalize the downtown area.

City manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett said that Holloway's pitch is the first "legitimate proposal" the city has received and asked city council members for approval in selling the land for "less than its appraisal value." 

Mayor Rebecca Alty and other city council members were hopeful that the project would alleviate social issues downtown, and help with housing insecurity across the territory.

"I am supportive of this project. I think it's a good use of land," said Alty.

"And it's not going to cost the taxpayers any more to develop, and it will generate tax revenue once it's built."

Alty noted that there may be a requirement that a certain percentage of the eventual housing units have to be defined as affordable.

Councillors express some doubts 

Although council members were generally supportive of the project, some were concerned about the lot being sold for $1. 

"What protections do we give the citizens of Yellowknife that you're actually gonna move forward on this when you have literally no skin in the game?" Coun. Niels Konge asked Holloway representatives. "A buck is nothing."

Konge insisted that Holloway be required to provide some upfront money, which could be reimbursed as the project moved forward.

"I know it would light a fire under my butt," he said.  He suggested half a million dollars as an initial payment and said it would provide an incentive for Holloway to meet their commitments and complete the project. 

The vacant 50/50 lot has been blamed for contributing to Yellowknife's downtown blight. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Sherman responded that Holloway "wouldn't rule out" an upfront payment but was hesitant given there's "a lot of risk" already associated with the project.

Sherman said that Yellowknife needs to create incentives for the creation of new housing downtown, and that the city didn't have many other offers to consider. "There's a reason this thing's been vacant for so long and no one has stepped up to do this."

Sherman also said the agreement would include "tight timelines" that would see the lot revert to the city's ownership if specific deadlines were not met.

Councillors Robin Williams and Julian Morse said they would've preferred to see a more in-depth plan before giving approval, but were still ultimately supportive. "You're asking us to give a fairly blank proposal our approval," said Morse. 

"I also agree that a couple of pretty pictures of buildings would have been real nice and would have put some concerns at rest," said Williams. "At the end of the day, I would just really like to see this lot developed." 

Bassi-Kellett said that Holloway and city administration were working on a "robust proposal" that would be submitted at a later date. 

Holloway has 'not done a good job' with Centre Square Mall 

Questioned during the city hall meeting, Sherman admitted that Holloway has "not done a good job" running the Centre Square Mall. He said they've recently hired new management, and they are aware that it has been managed "somewhat passively." 

"Have we made the progress we need to yet? No. But it's something that's very much on our radar," said Sherman. 

Morse was appreciative of Sherman addressing issues of the mall "head on."

"I hope that council approving this will open the door to something progressive and exciting happening here, which is long overdue for this town and for that space," said Morse. 

Holloway's proposal will be discussed again at the city's next council meeting on Sept. 26. 


Emma Grunwald is a reporter with CBC News in Yellowknife.