Construction on a new building for BC Hydro is underway next to the old building on Kalamalka Road.

Construction on a new building for BC Hydro is underway next to the old building on Kalamalka Road.

Building boom second strongest on record

Building permit values for just the city are now over $100 million.

It’s been a big building year in Vernon.

Building permit values for just the city are now over $100 million.

“Commercial development has been great,” said Kevin Poole, City of Vernon economic development and tourism manager, delivering the keynote address at the Vernon economic update and breakfast Thursday, hosted by Greg Wiltshire of RBC Dominion Securities and Kathy Brewster and Alison Campbell of RBC commercial banking.

“It’s been another strong year in 2015, our second strongest year on record.”

A lot of the strength comes from a bunch of small commercial developments but there are a few big projects.

BC Hydro is revamping its primary office on Kal Lake Road. By the time the two-storey building and several other new facilities on site are completed, there will be a $23.6 million building permit value for 120,000 square feet of building space.

The new Tim Hortons on 27th Street has a permit value of $1.2 million, and Poole said there are “two or three other projects that likely will occur on that site,” probably in 2016 and 2017.

A revamped clubhouse at Predator Ridge Golf Resort is worth $1.25 million that will add 3,200 square feet of space.

The old Zellers/Target facility in the Village Green Mall is being renovated to accommodate a new Canadian Tire at a price of $2.4 million. When completed, the new Canadian Tire will be 102,000 square feet, making it one of the largest Canadian Tire outlets in B.C.

“We get asked what will happen to the old Canadian Tire store, and we’re not sure what they’re doing with the existing site,” said Poole. “We believe the gas pumps will be staying and not moving to the Village Green Centre, but the new facility will have propane and its service bays at the north end.”

Three years ago, when they announced they were moving in, Target spent $6.2 million to upgrade the facility.

Also in 2015, building permits were issued for a new BCAA office on Anderson Way ($2.1 million), a new Chinese restaurant and car wash ($800,000 each) and Hunter’s Store did a makeover worth $360,000.

In downtown, work has begin on a building at the former Bank of Montreal location on the corner of 30th Avenue and 32nd Street.

“A development permit for that site was issued in March, but they have not secured a tenant,” said Poole. “A tenant has been secured for upstairs so there is movement on that site.

“There are a few other projects in the pipeline so there is a lot of development activity right now, and a lot of activity in our downtown core which is nice to see.”

Residential building permits are down slightly in 2015, said Poole, but three big projects are coming through. If the city issues any of those permits, the numbers will improve drastically. If not, the stats will be very similar to 2014.

The three projects are all close to the building permit stage, including BX Crossing on the site of the old Kal Tire corporate office on 48th Avenue. This would feature 86 new rental housing units with an estimated building permit value of $12 million.

Regency Retirement, just off Rimer Road behind RONA, would feature 150 higher-end rental units for seniors (estimated building permit value of $18 million), and there is the proposed three-phase project from Interior Health downtown on the Bennett lot on 29th Avenue that would feature a total of 250 housing units, an eight-storey facility and 10-storey tower. Phase 1 is estimated at $12 million.

Poole also told the crowd of nearly 40 that the City of Vernon has gone from collecting $286,794 in hotel tax in 2010 to $535,756 in 2014.

“That means $26.8 million in hotel revenue for the city, not including food and beverage and other spin-offs,” said Poole, explaining that each hotel in the City of Vernon collects a two per cent hotel tax from guests. The money is paid to the province which, in turn, cuts a cheque to the city.

Those spin-offs, said Poole, bring in about $110 million for the tourism sector.

So far in 2015, Poole said the city enjoyed a good start in January and February, numbers dropped in March and April, were way up in May and June, dipped again in July, and the city enjoyed its best month ever, collecting $95,000 in hotel tax revenue in August (September numbers were not available prior to Poole’s presentation).

“The big thing from the tourism perspective is we rely on the summer,” he said. “June, July, August and a bit of September is our make-or-break.”

Numbers in August may have been higher if not for residual smoke from forest fires in the South Okanagan and Washington state that made its way to the North Okanagan.

The province announced in August that communities would be able to start collecting three per cent hotel tax revenue. Such a move in Vernon would improve a tourism budget from approximately $575,000 to $750,00. But Poole said his staff will let the hoteliers decide if the number goes up.

“They’re the ones who have to collect it, they’re the ones who have to tell the customer what the additional tax is,” he said.

Thursday’s breakfast also featured a presentation from RBC Wealth Management Financial Services estate planning specialist Stephen Miziolek about turning a life insurance policy into a tax-free savings account.