City council made an unbelievably stupid and shortsighted decision this week that received little more than a mention in the local news media.
Approving Coastal Gas Link's application to move into the newly built commercial building at Kinsmen Place, just off the corner of Fifth and Ospika, is another nail in the downtown coffin and yet more proof that when this council says "Open For Business," what they really mean is "Open Season."
Coastal Gas Link is building a 700-kilometre pipeline to transport natural gas from the Dawson Creek area to Shell's proposed liquified natural gas facility near Kitimat. The project, announced last summer, is expected to generate an estimated $17 million in annual property tax payments to the Peace River, Fraser-Fort George, Bulkley-Nechako and Kitimat-Stikine regional districts. There is a lot of available space still available in that new Kinsmen Place building - 490 square metres or about 5,300 square feet - and Coastal Gas Link wants all of it for its regional headquarters and the 20 employees who will be based out of it.
Despite the warning bells going off around them, mayor and council were as excited as the giddy female contingent that greeted Justin Trudeau's visit this week to approve the zoning variance to allow the company to set up shop in Prince George.
The city's planning department was against the application because it went against the Official Community Plan's push for these kinds of offices to be located downtown. An area resident then spoke to council, also reminding them to stick to the OCP and to remember that the Kinsmen Place commercial building was approved to house neighbourhood services. A dental office is already there and it was made to house a bank branch or offices for doctors, lawyers, insurance agents, or real estate agents.
Coun. Dave Wilbur did try to get his colleagues to let their foot off the gas, asking them to delay their decision for a couple months until city planners completed their annual vacancy report.
The rest of council would have none of that.
"We have a prospective investor in our community considering moving to our community and the more delays we put in their way, that concerns me," replied Coun. Murry Krause.
Energy companies are pretty used to regulatory delays, so it's unlikely Coastal Gas Link would have stomped their foot and walked away in a big huff, never to return, if council had told the company to hold its horses for a bit.
What's really concerning is the message council is sending to the business community.
If council had taken half a second to look at the application from Coastal Gas Link's perspective, they would have seen a company that wants to move to Prince George. They don't want to be in Dawson Creek or Fort St. John, significantly smaller and more isolated communities with fewer amenties and soaring costs for both commercial space and housing. They want to be in Prince George, with its bustling airport, its affordable living, its full-service college and university, its hospital and cancer centre. By rejecting the zoning variance, council would have informed Coastal Gas Link and every other business looking at Prince George to house a regional office that downtown is their only option and they better get cracking or miss out on the best spaces.
They would have sent a signal to current downtown businesses that local government is finally serious about driving new growth into the city centre.
And, most importantly, they would have made it clear that "Open For Business" means working together to build a better city, which is what's really good for business, not just saying yes to every business proposal that lands on the agenda.