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Why not a Commons that is better for Cowichan?
Five years ago we welcomed the official opening of the Cowichan Commons, a 500,000-square-foot shopping centre anchored by a number of big-box stores – including a massive Wal-Mart “supercentre” that holds the distinction of being one of the largest in B.C.
Most of us shop at the Cowichan Commons and its chain stores. In many cases we have little choice, as these are the only places where you can find certain products.
But ever since plans to develop the 42-acre property in North Cowichan were first announced years ago, many of us have wondered if better options were available.
Did we have build a shopping centre made up of mostly foreign-owned big-box stores and other retail chains? And did it have to be so far away from downtown Duncan – the small business hub of the Cowichan Region?
The recent announcement that a local food co-op in the Kootenays will be leading a major commercial and residential development in downtown Nelson has left many of us wondering what could have been.
The Kootenay Food Co-op is a member-owned co-operative started in 1970s that sells natural and organic foods. Its present store is almost 5,000 square feet, and annual sales exceed $6 million.
The co-op is very popular with locals, and with growing demand has plans underway to develop a larger retail space.
Last year, it purchased an old supermarket in downtown Nelson, which it will be tearing down and re-developing as a mixed-use commercial and residential space called the “Nelson Commons.”
The Nelson Commons will occupy nearly an entire city block and include 54 residential units, six to eight local businesses as commercial tenants, underground parking, advanced green building and other features.
In keeping true with its name, the Nelson Commons will also include a shared, public space for the wider community, where children can play, and adults can socialize, drink coffee and listen to music.
And rather than hiring an out-of-town developer, the food co-op formed its own development company and brought in a project manager to lead the construction. Any profits made on the $27-million project will go back to the co-op and its membership.
Imagine for a moment that instead of building the Cowichan Commons and all its big-box stores, we had developed a commercial space more along the lines of the Nelson Commons: a multi-story structure in downtown Duncan, with mixed commercial and residential space housing local businesses including a member-owned co-op food store bigger than our Wal-Mart “supercentre,” and a shared public space for the community to gather.
We certainly can’t tear down the Cowichan Commons and start over. But what we can do is make sure that any future commercial development in the Cowichan Valley does a much better job of encouraging mixed-use development, supporting local business ownership and creating a vibrant downtown core.
We had options. Next time let’s pick a better one.
Rob Douglas is President of the Cowichan Valley NDP Constituency Association. He writes monthly for the Cowichan News Leader Pictorial and can be reached at email@example.com