Nelson Commons will soon add a mixed-use presence to Nelson’s bustling downtown
article and photos by Louis Bockner
Since 1991 the Kootenay Co-op—Nelson’s treasure trove of organic-only foods and natural wellness products—has been operating out of its storefront at 295 Baker Street. And, much like a hermit crab, it has grown until its shell can hardly hold the jammed shelves that line the maze-like aisles or the staff who sit elbow-to-elbow in small offices at the back of the store. So, five or six years ago the board decided to find a new location and the journey of the Nelson Commons development began.
The bold project began in earnest when Kootenay Co-op bought what was once the home of Extra Foods at the opposite end of Baker Street. While the original idea was to renovate the existing building, this plan got tossed when co-project manager Russell Precious came up with a grander one—one that sets a precedent for natural food stores in North America.
“Once we bought the property I started to plan the possibility of doing a mixed-use development,” Precious said, a plan he worked on for two years before the Co-op decided to take it on.
The mixed-use aspect of the development is the marriage of commercial and residential space, with three floors—holding a total of 54 condos—being set atop the store’s new headquarters. Adding the residential element not only helped relieve the financial strain of the now $26-million project but also brought in the idea of a commons—a place where people live and congregate in the heart of the town.
“It’s just going to enhance what’s already going on,” said the project’s other co-manager, Deirdre Lang. “By bringing 100 people to live here plus 100 employees and commercial tenants, it’s just going to build on what Nelson already has.” Precious agrees that Nelson’s already bustling downtown core will only benefit from its newest building. “What makes a downtown come alive is having people who live there so that it doesn’t empty at 5 p.m.,” he said.
Aside from the Co-op, there will be other commercial storefronts on the first floor, although currently only the Fisherman’s Market has decided to make the move, leaving three spaces still available for rent. The new Co-op will have three times the floor space of its current location and will also be adding an expanded deli and café to its roster.
There are further plans for a large green space that will be designed by David Fisher and will use xeriscape landscaping.
At the time of writing, 40 out of the 54 condos have been sold, and for those tenants the long wait will soon be over. Although the site is still very much under construction and the exact completion date is unknown, Lang said the move-in date for tenants should be no later than September of this year, a date she and Precious are anticipating with much excitement.
“I’m excited that we have 40 new residents moving into this building to start living their downtown Nelson lives,” Lang said. “Many of them have been waiting two years for this and now the light is at the end of the tunnel. To have them stick with us and see it through has been very gratifying.”
As for the Co-op, the move into its new home will have to wait a little longer. According to the store’s new general manager, Allan Broom, “the fall” is their vague grand-opening date. “In terms of when in the fall, we don’t know yet,” he said. “We‘ll have to get some things defined and locked up.”
Meanwhile, the excitement is building for a business that long ago outgrew its space.