With talk swirling in recent days about ever-expanding commercial operations at the Crossroads and the consequent doom for downtown Invermere, district mayor Gerry Taft has been pointing to the full occupancy of the Parkside Place development as a sign that downtown Invermere is as healthy as ever.
Parkside Place, stretching along the east side of main street (7th Avenue) north of Valley Foods, is currently completely full of commercial tenants for the first time in its nearly 10-year history.
“It’s absolutely a success story. We were able to generate commercial activity in the downtown core; it was a good-size project; it helps ties Pothole Park to the rest of the downtown; and, in my opinion, it has certainly enhanced our downtown,” said Taft.
The project began about a decade ago, when the Invermere council at the time was approached by a commercial real estate headhunter wanting to buy the land on which Parkside Place now sits (which was then owned by the district) to build a commercial development. Precisely what kind of commercial development was never disclosed, but it became evident to most people involved that it would be a branch operation of a large business chain — perhaps a Blockbuster video rental store or a McDonald’s restaurant.
“It got council of the day (of which Taft was a member, although not yet mayor) thinking about the potential of that place and about what kind of vision we wanted for downtown Invermere,” said Taft. “In the end, we came to the conclusion that a big box development didn’t really fit for our downtown, but that the land had great potential for mixed use, with both residential units and small businesses.”
The district then put out a request for proposals for the property to build just such a mixed-use development, with the winning proposal coming from Quiniscoe Homes.
“One of the conditions was that it must be built within five years of the purchase date as we didn’t want somebody to just sit on it,” said Taft. “So the first phase was built right away and then, after some selling and re-selling, they proceeded to the second and third building. We wanted to project a feeling of confidence in downtown and in the end that’s what happened.”
Throughout the project, skeptics kept pointing to the storefronts that were still vacant, “but now they are all filled up,” said Taft.
The success of Parkside Place has catalyzed the district to think about what can be done with the land just north of Parkside Place, which it still owns. Although any development there is still years away, it is on council’s radar.
“It’s definitely something we want to look at in the future. We have had some really preliminary discussion around that,” said Taft. “The main idea is that, with that land, there is a great opportunity for affordable housing and we’d probably look at a partnership with the Family Dynamix Association for that, since Family Dynamix has in recent years become quite involved with that issue (affordable housing) here in Invermere.”
Such a development would also fit in well with the new multi-use centre, which will include a new home for the library, and the new Summit Youth Centre (which will move to the current library building) to breathe more life into the northern end of Invermere’s downtown and further link that area and Pothole Park to the rest of the downtown, according to Taft.
“We’re really hoping the new multi-use centre creates a presence at the entrance to downtown Invermere and builds on what Parkside Place has done,” he said. “An affordable housing development, if it’s successful, will hopefully help stimulate more vibrancy in that area of town.”
Construction on the new multi-use centre is set to start this year and will dominate council’s agenda —and the district’s budget — for the next several years, which means planning a development north of Parkside Place will be a long-term rather than a near-term project.