On Monday city council approved a pair of deals aimed at bringing a $37 million underground parkade and condominium complex to the 600 block of George Street downtown.
Mayor Lyn Hall and members of city council heaped praise on the deal, which was described as a catalyst for change and future development downtown.
"This is an absolute game-changer for our city," Hall said. "I'm excited about this. I see a number of things that will be beneficial downtown."
The city signed a partnering agreement with A&T Project Developments Inc. to construct a 288-stall underground parkade, along with 64 surface parking stalls, at cost. The parkade will serve as the foundation for a four-building, 151-unit apartment condo complex.
Under the agreement the city will reserve 133 underground parking stalls for condo residents at a discounted rate for 50 years, at a cost of $94,914 per year. In a report to city council, city general manager of planning and development Ian Wells estimated the discount at $59.47 per month per stall.
The parking subsidy is in addition to the city's existing incentive programs for residential development downtown.
The project would also be eligible for a $10,000 per unit subsidy - worth a total of $1.51 million - through the Housing Contribution Program, a partnership between the city and the Northern Development Initiatives Trust.
In addition, if the development meets certain accessibility standards, it will be eligible for the city's Multi-Family Revitalization Tax Exemption. Under the program, the property would be exempt from the city's portion of property taxes - excluding taxes on the base land value - for 10 years.
"If you go downtown there is a vibrancy about it... a real feeling that we're hitting our stride as a big city," Hall said.
It's been a long-time priority for the city to attract residential development downtown, he said. Having people living downtown will drive additional business downtown and have a positive impact on the downtown community, he said.
"Even if it is only two people per unit... it is 300 or 400 people living downtown that weren't living downtown before," Hall said.
In his report to council, Wells said the project is expected to create 308 direct jobs during construction and a total of 627 jobs once indirect employment is counted.
In addition, the project is expected to contribute $40 million in municipal taxes over the course of the city's 50-year partnership.
"Administration believes the benefits far outweigh the costs," Wells said. "We don't see taxation going up on this. Administration believes this project will be a turning point for downtown."
"It's a big project. It's an exciting project," Coun. Jillian Merrick said. "(But) what kind of safe guards do we have... if phase one doesn't get built, or only the first phase gets built?"
Wells said A&T has track record of success in Prince George, with The Riverbend Seniors Community, and elsewhere in B.C.
"If phase one is the only phase that is built, then the site will be ready to be built on and I'm sure we'd attract another developer."
However, if the project doesn't proceed to completion, it could have financial complications for the city.
Also on Monday night, city council signed an amendment to an agreement with the Northern Development Initiative Trust to provide $1.8 million in new money over six years to the Housing Contribution Program, which only had enough money remaining to provide subsidies for 72 units of housing downtown. However, the agreement puts a timeline in place requiring the city to use the money by June 2020 or lose it.
Under the revised deal, if 50 new housing units are not built downtown by June 2020, with at least 25 more under construction, the city will be required to return any unused portion of the fund to NDIT -including the current $720,000 balance.
Each phase of the proposed condo development is expected to include between 32 and 46 units, meaning that at least two phases must be complete by June 2020 - potentially with a third under construction - for the city to hang onto the NDIT funds.
Hall said "we're pretty confident," that the city will meet the June 2020 deadline.
"They're looking at starting in the spring, we've got two years," he said.
A&T Development vice president Gary Reed said the funding is in place to build the project and the plan is to start construction of the parkade in the spring.
"I think it's going to be a three-four year project. (But) we don't have to wait for the full parkade to be done before we starting building (phase) one," Reed said. "We do our homework.... and we believe the timing is right."