Newsmaker of the Year: The Kootenay Co-op

The Nelson Star has named the Kootenay Country Store Co-operative its 2015 Newsmaker of the Year.

The front page of the Dec. 30

For breaking ground on a development that will radically alter the look of Baker St.’s east end, the Nelson Star has named the Kootenay Country Store Co-operative its 2015 Newsmaker of the Year.

The start of Nelson Commons, which will see a much larger store built on the former Extra Foods site along with 54 housing units on the upper floors, came as the co-op celebrated its 40th anniversary.

“On the construction side, things are going full speed ahead,” project manager Russell Precious said last week. “There’s a whole lot of work going on inside that you can’t see from outside.”

The west side of the residential portion is fully framed and Precious said electrical and mechanical tradespeople have been working in the underground parking area for almost six months, where the building’s infrastructure systems are based.

Overall, Precious said the project is slightly behind schedule, but the contractor “built in some pretty generous contingencies and has the capacity to speed things up.” Panels are now being pre-fabbed in Vancouver for the building’s east side.

They’re still planning a Sept. 1, 2016 opening of the new store and expect the housing units will be completed by then as well. About three-quarters have been sold and by February one suite will be completed to test the finishes and be used as a showpiece for prospective buyers.

The Fisherman’s Market is buying a space on the building’s Hall St. side. Other commercial spaces are still available.

There have been hurdles to overcome, however: an environmental consultant who assessed the site for pollutants suggested about three per cent of the site’s soil would be contaminated from historic uses, but it ended up being about 80 per cent and resulted in a $400,000 remediation bill.

Nor does the project lack detractors, who criticized its economics and an arrangement that will see the co-op provide restricted resale units in lieu of a contribution to the city’s affordable housing fund. That means that rather than provide a $54,000 lump sum, three units will be offered at 25 per cent below market value in perpetuity. They will sell for about $200,000 after the discount.

The co-op was further in the news this year over its messy internal affairs: two board directors resigned over the way longtime general manager Deirdrie Lang was treated. She was relieved of her duties with the store but stayed on with the Nelson Commons project.

The board took some flak at the co-op’s annual general meeting in September, but the matter appears to have blown over.

On a happier note, the co-op celebrated the start of its fifth decade. It began life in 1975 as the Vallican-Winlaw Food Co-operative, when 20 families got together to order bulk food.

Two other candidates merited strong consideration for top newsmaker:

The Nelson Police Department, which was at loggerheads this year with city council over funding, named a new chief, and saw an officer convicted of assault on the strength of testimony from three other officers.

New Democrat Wayne Stetski, who was elected to represent Kootenay-Columbia in parliament by a razor-thin margin over incumbent Conservative David Wilks.

Past Nelson Star top newsmakers

2014: Deb Kozak

2013: Nelson Civic Theatre Society

2012: Mother Nature

2011: Nelson Search and Rescue

2010: Pastor Jim Reimer