by Will Johnson – Nelson Star (photo credit(s), also Will Johnson)
People will be living in Nelson Commons by the end of September.
“Residents have been doing their unit inspections and the response has been very positive,” project manager Russell Precious told the Star during a site tour of the Kootenay Co-op development.
“That makes us feel better than anything — the fact that what we set out to build is being well received by the purchasers.”
He’s grateful for the buyers’ faith in the multi-year endeavour, which has overcome a series of construction hurdles and financial challenges. Currently 43 units have been sold, with 11 more still up for grabs.
“There are a lot of purchasers who stuck their necks way out to buy these units sight unseen. It’s nice to be able to deliver for those people who put their trust in us.”
But it wasn’t easy to get here. According to Precious, the building cost 25 percent more to build here than in Vancouver or Calgary, partially due to lack of competition in the trades and also due to the Kootenays’ low population, which obliged them to ship workers in from elsewhere.
“It’s a real minefield doing these things,” said Precious, noting he was particularly “clobbered” by the hundreds of thousands of dollars they were forced to spend disposing of contaminated soil on-site. But he believes they’ve now overcome all the major obstacles.
“It’s starting to look less like a construction site and more like a finished building, so we’re seeing a big resurgence in interest lately.”
Meanwhile the commercial portion of the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of November, and Precious believes it will function as more than just a grocery store. He’d like to see people routinely spending their down-time in and around the building, whether they’re shopping or not.
“We see this development as a real downtown hub,” he said.
“We want this to act as a sort of a third place after your office and your home, another place where you’ll spend a chunk of your time.”
Part of that time might be spent in the spacious cafeteria, which will overlook Vernon St., where customers can drink coffee and tuck into their purchases.
There will also be seating outside, including along a garden-lined pathway that will lead to the front entrance from Baker St.
But before that happens they’ve still got plenty of work to do, including levelling the parking lot, installing exterior cladding and trim and doing the interior.
“We’re aiming to be a Granville Island-style market,” Kootenay Co-op general manager Allan Broom said.
“And now the reality is starting to really come through as the design starts to firm up. Though it’s going to be three times the size, I think the approach and values remain the same.”
He believes this new space will carry them through the next quarter century.
“We’re setting ourselves up in this beautiful new space so we can continue to grow and serve the community. I feel so lucky to be able to step in and help lead us into the future.
“Now we can continue with what we’ve done for the last 40 years, and support local farmers in a much better way.”
Precious said the project has enjoyed full support from the city.
“The planning and building department have really been on-side and have recognized it’s an important thing for the downtown area,” he said.
“It’s a huge tax base for them with very little requirement for infrastructure upgrades on their part.”
And it’s a win-win for everybody according to the company newsletter.
“Your co-op is operating with a positive and manageable cash-flow situation now and for the foreseeable future,” the co-op announced in an email newsletter.
“We now have enough money from completed residential sales and our mortgage to pay off our major construction loan (more than $15M) and pay down our equity partners with an initial instalment of about $3.5M.”
Those payments will be made in October.
The operation is also looking for commercial tenants to fill the neighbouring spaces, and is confident they will be able to fill them once the grocery store’s moved to its new location.
“There have been several expressions of interest for the spaces,” reads the newsletter. “We are confident that any remaining will be leased or sold once the project is complete.”
And now they’re almost there, Precious is reflecting on how far they’ve come.
“This has been a six-year project for me,” he said, noting they originally considered moving into the CPR station or using the land where the Kerr apartments burned down.
“It’s pretty neat to go from start to finish on something like this. It’s such an interesting process, to envision something then bring together all the pieces.”
He can’t wait to share it with the public.
“If it’s well done, it should be a space that makes you feel most alive, like a soul awakening.”
The co-op is holding its annual general meeting, where they will share more information on the development, at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 21.