City to debate parking subsidy for condo project

On Monday, Prince George city council will consider offering a multimillion dollar subsidy to the developer of a proposed downtown condo complex, in addition to the millions in subsidies from existing incentive programs.

A&T Project Developments Inc. has proposed a four-phase, 151-unit condominium complex on the site between city hall, Sixth Avenue and Queensway. The site is currently occupied by a car rental business and a former auto repair shop.

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As part of the development, the city would own and operate a parking facility with 290 underground parking stalls, and 64 surface parking stalls.

"The proposal includes provision that 133 of the new underground parking spaces would be reserved for condominium residents at a reduced rate," a press release issued by the city said.

The value of the reduced-rate parking would be approximately $95,000 per year for the 50-year duration of the agreement, city manager Kathleen Soltis said. The value of the parking subsidy equals approximately $4.75 million over 50 years.

The 133 stalls will be cheaper than the standard long-term parking rate at the new facility, Soltis said, but not free. Operation and maintenance of the parking lot would be the city's responsibility, not the responsibility of the proposed condos' strata board.

"We've heard from residents that parking is needed downtown," Soltis said.

With the new pool planned for the site of the Days Inn near the proposed development, parking demand in the area will only increase, she said.

The city is looking at the partnership with A&T Development, rather than building a stand-alone facility or including a parking structure as part of the pool development, in order to provide the developer with what it needs to get the project moving forward, Soltis said.

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.

Both existing subsidy programs have been in place since 2011.

An example provided by the city - based on an assessed value per unit of $193,000, including $47,000 in land value, and 2016 property tax rates - calculated a $1,176.08 property tax saving per year, a just slightly more than 50 per cent tax saving.

According to Canadian Real Estate Magazine data, the median price of apartment condos in Prince George in 2016 was $187,950 in August 2016.

If the 151 condo units sell for prices close to the 2016 median price, the value of the combined 10 year tax exemption for the complex would be worth more than $1.5 million, bringing the total value of subsidies for the project to nearly $8 million over 50 years.

"We see housing downtown as a huge benefit to the community," Soltis said. "A&T Development from Kamloops came to Prince George and did The RiverBend (Seniors Community) project. We impressed upon them the need to have housing downtown."

Having residents living downtown would increase traffic to downtown businesses and give people "ownership" of the area, Soltis said.

Attracting housing development downtown has been party of numerous city planning documents, including the 2009 Downtown Prince George Concept Plan.

A&T Development vice president Gary Reed said the city's incentive programs were "very critical" to the company's decision to proceed with the project.

"We feel over the last several years we've had a very good relationship with the City of Prince George. We do a lot of projects in a lot of communities... (and) it's not always the case," Reed said. "We're really excited about this."

At this point, plans for the complex are still in preliminary stages, but Reed said the plan is for the units to have a mix of one- and two-bedroom units with a variety of floor plans ranging from 500-plus square feet to 900-plus square feet.

"We take quite a lot of pride in building high-quality buildings," Reed said. "These will be nice, high-quality units."

It's too early to say when they plan to start construction, as the city's parkade structure needs to be completed first, he said. No final decisions have been made on the prices of the units.

Reed said A&T Development is aware of other failed housing projects in downtown, including the proposed hotel/luxury condo project announced by River City Hotel Inc. and River City Ventures Inc. in April 2012. Development of that project stalled, leaving a bare concrete foundation eyesore in the middle of downtown for years before work resumed on the site in 2016 to construct a 174-room Marriott Courtyard hotel, minus the condos.

Downtown, and particularly the area around the proposed project, has seen positive change over the past four to five years, he said.

"We've got a long track record of finding value where others haven't," Reed said. "We've been around for 25 years and we've never started a project we haven't finished."

City council will consider approving the parking subsidy for the project at Monday's city council meeting.

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