Questions continue to circle around the proposed Wood Innovation and Design Centre.
What promises were made to land developer Commonwealth Campus Corp., if any?
Was the loan from Northern Development Initiative Trust to Commonwealth for up to $8.9 million, as company principle Dan McLaren says, or $2.9 million as NDIT CEO Janine North says?
What will the upcoming provincial election mean for the project? When will it be announced, if ever?
What will the final project look like?
But the biggest question is why build it at all? And, if it will be built, why build it in downtown Prince George?
When Premier Christy Clark officially announced the project on Aug. 15, 2011, the Wood Innovation and Design Centre was billed as a 10-story wood building - the tallest multi-use wood building in the world.
The $161 million plan developed by UNBC would have housed a new engineering program and a wood technology centre, serving approximately 420 students, according to documents obtained by the media. The building would have served as a showpiece to demonstrate the architectural and engineering capabilities of B.C. forest products to the world.
There was a purpose for the province to build that version of the Wood Innovation and Design Centre. Such a facility could have operated semi-independently of the university's main campus on Cranbrook Hill, and would have brought significant numbers of new people - students, faculty and staff - into the downtown, promoting revitalization.
The revised concept - four to five professors, 20ish students and a laboratory - is too small to operate in isolation from the main campus. If it is built downtown, it will likely result in students and faculty having to commute from downtown to the main campus once or more a day.
Why should provincial taxpayers pay $25 million to build another conventional wood-frame building downtown, when the proposed program could easily be accommodated on the university's main campus or in existing vacant office space downtown?
According to Initiatives Prince George's website, the city has an office vacancy rate of 12.7 per cent and more than 189,000 square feet of office space available for lease.
Why build more offices downtown to sit vacant? And certainly 24 to 25 additional people working and going to school part-time in the downtown won't make a significant difference to downtown revitalization.
If the province is committed to building the Wood Innovation and Design Centre it should look at building it on UNBC's main campus. The campus has plenty of room for expansion, the students and faculty at the centre would be part of the broader education community at the university, and the extra space could be used for university offices, student housing or a future engineering program.
It would also distance the provincial government from the Commonwealth Campus Corp./Northern Development Initiative Trust fiasco, and free up the former Prince George Hotel site for commercial development downtown.
But the dream of creating the world's tallest wood building in B.C. doesn't have to die.
Maybe it just needs to live somewhere else.
The purpose of a showpiece is to show it off, which means building it somewhere lots of people will see it - like downtown Vancouver.
According to real estate analysts Avison Young, the vacancy rate for grade AAA and grade A office space in downtown Vancouver was 0.8 to 1.7 per cent last year. Such office space leased for $26 to $55 per square foot - compared to $9 to $15 per square foot in downtown Prince George
In downtown Vancouver a $161 million, 10-story wood showpiece makes a lot of sense, financially and functionally. It would never be a viable, self-sufficient project in Prince George.
The seed of the idea for a Wood Innovation and Design Centre came from the north, but if it is ever to really take root, Vancouver might be a better place to plant it.
-- Associate news editor Arthur Williams