Businesses in Colwood contribute a great deal to improve our lives:
- The closer stores are to your home, the less you need to drive to get what you want and maybe you can even walk or bike.
- If you are lucky enough to work at a business near your home (or in your home, or find a home near your workplace) it costs less to commute, and less of your day your is wasted in traffic.
- The less we have to drive, the less congestion we create (which helps others).
- Any business with non-residential premises in Colwood pays 4.4 (rounded) times as much property tax as a home with the same assessed value, so businesses contribute a lot to the services the rest of us want (more on that to come)
I believe that Colwood is currently underserved by the number of businesses it has. Below I look at specific places we can encourage new businesses, specific things we can do to become more attractive to business and the importance of retaining our existing businesses.
The most notable recent success in bringing more businesses include the new Hotel with its surrounding commercial complex and apartments. That all happened because we had an experienced developer owning a family property in exactly the right place and with the vision and resources to turn it into what is now the most significant commercial development in Colwood. This has definitely changed the face of our city centre and its success will, I hope, encourage others to build in a similar vein.
Other successes in the last decade include the Latoria Walk commercial (Red Barn and so much more) and the bank and pharmacy building at the corner of Sooke and Goldstream. More on those later because there are lessons there.
The big hole on Wale Road!
This seemed like an obvious place to start because its an eyesore and it’s a potential danger (see note A below), as well as a wasted potential right in Colwood’s city centre. The problem with this site is the depth of the hole, which was created for a three-story underground parking structure to support a 20+ storey residential building. No proposal to build a building more than eight stories has ever succeeded in the Westshore, even during the height of the pre-2008 boom, and this hole is unnecessarily deep for a building of six or eight stories. The hole would be expensive to fill and that adds upfront costs in cash and time before the developer can even begin to build. Since the 2008 crash, lenders have been understandably nervous about projects with big front-end costs.
The answer for the big hole is to fill it with something that can make money. That could, for example, be as simple as storage units. It’s not somewhere you would ordinarily put storage units but it could make the site viable by filling two floors of the hole with a revenue producing business. However, most developers tend to specialize and stick to what they know will make money. Most developer will prefer an easier site to work on.
I believe that is where the municipality could help. By initiating talks with the owner and potential developers the City could learn more precisely what the issues holding everyone back are and whether some creative thinking could bridge that gap. This is not normally the role of staff in municipalities our size but is often done by the Mayor or one or two councillors, possibly as part of a Mayor’s task force. This is not part of the job description and there is no pay for it but it arises out of the politician’s enthusiasm for their community. The learning curve would be shortest with folks who have experience in business and/or development.
The only guaranteed solution to getting some development on the property with the big hole on Wale Road is if the owner dropped the price drastically. Failing that the City must try hard to find a solution and to enlist the help of the development community in finding a creative solution. I’m convinced by my experience working on problems in development that there is always a solution. The trick is not to stop looking till you find it.
Note A: Several years ago the side of the hole on Wale Road next to the housing started to slip into the hole. The hole was dug as temporary works and the slopes were safe for at least two years but as we know, more than two years had passed and the temporary slopes started to fail. The City had to fix it all but it cannot be permanently fixed till the hole is either filled in or a structure is built to support the slopes.