Kamloops is getting its first significant new office building in 20 years, a five-storey building due to break ground in the spring as part of a larger downtown development.
Kamloops-based A & T Project Developments has partnered with landowner Invictus Properties to turn a parking lot into an energized hub of downtown activity. It starts with construction of 45,000 square feet of premium office space, the first phase of a three-building project.
It’s a significant step in the evolution of Kamloops, a growing city of more than 100,000 in south-central B.C., about a three-and-a-half hour drive from Vancouver.
“There’s been demand for a long time, for something really nice in the downtown in a good location,” said Gary Reed, A & T partner and vice-president of sales and marketing.
Bylaw change promotes development
The idea was conceived a few years ago, but the city’s support was required to make it happen, Reed said.
Invictus Properties has owned the city-block-sized property for 10 years, but only when the city changed its bylaw to allow a property tax exemption for businesses did the development become viable.
That’s when A & T officially got on board to launch the first building for the site, at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Lansdowne Street.
“The thing that held us back us from proceeding for many years was the fact that Kamloops hadn’t adopted the commercial tax (revitalization) — it was a big disadvantage,” he said. “For people looking at leasing, or owner-operators, it works out to be about $4 a foot on additional rent costs, so it’s pretty significant.”
Reed said in the past, businesses had relocated from Kamloops to other municipalities where the tax relief was offered within commercial zones.
The province allows municipalities to exempt specific properties from the municipal portion of property taxes for a period of up to 10 years, as part of an economic stimulus program.
Kamloops only recently expanded its tax exemption bylaw to include the commercial district where The Hive will be located.
It was a game-changer.
“That allowed us to go from it being a pipe dream to bringing it to market,” Reed said.
A & T founded in 1992
Company president Jeff Arnold started A & T in 1992. Reed, one of four partners, joined the development and construction company in 2014.
The company has grown from 40 to 65 full-time employees since Reed started, and is continuing to expand. It also has projects in Prince George, nearby Sun Peaks ski resort, and West Kelowna.
A & T builds commercial, recreational and mixed-use developments, but about 80 per cent of its work is residential multifamily projects, Reed said.
The city itself has also experienced growth in the last five years, driven partly by a lack of affordability in the Lower Mainland.
Kamloops is close enough to the Lower Mainland to become a second-tier city for satellite offices and workers who are also outdoor enthusiasts.
Reed, a former Olympic athlete for Canada as a middle-distance runner, had moved away from his hometown of Kamloops but returned to raise his family for the lifestyle.
As part of the draw, The Hive will have showers for bike commuters, 16-foot ceilings with plenty of natural light, windows that open, sustainable features and pedestrian-only spaces between buildings, where employees can hang out and socialize.
There will be retail on the ground level and underground parking.
Strata units, or leasing
Businesses can either buy into the building as part of the strata, or lease space. Strata prices start at $445 per foot and leases start at $30 per foot.
Invictus is handling leasing and tenant management, while CML Properties will manage the strata units. Reed is handling sales for the project.
They’ve already found an anchor tenant: large local engineering firm Urban Systems is leasing 20,000 square feet for its future headquarters.
“We are selling around 15,000 feet of retail and office, but it just really depends on where the demand takes it up,” Reed said. “Then our plan is to retain the rest of the building and lease those spaces out.”
A week into marketing, Reed said demand has been strong for the project, which has a construction budget of about $20 million and is scheduled to complete in 18 to 24 months.
He believes the building will be full in the next couple of months, a sign of pent-up demand.
Create vibrant downtown hub
Invictus also owns the Delta Kamloops hotel adjacent to the Hive site, so the area is poised to become a hub of activity. Reed envisions a future café and restaurant scene developing — a far more energized streetscape than the current parking lot.
“Drop a thousand jobs in there over the next six years and it will all just change,” he says.
Once built out, the three-building complex will likely be in the order of 200,000 square feet of space, he said. However, the size of the other two buildings will be gauged according to demand, which, so far, doesn’t seem to be a problem.
“Ultimately, the goal is to attract those mid-size businesses from Vancouver that need 20,000 feet or 30,000 feet and want to move their headquarters to Kamloops so everybody can stop paying $1 million for a condo.”