The District of Houston is discussing mall development options with the Houston mall manager.
Mall Manager James MacKenzie and his mortgage lender met in Houston with Councillor Kyle Thomson, John Guenther, Houston Director of Engineering and Development Services, Chamber of Commerce Manager Maureen Czirfusz and Bulkley Valley Credit Union Branch Manager Tanya Amonson.
“There was quite a bit of positive interest on their end for promoting small business and actually working with business groups to get people back into the mall,” Councillor Thomson reported to council after the meeting Dec. 16.
Guenther said he felt the same way.
“I thought the meeting was really positive.
“The reception we got is just the opposite of what the public perception is,” he said.
In a request for direction from council, Guenther stated that the recently passed Development Bylaw allows for second story residential use and a separate building such as a retail or fast food outlet near the highway.
MacKenzie did express interest in seeing design ideas of how it could look to put residential units in the upstairs west side of the mall, Guenther said.
He says MacKenzie has also done a lot of previous work with Tim Hortons to try to get them into the mall.
MacKenzie had a design and was willing to invest and prepare the whole thing for Tim Hortons, but the proposal was turned down by the Tim Hortons board last February, because of low resident population, Guenther said.
“They sound very interested in a lot of different developments,” Thomson said, adding that they also discussed changing the front of the mall.
“Royal Bank is a glass section that comes around the front corner and you could actually continue that all around and turn around the retail in the inside of the mall to face outside, and have outside entrances,” Thomson said.
Guenther said the leasing rates for space in the mall are pretty low compared to the market rate.
“They’re willing to work with all kinds of people who want to move in there… they’re really open and receptive.”
Guenther said they talked with MacKenzie about improvements for the mall and grocery store, and how managers are working with the store to encourage them to refurbish and enhance their produce.
“The Mall agents are interested in partnering on improvements including a dialogue with the owners of Super Valu and potential doctor’s offices.
“Staff would like to work with the agents and owners to prepare a District-wide business support tool kit including draft business and marketing plans,” Guenther said in his report to council.
The project includes a $1,000 investment for concept drawings of options for the mall and the surrounding area, the report stated.
Director of Finance William Wallace said the design drawings are to get a picture of what might happen on the mall lands, because they have sketched designs for the downtown, but nothing for the mall area.
“It’s something we’re missing that when we have discussions with the Province about Highway 16 and what we want for development.
“I would urge council to support that part because it’s really important in asking for highway money out of the Province, to show them what the District has designed and why we think there’s a tax base there in time,” Wallace said.
He said the designs would drive three things: (1) it would stir the mall owner’s and manager’s interest in investment, (2) give ideas to anyone else interested in development between Copeland Avenue and the mall, and (3) it would strengthen the lobbying of the District of Houston to the Province about Highway 16 developments.
“Right now they’re not sure whether the District is unrealistic in their expectations, but if they could see a picture of what the District is anticipating or building towards, then they might better understand why that section of the highway should be redeveloped a certain way,” Wallace said.
Council directed staff to continue exploring options and go ahead with their design plans.
The plan is to explore retail options for the mall, sketch development ideas and contact developers by Jan. 31.
Then they plan to sketch development options for residential units for the mall upstairs, research the possibility of a casino and start community dialogue by Feb. 15.
Finally, they will explore business development potential and work on marketing plans until March 15.