The Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association was awarded for the first phase of the Terminal Corridor Revitalization Project, but more environmental hurdles must be cleared before the area will see new development.
The Brownie Award, presented by the Canadian Urban Institute Oct. 29, recognizes cooperation between property owners and the association on an environmental assessment of soil contamination under commercial properties conducted in the Terminal-Nicol corridor that extends from the Esplanade to the Comox Avenue-Front Street intersection.
The province reduced the required environmental assessment, which was completed last year, by allowing the area to be treated as one block, rather than individual properties. It also awarded a $217,000 matching grant for the assessment, which was initially paid for through DNBIA business levies.
“This is the first time in Canada that a group of property owners has tried to get together to take on a common problem,” said Darren Moss, chairman of the association’s planning design and development committee.
The association started the process to collect about $250,000 from participating property owners to pay for the second phase of the project, which involves testing and analysis to support an application to the Ministry of Environment for a drinking water standards exemption for the corridor.
“If drinking water is taken off, it doesn’t just apply to historical contamination, it applies to any contaminant on your site,” Moss said.
He said the cost to have a single property assessed can run up to $100,000, so he sees the $250,000 bill to assess the whole corridor as a good deal.
Two additional phases will follow before new development gets underway.
The third phase will involve public consultation and planning to determine what corridor development will look like, followed by the fourth phase, which will involve strategies to help owners of smaller properties redevelop.
Basil Chau, owner of Man Lee Oriental Food and Gift Market, who relocated his business to the corridor in 2013 with hopes of attracting other investors to create a new Chinatown, said the assessment and planning phases need to be completed quickly to bolster investor confidence. He said potential buyers in China worry they could end up paying taxes on properties without being able to develop them. It means investors are passing on comparatively inexpensive Nanaimo commercial real estate and putting their money in other communities or group investment funds where they can realize faster returns, he said.
Chau said he is currently paying about $20,000 annually in property taxes for his building and parking lot, but can’t redevelop until environmental assessments are complete.
“We have to give them confidence,” Chau said. “So many people are interested, but finally drop out because there is so much uncertainty.”
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