The trees coming down opposite the Husky station with the arrival of spring were the first to herald the news.
The billboard announcements expected to arrive this week will drive the message home.
Years of planning by the Stz’uminus First Nation could start bearing fruit this summer with the first steps in the creation of what could essentially be a new village north of Ladysmith.
Over the next 20 years, 65 acres of reserve property at the old Ivy Green site is expected to be transformed into the new $400 million community of Oyster Bay. Eventually, it could include approximately 200,000 square feet of commercial space, up to 200 new residential homes, 160 to 200 assisted living and extended care units, 53 seniors’ patio homes and an 80-unit waterfront hotel able to host conventions.
Most of these features are not likely to be developed for a while. Some may be a long way down the road. But construction could get underway on the first stages of commercial development as early as this summer.
“Basically, what we are doing is clearing it and preparing for construction,” Coast Salish Development Corporation CEO Ray Gauthier said. “The community is really excited because they are ready for this to happen.”
The cleared site opposite the Husky is being targeted for a small shopping centre, similar in character to the recently built Chemainus Village Square mall. The band is targetting a 21,000-square-foot grocery store to be the anchor of a plaza that could include up to 40,000 square-feet of additional commercial and office space.
The next two months will be spent spent working with architects on formal design plans and trying to turn interested businesses into committed tenants. Gauthier said construction is likely to get underway as soon as enough pre-lease agreements have been reached.
He said marketing studies and preliminary talks with a variety of prospective businesses indicate there is enough interest to take this step. Getting one aspect of the project underway can, in turn, inspire investment into other areas.
“We have an idea where we are going but that is really the driver of the architectural process. It is no longer conceptual, it’s becoming real,” Gauthier said.
Funded by the band, without any government assistance, this ambitious project is being counted on to bring prosperity to the Stz’uminus people. But Gauthier cautions it is a long-term vision, not a quick fix. He said the revenue generated by each leased acre is not huge in and of itself. It’s after putting each acre to use over a lengthy period of time that the return starts to add up.
“It’s not like the band is going to be jumping up and down this year and saying it hit the jackpot,” he said. “Over a 10-year window it’s a 7% return. Over 50 years it’s 30%. We are looking at generating revenue for 50 years and compound that by 50 years over 65 acres.”
Because the property itself is on the reserve, it cannot be sold. But both the homes and the commercial buildings themselves can be. Each will be marketed on the basis of either long-term leasing agreements or strata building purchases. The housing and assisted living accommodations are not band housing, but open to anyone, regardless of background.
The recent renovation of the Husky was the first step in setting the tone for a development envisioned as a nice, middle-class community.
The property is fully serviced through connections to the Town of Ladysmith, with all the correct land use planning in place. Essentially, the band has drawn up a vision and created all the necessary infrastructure. All that needs to be done now is to find the right partners to develop the various phases.
According to Gauthier, the band wants to work with developers who have proven track records of success in each project area: commercial, residential, hotel and assisted living.
“Realistically, there could be a population of 1,000 people when it is complete,” he said, adding that the Stz’uminus people have been there for 150 years but have never embarked anything approaching this scope.
“It’s huge,” he said. The community is really stepping out.”
For more details on the Oyster Bay plan, go to oysterbaydevelopment.com.