Kootenay Co-Op general manager Dierdrie Lang (left) and Nelson Commons project manager Russell Precious (right) in the Nelson Commons show suite which is now open at the corner of Vernon and Hall streets.

Finding Commons ground in Nelson

The ultra-local $27 million condo and retail development in the east of downtown feels like Nelson

Stepping inside the new Nelson Commons show suite, it becomes immediately clear that nothing about this Kootenay Co-op fuelled project is common.

The ultra-local $27 million condo and retail development in the east of downtown feels like Nelson and when built has the potential to transform the core of the community.

“We keep arriving at stages we thought we would never get to,” says project manager Russell Precious. “But this is a critical stage, this whole project is dependent upon us being able to pre-sell the condominium units. Until we do that, no investor or no bank is going to step up to the plate.”

In February 2012 the Kootenay Co-op announced they had purchased the Extra Foods grocery store in the 700 block of Vernon Street. The blockbuster deal to acquire the aging grocery store and adjacent parking lot along Baker Street cost the country store cooperative $3.57 million.

For more than a year the co-op has been meeting and seeking input from its 12,000-plus members, talking with local leaders and compiling public input.

The decision was made to tear down the old building and start fresh. In order to fund the ambitious new grocery store and retail space, the decision was made to add a 54-unit, three-storey residential component on top.

The show suite for those units opened on Friday at the corner of Hall and Vernon streets. Kootenay Co-op general manager Deirdrie Lang said the initial response has been positive.

“I would say, by far, the majority is excited about this,” Lang said about the membership and general public’s response to the residential aspect of the project. “It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal for our town, it’s a big deal for our co-op and it’s a huge deal for natural food co-ops everywhere in North America. This is something that hasn’t been done before, for a co-op like us to take on a development like this. We are being watched and if this happens, it could open up a whole new opportunity for co-ops elsewhere.”

A NEW CHALLENGE

Lang started at the co-op 26 years ago when it was housed in the current location of Gerick’s Cycle on Baker Street. She has been the general manager since 1994 and since the purchase of the property has been asked to take her responsibilities to a whole new level.

“It’s a complete opposite of what I have done in the last 20-plus years working at the co-op,” said Lang, who has helped staff the show suite in the last couple of days to show it off to prospective buyers. “I never thought I would be here, but the learning has been incredible and it’s great to be part of it.”

In order to take the next major step in the project, Nelson Commons must get a commitment for at least 40 of its 54 available units. Precious and the marketing team have set a date of mid-November to reach that goal. If that happens, the old building will be demolished in February and construction will begin shortly after. The hope is to have the new grocery store and condo residents moved in mid-2015.

Both Lang and Precious feel it’s a target that can be reached.

“From what we have seen in the last few days, that’s realistic,” said Lang, adding the registry for prospective buyers has grown fast in the last few days.

Prices at Nelson Commons range from $239,000 (one bedroom, 714 square feet) to $469,000 (three bedroom/den, 1,176 square feet). Precious said the prices were based upon the rather expensive initial land cost and overall come in at about $400 a square foot.

“It’s made to the standards we would like to achieve, we are not trying to fit into anybody else’s standards,” said Precious. “Our challenge was to make these units nice without being unaffordable.

“Our hope is there would be a really good cross section [of residents]. There’s obviously a lot of people who are downsizing, looking to simplify life. Also we would hope to see some young urban professionals looking at our complex.”

THE RIGHT CHOICE

Precious has worked with the co-op in the past and is excited to be part of the current project. And the co-op is pleased to have him take part.

Precious, his former wife and two other couples started Capers Community Market in Vancouver in the mid-1980s. He moved his family to the Nelson area in 1985 and commuted back to the Lower Mainland for 10 years running the highly successful market in Kitsilano. Since that time he has been part of other developments, including building a land co-op on Quadra Island that included a Waldorf school and building 13 integrated pharmacies in the western United States.

A businessman who combines solid ventures with solid ideas, Precious is confident Nelson Commons will succeed and transform the eastern end of the downtown. He has helped put together a local team of experts that includes Stephen Culp from Studio 9 and David Dobie. He has secured the services of builder ITC out of Vancouver whose principal owner is Peter Rezansoff, a former area resident who is committed to using all of the local trades they can muster.

“This is a hometown team,” says Precious.

Precious feels the scariest hurdle at this point is completely out of his hands.

“I think the biggest challenge is the stability of global markets,” he says. “If things were to slip sideways before we got people signed on, things could grind to a halt.”

So far the group has been focusing on marketing Nelson Commons in the local area and most of the response so far has been from Nelson. They have fanned out to areas between the Okanagan and Cranbrook, but they feel most of the sales will come from the immediate area.

Another major difference between Nelson Commons and other developments is that the goal is not to make the developer rich. Though the units will be strata and can hardly be considered affordable housing, the root of the project is to make sure the new Kootenay Co-op store is the best it can be.

“This is not going into any individual’s pocket, it’s going back into co-op,” says Lang. “The whole purpose behind this project is that the co-op gets its new store at the end of the project.”

More on the project can be seen at nelsoncommons.ca, call them at 250-352-5847 or stop by the show suite.

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